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Darla Moore School of Business

  • UofSC Proving Ground

The UofSC Proving Ground Competition

Join us for the live pitch competition on March 24 at 6 p.m. via Facebook Live.

The Proving Ground is the UofSC's entrepreneurial competition to identify and accelerate innovative business concepts. We're looking for ideas that will change the world and change the way people live.

Teams of UofSC undergraduate students, graduate students and recent alumni are eligible to compete for more than $40,000 in seed money, and for the chance to turn their ideas into reality. 

On March 24, 2022, finalists will pitch their concepts to a panel of seasoned entrepreneurs in a "Shark Tank" like event for the chance to win up to $15,000 in cash in one of two categories.

What is the timeline for The Proving Ground?

Jan. 26 The Proving Ground officially launches
March 1 Deadline for submissions
March 14-15 Information session for finalists and practice presentations
March 24 Finalists pitch competition

What are the competition categories for The Proving Ground?

In both categories, the concepts submitted may be for any business and any industry, ideally addressing an unmet need or solving an existing problem. Do you have an idea for a new app? Do you have an innovative restaurant or retail concept? Do you have a new way to deliver a recognized service? Do you have a product or service that creates a market that does not exist today? All of these ideas would be applicable to both categories––the difference is based on who is eligible to enter.

The Caliber Discovery category is open to University of South Carolina students, undergraduate or graduate, and alumni who graduated in the last five years (Since December 2016). This category is supported by Caliber Collision, the nation's largest collision repair company with over 1,100 locations in 37 states.

Entrants in this category must be undergraduate students at the University of South Carolina. Any team that enters must be composed completely of UofSC undergraduate students. This category is supported by Maxient, creators of Conduct Manager, the number one software used by university conduct offices.

  • Proposed ventures that have attained over $50,000 in gross revenue from operations to date are not eligible.
  • Proposed ventures cannot have raised outside capital (angel, venture capital, or other institutional funds).
  • Students from ALL University of South Carolina campuses may enter.
  • No one who has won one of the major prizes in prior years may enter the competition.
  • All submissions must be entered through the YouNoodle platform. Information about what is required in the submission is provided on that platform.
  • Individuals or teams may only enter one category
  • Teams may be made up of as many as five people, but only two can participate in the pitch competition on March 24.
  • All decisions regarding eligibility will be made by the competition committee and those decisions are final.

What are the awards in each category?

In each category, the winner will receive $15,000 and the runner-up will receive $7,500.

What is the review and judging process like?

All submissions must survive a three-round elimination process to make it to the prize money.

A team of experts (seasoned entrepreneurs, faculty, past Proving Ground winners) will review each teams' submission to narrow the field down to the top five in each category. The experts will closely evaluate the executive summary to determine whether or not the submission advances in the competition.

A second set of experts will review each of the five remaining plans in each category. The top two teams for each category proceed.

Live Pitch Competition and Awards Ceremony
This is a Shark Tank style event where finalists pitch their concept in real time to a panel of judges. This will be held at 6 p.m. on March 17 and will be livestreamed.

All submissions will be subject to the following evaluation criteria throughout each round:

  1. Does the product or service solve a real problem for someone? Does the submission demonstrate a clear market need?
  2. Is the target market clearly understood and is it an attractive market? Does the target market want the solution and is willing to pay for it?
  3. Does the entrant (or entrants, in the case of a team), demonstrate a distinctive competence? Does the team provide something novel/special/unique that gives it a competitive advantage?
  4. Does the submission demonstrate how the venture will make money? Is that well-presented in the financial statements?
  5. Would this concept be of interest to an outside investor, e.g., an angel investor?
  6. Can the team effectively develop this company? Team refers not only to actual entrants, but any outside resources, advisors, etc.

How do I register my team?

Teams must register through the YouNoodle platform before they can submit their documents. The site provides a step-by-step guide for registering and submitting your business plan. You must submit your business plan and all required information by March 1.

  • A business plan (document must be typed, 1.5 line spacing, 12-point font, with 1 inch margins). The plan must contain an executive summary that is no longer than two pages. This is very important because the executive summary is evaluated in the first round of judging. The main body of the business plan can be no longer than 10 pages (that includes the executive summary). The plan should include a startup budget and a projected income statement for the first year of operation. The budget and projected income statement can be in an appendix. It should also include a cover page with the name of the business. The plan should be in Microsoft Word.
  • In addition, teams must provide contact information and answer several questions (e.g., How did you learn about The Proving Ground?) in the application process.

Numerous sources about writing a business plan are available on the internet. One you might find helpful is the Small Business Administration website.

In addition, the Small Business Development Center, an organization whose mission is to advance South Carolina's economic development by helping entrepreneurs grow successful businesses, is available to all Proving Ground applicants for consultation and advice. With 17 offices in the state, the SBDC is within reach of everyone in South Carolina. The Columbia office can be contacted by phone (803) 777-5118. For contact information for other offices, go to the SBDC website.

What if I have other questions?

Contact Dean Kress, Director of the Faber Entrepreneurship Center, at or 803.777.7015.


Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.