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InnovateHER is a cross-cutting prize competition to unearth innovative products and services that help impact and empower the lives of women and families. Through the competition, the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) is seeking to amplify products or services that fill a need in the marketplace and have the potential for commercialization.

As the competition unfolds, local competitions will be hosted by universities, accelerators, clusters, scale-up communities, SBA resource partners, and other economic development organizations. Entrepreneurs selected as winners in local competitions will advance to the semi-final round. From the pool of semifinalists, SBA will select up to 10 finalists who will be invited to the National InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge to be held in mid-2017.  The finalists will pitch their products and ideas to a panel of expert judges and compete for the top three awards and a total of $70,000 in prizes.

Judging Criteria

  • Potential for commercialization
  • Impact on the lives of women and families
  • Fills a need in the marketplace

Selection of Winners

For winning entries submitted by teams of competitors, prize money will be awarded to the self-identified project leader for distribution to the rest of the team at their discretion and independently from SBA.

Semi-Final Round – In the semi-final round of the Challenge, SBA will review the semi-finalist nomination packages submitted by the local competition host organizations and select up to 10 Finalists whose products or services, in SBA’s sole judgment, best satisfy the Challenge criteria identified in Paragraph 1 of these Rules and present the greatest potential for success. In addition, in order to achieve nationwide distribution of prizes for the purpose of stimulating the growth and development of new products and services across the entire United States and across a diverse range of project types, SBA may take into account nominees’ geographic locations when selecting winners, including support to geographic regions that traditionally have limited access to capital, as well as diversity in the types of products and services.

Finalists selected by SBA will be required to sign a form certifying that they meet the eligibility requirements identified in the Challenge description and have complied with these Challenge Rules.

Final Round – Each finalist will be offered the opportunity to participate in the InnovateHER Final Challenge to be held in September 2017, where they will make a live marketing pitch to a panel of expert judges drawn from the private sector. The panel of judges will select the three finalists whose pitches, in their sole judgment, best satisfy the Challenge criteria and present the greatest potential for success and rank them in descending order. Finalists will be responsible for covering their own travel costs for the national competition.


  1. Eligibility Rules for Participating in the Challenge: This Challenge is open only to: (1) citizens or permanent residents of the United States who are at least eighteen (18) years of age at the time of their submission of an entry (or teams of such individuals); and (2) private entities, such as corporations or other organizations, that are incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States. Individuals submitting on behalf of corporations, nonprofits, or groups of individuals (such as an academic class or other team) must meet the eligibility requirements for individual contestants. An individual may belong to more than one team submitting an entry in this Challenge. SBA employees are not eligible, nor are Federal entities or Federal employees acting within the scope of their employment. Individuals or organizations that are currently suspended or disbarred by the federal government are not eligible for this Challenge.
  2. Registration Process for Participants: The Challenge launches on December 29, 2016. The initial round of the Challenge will take the form of local competitions that will be run across the country beginning no earlier than December 29, 2016 and ending no later than June 3, 2017 by host organizations such as universities, accelerators, clusters, scale-up communities, and SBA Resource Partners. For more information regarding these local competitions as it becomes available, please visit SBA will continue to update the list of local competitions as details are confirmed. While these local competitions will be identified as part of the InnovateHER Challenge and will be conducted in a manner that is consistent with these Challenge Rules, they will be administered solely by the local host organizations and will be judged by individuals selected by each host in their sole discretion. At a minimum, however, each application must contain a business plan covering the contestant’s proposed product or service and must satisfy the Challenge criteria identified by SBA in the Challenge details.

Following the completion of the local competitions, each host organization will identify one winner that will advance to the semi-final round of the Challenge. For a winning entry that has been submitted by a team of competitors, the host organization must list the team’s self-identified project leader as the winner who will advance to the semi-final round. No later than June 23, 2017, each host organization will submit a nomination package to containing the winning individual/team’s business plan and other required information to SBA, which will administer the semi-final and final rounds of the Challenge. Selection as a semi-finalist following a local competition is the only means of registering for the Challenge. All nominations will be screened by SBA for eligibility. Contestants cannot submit entries directly to SBA.

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