Due to the pandemic, this year’s Innovation Challenge will take place virtually from February to April 2021.

Elon Innovation Challenge logoThe Spring 2021 Challenge

Identify a problem that arose due to the pandemic, relating to a business, startup or non-profit organization, and pitch your solution.

Round One

In a video, tell us about the organization, its problem and the COVID-19 related pivot you’d like to develop during this competition.

Videos should be less than three minutes and submitted to innovation@elon.edu by 12p.m. EST on March 6, 2021.

Round Two

The top 10 teams will receive a $200 stipend to develop a working prototype and, if possible, implement the idea in conjunction with their chosen organization.

Teams will be provided with a mentor/coach to support them, provide guidance, answer questions and help with necessary resources.

Throughout this process, teams must film and photograph their progress to present in the final portion of the event.

Teams will submit a 4-5 minute video with their results by 5 p.m. EST on April 14, 2021. Videos should share how their pitch evolved over the work period, including examples of the prototype, their work with the organization, and if complete, a show of execution and analysis of success. The organization should attest to the feasibility and value of the proposed solution.

The announcement of the winners will take place during a virtual awards presentation on April 22, 7:00-8:15 p.m.

All participants who complete the challenge will receive a Certificate of Completion.


  • $5,000 | Grand Prize
  • $2,500 | Second Place
  • $1,500 | Third Place
  • $200 | 2 Honorable Mentions


Each team needs to:

  • Represent majors from at least two different areas of study
  • Include at least two students and no more than five students
  • Provide a feasible pitch that is an innovative idea to help a company, startup or non-profit address and respond to a COVID-related hardship or challenge


Sullivan Foundation logo

Doherty Center logo

Hollins Entrepreneurial Learning Institute logo

Resources for Teams

View Challenge Resources

Round One Judging Criteria


  • Team clearly defines problem
  • Team offers a solution that aligns to the problem defined
    Solution is creative, innovative and/or inspirational


  • Desirable—Team has identified that there was a desire for their solution
  • Viable—Team has shown a path to economic viability and potential for growth
  • Feasible—Team has indicated potential for implementation and execution


  • Presentation is aesthetically pleasing and conveys meaningful information
  • Team has created a compelling story

Round Two Judging Criteria


  • Clearly defines a problem created by the pandemic
  • Presents a pivot solution that addresses the problem for the partner
  • Pivot solution is creative, innovative and/or inspirational


  • Clearly demonstrates the problem is worth solving
  • Identifies the benefits of the pivot solution (value proposition)
  • Clearly identifies how the partner (small business, startup or non-profit) and other potential customers may use it
  • Explains why it will be useful to the partner
  • Highlights feedback from partner


  • Clearly addresses the purpose and long-term possibilities of the pivot solution and factors that will keep the solution sustainable in the long run, including revenue or funding generation
  • Addresses a pathway for growth
  • Identifies obstacles that may affect the solution long-term
  • Explains how pivot solution supports long term strategy and vision of the partner


  • Clearly identifies the pivot solution can be implemented by team and partner
  • Identifies the necessary resources for implementation


  • Develops a sound prototype
  • Receives feedback from partner as to value of pivot solution
  • Explores next steps to further implementation


  • Tells a compelling story
    • Captures the pivot solution process
    • Conveys meaningful information
  • Aesthetically pleasing


Do you need to have a final product by the end of the challenge?

No, for Round 1, all you need is an idea for a product, solution, PR campaign or process that can help a company or organization during the pandemic. In Round 2, your team will create a working prototype to complete the Challenge.

Will this take a large amount of effort?

Like most things in life, what you get out is what you put in. There is a set deadline so you can divide out the work however you please. Just do your best to complete the challenge in a way that you feel you can receive the greatest reward, even if it’s not the top prize!

Do we come up with the problem?

Yes, you should think of a problem that a small business, startup or non-profit is facing and brainstorm a solution (idea) for it. You don’t have to identify the specific company (small business, startup or non-profit) but you should have the type of organization in mind for your solution.

In Round 2, you are going to be working with an organization to  address the problem with a potential prototype. If you wish to take part in the Challenge but can’t think of a good idea, feel free to ask a company or organization what problems  they are facing and/or suggest that you wish to collaborate with them to solve it.

How much time will participating in the Challenge take?

This year, the Elon Innovation Challenge is no longer one full day. Instead, it involves submitting a video of your idea (solution) that a small business, startup or non-profit is having during the pandemic. It can be a small problem or a larger one. Some teams have been able to brainstorm an idea in a half hour and produce a slide deck and record it in another half hour. For other teams, the brainstorming and/or creation of the video takes longer. In Round 2,  you will be paired with a company and organization (of your choosing or we will find one for you) to try to implement the solution. Again, this could take an hour or two or it could take longer, depending on the expectations of your team and company/organization partner.

Will you have a greater chance of winning with a finished product (rather than a prototype)?

This depends. Teams will be evaluated on the creativity of their idea (solution), their implementation strategy plan and the potential for success for the small business, startup or non-profit. We are not looking for finished solutions but sound strategies that can be executed upon to help a company or organization that is struggling due to the pandemic.

Can I still participate in the Elon Innovation Challenge if I don’t have a team?

Yes! While you can’t participate in the Elon Innovation Challenge individually, you can still participate in the Elon Innovation Challenge if you don’t have a team. Our committee will pair you with other students and you will have the opportunity to participate in the challenger together.

Who passes on to Round 2?

Originally, we had planned for only a handful of teams to move to Round 2. But after much feedback from students and faculty alike, we decided to have ALL teams move to the second round. The top 10 teams (based on the video submissions will receive a $200 stipend towards their implementation strategy (such as a prototype) with matching funds to the company or organization that they are working with.

Does the first video have to be super high quality?

No, it does not, just a video explaining the idea and the problem you are going to solve and who you are solving it for.  Feel free to use Zoom or your smartphone to record your team’s solution. Just be sure that it’s under three minutes.

If my team doesn’t win any prizes, what is the value of participating?

We would like to believe that taking part in an innovation challenge is a valuable experience in and of itself. Moreover, you will get real world experience trying to implement a solution. We will also have a series of taped workshops on a number of relevant topics that all participants in the Challenge can watch and learn from. You will also be able to enhance your network, which is something important that all students should appreciate. Finally, all students taking part in the Challenge will receive a certificate of completion in helping out a business. We believe that this is something you should be proud of and want to put on your resume.


For more information, please email innovation@elon.edu.

Challenge Co-Chairs

Karl Sienerth
Professor of Chemistry
Elon University

Karen Messer-Bourgoin
Director of the Entrepreneurial Learning Institute
Professor of Practice in Business
Hollins University

Regan O’Donnell ’21
Doherty Center Scholar Intern
Elon University