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Entrepreneurship Competitions for High School Students

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Entrepreneurship competitions are golden opportunities for innovative high school students. Participants in these programs gain experience with the entrepreneurial process, from the ideation and brainstorming phases to pitching their business plans to a panel of judges. Participating in a business plan competition can significantly boost a high school student's entrepreneurial skills, especially when they create a compelling business idea for an event. These competitions are designed to nurture student entrepreneurs and foster a spirit of innovation.

There are dozens of entrepreneurship competitions out there, each with its own format, eligibility criteria, and application process. To complicate things, some of the events require participants to enter individually, while others are team-based. Regardless of the competition type, 1st place offers a great resume addition for college admissions and often a cash prize.

To help you make sense of all of these opportunities, we’ve compiled a list of the top entrepreneurship competitions that high school innovators should know about and consider entering. And, if you’re still looking for more opportunities, check out our complete list of competitions for high schoolers here.

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Top Entrepreneurship Competitions for High School Students

#1 Diamond Challenge for High School Entrepreneurs

Overview and purpose of the competition: The Diamond Challenge is an international competition for high schoolers running from September to April. The goal of the competition is to encourage and support young people as they imagine and develop solutions in the categories of business innovation and social innovation, as well as in various other rotating fields. The competition is free to enter for all participants. (For more competitions without entry fees, check our article on free competitions for high school students.) This event is designed to nurture student entrepreneurs and foster a spirit of innovation. If you find yourself interested in other entrepreneurial ventures, consider exploring other business opportunities for high school students.

Eligibility criteria and application process: The competition is open to teams of high schoolers from anywhere in the world. Teams must consist of 2, 3, or 4 participants aged 14-18. Each team must also work with an adult supervisor. The deadline for the first round of the contest is in January. In February, the judges invite a selection of teams to give a pitch for their innovation (in person or virtually). Following the pitch round, the top teams are announced in March and the finalists compete at the innovation summit in April.

Benefits for participants: In addition to competing for grand prizes worth $12,000 in each of the major categories (and an overall prize pool worth over $100,000), finalists get to connect with young innovators from around the world, learn from guest speakers, and participate in a community of young entrepreneurs. Achieving 1st place in this competition can be a transformative experience for a young entrepreneur.

#2 DECA Entrepreneurship Competition

Description of the competition: DECA was founded in 1946 as an academic organization for high school and college students in the United States and abroad. The goal of the program is to develop entrepreneurial skills among emerging leaders in business, marketing, finance, and hospitality. Since its founding, DECA has grown to more than a quarter of a million registered members across its charter clubs. Each year, DECA organizes dozens of competitive events at the district, regional, and national levels, culminating in the International Career Development Conference (ICDC) in April. DECA organizes a variety of entrepreneurship-specific competitions. In addition, many of their other competition categories test participants’ entrepreneurship skills in scenarios specific to a career cluster (e.g. business management, finance, etc.). The competitions can vary in their structure from fast-paced case studies and role-plays to long-term, prepared competitions. 

Entry requirements and judging criteria: To enter a competition, you must be a member of your local DECA chapter. In general, DECA chapters are free to determine their own entry requirements. Across the board, though, members are required to be students enrolled in high school or undergraduate programs. Judges score participants based on criteria specific to the event.

Awards and recognition: Participating in DECA gives students the opportunity to develop and demonstrate their career readiness, problem-solving skills, and creativity while competing for recognition at regional and national events. In addition, DECA members can apply for tuition scholarships regardless of competition outcomes.

#3 National Economics Challenge (NEC)

Explanation of the competition and its goals: The National Economics Challenge is a multi-round competition testing participants’ micro and macroeconomic knowledge. Explore alternative top economics competitions for high school students if business is your focus.

Eligibility and competition structure: The competition takes place in two divisions according to participants’ experience levels. The David Ricardo Division is for first time competitors and beginners to economics coursework, while returning competitors and advanced students compete in the Adam Smith Division. Regardless of division and experience level, competitors first compete in their state competition; qualifying students advance to an online semi-final round, which determines who will compete in the national contest in New York City.

Participants compete in teams of either three or four students from the same high school or after-school organization. 

Benefits of participation: In addition to receiving a fully covered trip to New York City, finalists compete for cash prizes ranging from $125 to $1,000. In addition, participating in the contest allows students to develop their knowledge of economic theory while connecting with other budding economists and developing their teamwork skills.

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#4 Conrad Challenge

Description of the Conrad Challenge and its objectives: The Conrad Challenge aims to inspire young entrepreneurs by simulating the process of developing a product from start to finish. The challenge is a team-based competition spanning several months, following the students as they bring their ideas to life.

Competition structure and entry requirements: The challenge is open to students aged 13-18. Participants must form teams of 2-5 (plus a coach or mentor). Next, the team gets to work in the “Lean Canvas Stage,” brainstorming various possibilities to submit as their best idea. Once they’ve chosen their top idea, teams submit their work and decide which of the following four categories best matches their project:

  • Health and Nutrition

  • Energy and Environment

  • Aerospace and Aviation

  • Cyber-Technology and Security

The third step of the competition, called the “Innovation Stage,” requires the team to utilize critical thinking to create and submit a detailed business proposal to the jury. (Scoring criteria are available here.) The judges select a small handful of finalists to participate in-person at the Conrad Challenge Innovation Summit. Participating in this competition will help you determine if business programs for high school students are right for you.

Benefits and prizes: Through the Conrad Challenge, young entrepreneurs have the opportunity to connect with one another while learning from expert innovators and competing for prizes such as college scholarships and brand-new tech to help them bring their plans to life.

#5 Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) Saunders Scholars Competition

Introduction to the YEA! Program: The Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a nation-wide educational program for students in grades 6-12. The goal of the year-long program is to teach middle and high school students about entrepreneurship from all angles, including generating business ideas, conducting market research, writing business plans, and pitching their ideas to a panel of experts. 

How to join and participate: After completing the year-long YEA! course through their local chapter, students have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of local business leaders in their community. These local juries select the participants who will advance to the Saunders competition in Rochester, NY.

Opportunities and benefits: In addition to competing for college scholarships and business start-up packages, YEA! program participants develop entrepreneurial skills while connecting with and learning from successful entrepreneurs in their home community.

#6 Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

Overview of NFTE and its entrepreneurship competitions: The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship has reached over one million students since its founding in 1987. The non-profit organization aims to empower students to build their futures by providing them with access to entrepreneurship education. Their flagship competition, the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, invites young innovators to compete at the local, regional, national, and international levels.

Eligibility and competition format: Each local pitch competition is organized through business camps or classrooms and has its own entry criteria. Local winners move on to the regional competitions, where they compete for a spot at the national finals in New York City. The national champion then represents the United States in the World Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Awards and recognition: Regional finalists are recognized at event galas and are eligible for cash prizes. Finalists compete for significant capital funds, which can be used to seed a new business or to grow a new one.

#7 Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) Entrepreneurship Competitions

Description of FBLA and its entrepreneurship competition: The Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) is a non-profit organization helping students prepare for successful careers in business by training them to transition to the workforce. While the FBLA has branches for middle school and college students, the vast majority of FBLA members are high schoolers. In addition to their educational programs (including achievement awards and capstone projects), the FBLA organizes dozens of multi-round competitions. 

The FBLA’s competitive event categories range from Accounting to Word Processing. Several of these events (such as Business Planning) test entrepreneurial skills, and there is also a dedicated category called Entrepreneurship, in which participants are tested on the following competencies:

  • Business Plan

  • Financial Management

  • Initial Capital and Credit

  • Marketing Management

  • Personnel Management

  • Taxes

  • Community/Business

  • Relations

  • Government Regulations

  • Legal Issues 

How to participate and what to expect: To participate in the FBLA Entrepreneurship competition, you must be an active FBLA member in good standing with your local chapter (dues are $10 per student per year). You will then need to register through your chapter for the regional entrepreneurship competitive event. Participants can compete as individuals or as teams of up to three members. The event consists of an exam comprising 100 questions, followed by a role play presentation based on a simulation of a real-world business scenario.

Benefits and opportunities: The top scorers in the regional event advance to the state competition and, eventually, to the National Leadership Conference (NLC). Beyond competing for cash prizes, participants in the NLC spend four days learning from and connecting with national business leaders. The 2025 High School NLC will take place in Anaheim, CA.

#8 Harvard Undergraduate Economics Association International Economics Essay Contest

Overview of the essay contest and its goals: The Harvard International Economics Essay Contest (HIEEC) gives high school students the opportunity to demonstrate their writing and critical thinking skills, as well as their understanding of economic theory. Participants are given four prompts to choose from and may only submit one essay.

Eligibility and submission guidelines: The competition is open to students in grades 9-12 (or international equivalent). Essay submissions must not exceed 1500 words, must use Chicago or APA style for all citations, and must be written solely by the participant.

Prizes and recognition: While there is no cash prize for the HIEEC, winning essays are published on the organization’s website, a powerful addition to a college admissions resume. Finalists’ names are also listed.

Want more ideas for essay contests? Check out our dedicated article on essay contests for high school students

How to Prepare for Entrepreneurship Competitions

Tips for effective preparation: Entrepreneurship requires planning, creativity, and confidence in your work; preparing for entrepreneurship competitions is no different. With that in mind, here are four tips to help you maximize your preparation time leading up to competition day:

  1. Put in the work at the beginning of the process. For pitch-based competitions, invest early in your project during the brainstorming stage. The fewer doubts you have about your innovation, the easier it will be to defend your idea under scrutiny from a panel of judges.

  2. Keep an open mind. Just like during the real entrepreneurial process, there will almost certainly be moments during your preparation when you will have to start from scratch. Don’t be discouraged. Instead, think of these moments as part of the test: how quickly can you start over?

  3. Ask for critical feedback. Don’t wait until the last moment to ask others for their opinions! At every stage of the process, request input from your mentors, your friends, and your teachers.

  4. Practice in front of an audience. It’s normal to get nervous on competition day. However, confidence (or at least the appearance of confidence) goes a long way when pitching your idea. In the days leading up to the competition, run through your presentation a few times with a small audience. In addition to helping you hone the key moments of your pitch, this will help you feel less nervous when presenting in front of a group.

  5. Interview others. Contact a current undergraduate or graduate student pursuing a business degree or reach out to a successful entrepreneur to receive hands-on advice regarding business administration, critical thinking, and other important skills. You could ask them if they’ve participated in similar competitions for college students to spark some ideas.

Importance of developing a strong business plan: You might come up with a stellar product, but what’s your plan to sell it? When preparing your pitch, it is crucial to conduct market research to convince the judges that a) there is a substantial market for your innovation, and b) you know how to build your business around it.

Seeking mentorship and guidance: Considering everything that goes into preparing for competition day, it’s no surprise that many entrepreneurship competitions require participants to work with a mentor. Entrepreneurs rely on mentors in the real world to guide them through the process, keep them on schedule, and to let them know honestly what’s working with their project and what isn’t. If you are looking for a mentor to help you prepare for an entrepreneurship competition, Polygence can match you with an expert — like Dayo, who specializes in rapid prototyping and product development, or Michael, who can help you with storyboarding and pitching — all of whom are passionate about helping young innovators!

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Next Steps with Polygence

Entrepreneurship competitions are fantastic opportunities for high schoolers to get a taste of real-world problem-solving while developing critical business skills. In addition, participating and advancing in one or more of these competitions demonstrates your dedication and innovation when presenting yourself to colleges, future employers, and, potentially, future business partners.

How Polygence can support students through mentorship and project-based learning: Polygence is a great option for passionate students who want to complete a project but could use some expert guidance to make sure their efforts are going in the right direction. At Polygence, we empower you to take the lead while giving you direct, one-on-one access to highly qualified mentors. Our entrepreneurship mentors are business professionals and/or graduate students at prestigious universities, and all of them are passionate about sharing their knowledge with young innovators.

Want to learn more? Contact us now!