University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

The Acara Challenge is the University of Minnesota’s impact venture competition to reward student teams that are developing viable venture solutions to address global social and environmental challenges. Example challenges may include: water, sanitation, food, energy, waste, health, education, sustainability, inequality, poverty. The Acara Challenge is organized by Acara, a program at the Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota.

  • Learn:  If you want to apply or have any questions, contact Fred Rose <> to discuss your application and learn what to expect.
  • Prepare: To prepare your venture idea, you may join CE 5572: Social Venture Launchpad. CE 5572 is Acara’s 1-week, 2-credit January-term course to help teams prepare their venture idea for funding. This course is a resource, not a prerequisite to join the competition. To apply for CE 5572 see
  • Apply: Applications are due each January for the Acara Challenge via
  • Pitch: The next Acara Challenge will occur in late February 2016 at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus.


  • The competition is open to any current degree-seeking University of Minnesota student (undergrad, grad, professional) from all system campuses.
  • Any team with an awesome business idea or operational early stage venture that addresses a grand challenge issue with a for-profit or not-for-profit organization may participate.
  • Each team must have at least 1 currently or recently registered student (1 or more students must be registered Fall 2015 or Spring 2016).

2016 Timeline

  • January 22, 2016 5pm CST. Initial entry deadline at
  • January 29, 2016. Finalists announced.
  • February 2, 2016 6-8pm. Information session.
  • February 12, 2016. Final plans due.
  • February 15-19, 2016. Required one on one practice session with Acara.
  • February 23, 2016. Final 10-minute and 2-minute pitch decks due to by 5pm CST.
  • February 25, 2016.
    • Acara Challenge Finals: 8am-4pm at McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus.
    • Acara Challenge Public Reception and Award Ceremony: 5:30-8:30pm


  • Cash awards up to $1000 per team.
  • Invitation to apply for an Acara Venture Fellowship up to $5000 in additional funding per team.
  • Admission and tuition for the Acara Venture Design Workshop held at UMN in Spring 2016.
  • $500 scholarship per student to attend CE 5570 Design for Sustainable Development: Discovery in Bangalore, India.


All teams will be judged by a “venture capital-like” panel. The judging criteria is:

  • What is the problem?
  • How do you make money?
  • What is the social impact?
  • How does it scale?
  • Who is the team?


Review the full Acara Challenge 2015 Rules and Guidelines for further information on the competition.

Acara is the impact entrepreneurship program of the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment in partnership with the College of Science and Engineering and the Carlson School of Management.