A big idea brings new or significant value to some group of people. New can mean a new organization, product, process or service. It could be a large change for an existing organization, product, or service. It can result in a for-profit or non-profit venture. Past big ideas have come from engineering, nursing, computer science and many other fields.

Rule Book

Eligibility for General & Ag/Food/Beverage Divisions:

  • Participants must be current, full or part-time, Minnesota State Mankato undergraduate or graduate students or recent alumni within two years of graduating. Open to any major.  
  • Teams may include 1-5 people and may include non-Minnesota State Mankato students as long as the team consists of at least 2/3 current students or recent alumni.
  • Teams can only win a Big Ideas prize twice, after which, they are no longer eligible. Teams may re-apply as many times as desired if they have not won two or more cash prizes.
  • Participants must follow rules and abide by all deadlines to remain eligible. At least one member of each team must attend at least one rehearsal.
Participants agree that if they win first place, they will continue as a semifinalist in the Minnesota Cup.

Eligibility for High Tech Division:

  • Participants must be businesses or start-ups in the southwestern Minnesota region. Could be students or non-students. 
  • Southwestern region counties are: Big Stone, Blue Earth, Brown, Chippewa, Cottonwood, Faribault, Jackson, Lac qui Parle, Le Sueur, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Rock, Sibley, Swift, Waseca, Watonwan, Yellow Medicine (
  • Teams must not have received $50,000 or more in angel investment or venture capital.
  • Teams must have been in business for less than three years.
Teams must have made less than $50,000 in sales.

This round is judged online by multiple judges. Submission runs from December to early February each year.

The application will require answering the following questions:

  • What is your idea and what product/service will you offer? Please ensure this is a clear, concise, and persuasive statement.
  • What is the problem you are solving or the opportunity you wish to capitalize upon (how does this idea provide value to your target market)? What alternatives exist to solve the same problem?
  • Who are your potential customers? How do you deliver your product/service to the market? How do you know that your customers need or want your product/service?
  • What are your projected expenses? How will you make money? 
  • What are your current resources and what do you need to move forward with your idea?
  • What are your key milestones? How would you spend the initial prize money to achieve a milestone? 

Business Plan and Social Media video

The four teams with the highest judging scores will become general finalists and advance to round two. 

The two teams with the highest round one scores in the ag/food/beverage division will advance to round two.

The two teams with the highest round one score in the high tech division will advance to round two.

Help available for finalists:

  • Individual mentors assigned to each team to help with plan and pitch
  • Free LivePlan business plan software
  • Free coaching sessions, for business plans, with the Small Business Development Center
  • Detailed feedback on your presentation
  • Prototyping tools, coaching, and support at the CIE

Finalists will submit a business plan utilizing LivePlan software and will submit their plan to our judging panel. 

Submitting letters of support from potential clients/customers is a great way to show judges the viability of your plan.

Social Media Video

Finalists must submit a short video to demonstrate passion and enthusiasm for their idea. The video should be 1-2 minutes in length and can be done with a phone. It doesn’t have to be professional, just make it fun! Upload to MediaShare, YouTube, or Vimeo and provide the URL to

Be creative in showcasing how your product, service, or technology works (show a sample, prototype, demonstration, diagram, role-play/skit, etc.)  Remember that this will be shown to all ages and backgrounds.

Students are encouraged to post their videos on social media platforms to generate buzz and feedback. This is a great way to get individuals behind your team for the People’s Choice Voting!  

Judge question and answer portion

Judges will review your business plans and develop questions to present at a Q & A with all the teams. This is a great opportunity for the judges to learn more about your product and for you to adjust your business plan and pitch.

Pitch Presentation

On the event day, April 14, teams will pitch their ideas in front of the judges and a live audience. The audience will vote for the People's Choice award, and the winners will be announced. 

Our team of final judges includes experienced business people from a variety of backgrounds. 

Award Money Distribution

1st Place: $5,000- Minnesota Cup automatic semi-finalist

2nd Place: $3,000

3rd Place: $2,000

People’s Choice (live audience voting on Big Ideas Day): $2,000

Agriculture/Food/Beverage Division: Not applicable for the 2022 season

High-Tech: $3,000

  • If an ag/food/beverage team is also in the top five scores, they will compete for the main and people’s choice prize as well. If they are not in those top five, they compete for the ag prize only.
  • If a high-tech team is also in the top five scores, they will compete for the main and people’s choice prize as well.  If they are not in those top five, they compete for the high-tech prize only.
  • Winners pledge if they are students, to remain in college until graduation or for one year after receipt of the prize funds. All winners agree to participate in the Big Ideas Kick-off, judging, or Challenge event the following year.