Startup Funding Programs

The MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach (CEO) provides up to $10,000 of funding to student and faculty startup companies through multiple programs. Three independent review boards that regularly review pitches evaluate and select all funding recipients. Click the tabs below to explore the many funding opportunities available.

VentureCatalyst

Participants in the MSU VentureCatalyst™ program have access to up to $7,500 in grant funding through the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach. These funds may be used to advance a technology or innovation-based company across three rounds of funding. You must be accepted into VentureCatalyst prior to applying. Click Here.

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Award Amount

Stage I

Spark Grants are $500 fixed awards to help new entrepreneurs identify their customers and value proposition and develop a basic proof of concept or mock-up. Funded by alumni donors, the CEO annually awards up to 40 teams, reviewed on a rolling basis by the Peer Review Entrepreneurship Panel (PREP).

Basis for Award

Applicants will be assessed based upon on the following criteria:

  • Does the entrepreneur have seriousness, dedication, & focus?
    Demonstrates initiative and has put real work into idea; Conveys a sense of determination to push through walls; Shows ability to listen and flexibility to pivots
  • Are they on the right track as to developing a business model?
    Has loosely identified a paying customer; Has an idea of how to market it; Has thought through a business model, not just tech.
  • Does this have potential to be a real business or trying to prop up a hobby?
    Has a relatively unique solution for target market; Has a general awareness of competitive landscape; Recognizes potential to scale beyond Starkville/MSU

Pitch Contents:

  • What problem are you solving?
  • What product or service are you providing?
  • Who is the customer?
  • How do you plan to sell to them?
  • Who is the competition and how are you better?

Use of Funds

Awards may be used for reasonable business expenses applied in the following general categories:

  • Equipment
  • Events
  • Marketing
  • Meetings
  • Software (limited)
  • Supplies
  • Surveying
  • Travel (limited)

Prohibited Expenses

  • Common Hardware
    e.g. laptop/desktop computers, tablets, phones, printers
  • Professional consultation
    e.g. legal services, accounting, marketing, engineering, programming

Logistics:

  • Pitch Length: 5-min
  • Q&A: 5-min
  • Format: Adobe PDF or MS PowerPoint only
  • Medium: USB drive only

Review Dates:

Sep 9th, 2022
12:00pm (117 McCool Hall)
(Apply by 9/2 @ 11:59pm)

Oct 7th, 2022
12:00pm (117 McCool Hall)
(Apply by 9/30 @ 11:59pm)

Nov 4th, 2022
12:00pm (117 McCool Hall)
(Apply by 10/28 @ 11:59pm)

Nov 30th, 2022
12:00pm (117 McCool Hall)
(Apply by 11/22 @ 11:59pm)

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Award Amount

Stage II

Startup Grants provide entrepreneurs up to $2,000 to continue customer and market discovery, develop a minimum viable product (MVP), purchase critical equipment, hire professional legal/accounting/insurance/engineering counsel, or other reasonable requests. Funded by alumni donors, the CEO annually awards up to 20 teams, reviewed on a rolling basis by the Entrepreneurship Center Advisory Board (ECAB).

Basis for Award

Applicants will be assessed based upon on the following criteria:

  • Product / Service Definition
    The product is complete and clearly defined, understood, and feasible. Contains scalable core innovation.
  • Customer Understanding
    There is a clear grasp of who the customer is and evidence presented of product interest.
  • Revenue Model
    The company has a strong revenue strategy and has shown evidence of embrace.
  • Market Potential & Scale
    There is a large potential market clearly identified that can be reasonably captured.
  • Sales Channels and Path to Market
    A clear path to reaching potential customers exists and realistic sales plan has been established.
  • Distinctive Advantage
    The company provides something novel, unique, and/or special that gives it a competitive advantage.
  • Grant Impact
    The award would have a meaningful impact on this business’s viability and growth rate in its current state.

Content:

  • Problem
  • Solution
  • How it Works
  • Customer & Feedback
  • Market
  • Revenue Model
  • Sales Strategy
  • Competitive Advantage
  • Our Team
  • Progress / What‘s Next
  • Ask

Use of Funds

Awards may be used for the following types of expenditures:

  • Prototype or MVP Development
    Supports development of a prototype, alpha version of a software product, or otherwise form minimum viable product (MVP). In most cases, the board will not approve grants to contract programmers, as the team should recruit programming talent as part of the founding team.
  • Key Capital Expenditures
    Enables applicants to purchase critical equipment to growth of a startup. The request must show supporting evidence that the expenditure will substantially impact sales, or increase market competitiveness in terms of time, quality, or overall value.
  • Sales or Primary Market Research
    Provides assistance with attending tradeshows or conferences related to the potential product or service in effort to promote sales or market research.
  • Legal or Professional Services
    Used to hire legal counsel or for accounting, engineering, medical, or other recognized professional advice.

Prohibited Expenses

  • Common Hardware
    e.g. laptop/desktop computers, tablets, phones, printers

Logistics:

  • Pitch Length: 10-min
  • Q&A: 5-min
  • Format: Adobe PDF or MS PowerPoint only
  • Medium: USB drive only

Review Dates:

Sep 23rd, 2022
12:00pm
(Apply by 9/16 @ 11:59pm)

Oct 21st, 2022
12:00pm
(Apply by 10/12 @ 11:59pm)

Nov 18th, 2022
12:00pm
(Apply by 11/11 @ 11:59pm)

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Award Amount

Stage III

Seed Grants provide additional capital up to $5,000 to enable teams to begin the execution of their approved business plan. Proceeds are flexible on the needs of the companies, and up to 50% may be used towards founder’s cost of living (post-graduation only. Funded by alumni donors, the CEO annually awards up to 20 teams, reviewed on a rolling basis by the Investment Review Council (IRC).

Basis for Award

Applicants will be assessed based upon on the following criteria:

  • Comprehensive Business Plan
    The team has written an extensive, well-researched business plan that is feasible and nearly ready for execution.
  • 48-month Financial Projection
    The business plan contains realistic financial projections that align with the business plan.
  • Pitch Deck
    The pitch deck is a slideshow presentation similar to your ECAB pitch that should focus on illustrating the investment opportunity, and should be able to stand on its own.
  • Product Roadmap
    The team has identified a reasonable plan for remaining product development needs.
  • Mentor Endorsement
    The team’s assigned mentor endorses the team’s business plan, financial projections, and product roadmap.
  • Investment Readiness or Sustainability
    Based on the documents, the business is or is nearly investment ready, OR the team has a clear path to sustainability on its own revenue.

Use of Funds

Awards funds are unrestricted and may be used for the purpose of furthering the development of the proposed venture as defined by the approved plan. Use of funds for other start-up ventures or any other purposes must be explicitly approved by the CEO.

Application Deadlines

No presentation is required for Stage 3. You will submit your complete document set and receive a final award notification in approximately 3-6 weeks.

  • November 22, 2020 at 11:59pm CT (Online Submission)

Logistics:

  • No pitch, document review only.
  • Format: Adobe PDF and MS Excel only

Content:

  • Business Plan
  • 48-mo Financial Projections
  • Pitch Deck
  • Product Road Map
  • Mentor Endorsement

Application Deadline:

Nov 28th, 2022
11:59pm
(All docs must be submitted)

Eligibility

  • Applicant must be an actively enrolled MSU student, faculty, or staff member, in good academic standing.
  • Applicant must hold at least 25% of equity allocated to the management team of applying team.
  • Applicant’s team may not have received outside investment totaling greater than $10,000.
  • Applicant must have been accepted into the MSU VentureCatalyst™ Program.

Application Process

  • Applicants must first meet with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach team and be accepted into the MSU VentureCatalyst™ Program.
  • Teams will complete an online application for the award level.
  • Applications will be reviewed by the E-Center to assess readiness for the grant.
  • If accepted, teams will be assigned a presentation date and time slot to present to an independent review board who meet regularly to review funding requests.*
  • Applicants will deliver an in-person presentation.

Cancellations

There are a limited number of pitch slots per meeting. Withdrawing from a requested pitch slot within 72-hours of your presentation date will result in a 10% penalty fee assessed against any future awards or grants.

Boost Fund

The Boost Fund provides a grant award of up to $1,500.00 to help startups get over a specific need or hurdle. Any entrepreneur working with the E-Center (both MSU and non-MSU) may apply. Funded by alumni donors, the CEO annually awards up to 24 teams, reviewed on a rolling basis by the Entrepreneurship Center Advisory Board (ECAB).

Basis for Award

Applicants will be assessed based upon on the following criteria:

  • Does the team show viability outside of the funding request?
    Gives examples of material traction; Conveys reasonable confidence in the outlook of the business.
  • Does the team identify a need and show they have exhausted other options to work around the hurdle?
    Has identified a critical need that stands in their way; Has exhausted most reasonable workarounds
  • Will the funds have a material impact on the startup?
    The business will likely fail (or never launch) without this; There is likelihood that the business will be able to get meaninfullycloser to self-sustainability with this grant.

Pitch Contents:

  • Who are you?
  • What is your business?
  • What hurdle do you face? Where are you stuck?
  • How have you tried to overcome it?
  • What do you need?
  • How will your business be better?

Use of Funds

Awards funds are unrestricted and may be used to further the development of the proposed venture as defined by the approved plan. The E-Center must explicitly approve the use of funds for other start-up ventures or any other purposes.

In general, boost grants requests for the following will not be approved for these kinds of requests:

  • Common hardware – e.g. laptop/desktop computers, tablets, phones, printers
  • Payroll expenses or operating funds

Award Amount

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Logistics:

  • Pitch Length: 5-min
  • Q&A: 5-min
  • Format: Adobe PDF or MS PowerPoint only
  • Medium: USB drive only

Review Dates:

Feb 11th, 2022
12:00pm
(Apply by 2/4 @ 11:59pm)

Mar 11th, 2022
12:00pm
(Apply by 3/4 @ 11:59pm)

Apr 8th, 2022
12:00pm
(Apply by 4/1 @ 11:59pm)

May 3rd, 2022 (Tentative)
12:00pm
(Apply by 4/26 @ 11:59pm)

NSF I-Corps Site Grant

Through the National Science Foundation, MSU provides up to $5,000 in funding for travel to learn from potential customers and MVP development while participating in our NSF I-Corps Site training program. The program is open to all students, faculty, researchers and staff at the university who are working on deep technology and exploring bringing their research innovations to market. Topics for I-Corps Teams originate from research — both sponsored and unsponsored.

Up to $3,000 of travel funds authorized immediately

Upon acceptance to the I-Corps Site program, you will have immediate access to money to use for customer discovery.

Use of Award Money:

  1. Attending tradeshows, expos or other large gathering of people who could fit your customer segment.
  2. Limited materials and supply costs which can be charged on an MSU Procard may be approved to enable more effective customer discovery.
  3. In general, the I-Corps Site award may not be used for personnel or prototyping. Ask our program team how we may be able to support those needs with other programs.

Spending Funds:

  1. Accepted I-Corps Site teams will be given a banner account number.
  2. Travel will be handled through the faculty member’s home department using the provided banner number, and forms will need to be routed through the E-Center for secondary approval prior to travel.
  3. Other expenses may be made using the faculty’s home department procurement card and charged to the provided banner number.

Award Amount

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Logistics:

  • Training: 5 sessions
  • Duration: 3 weeks

Review Dates:

Click here for cohort dates.

MSU Sidecar Fund

The MSU Sidecar Investment Fund provides equity investment in companies that have a relationship with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach. The goal of the Fund is to grow economic development through entrepreneurship in Mississippi by providing more early-stage capital for MSU student or faculty startups, both directly and through magnifying the interest of outside private investors. The MSU Research and Technology Corporation (RTC) and the E-Center jointly manage the Fund, while RTC maintains ultimate oversight and control.

Fund Overview and Mechanics

  • The Fund may only “sidecar” or co-invest in an existing fundraising round with at least two other accredited, qualified angel investors.
  • The Fund will invest under the same terms, class of ownership, and other benefits negotiated as the other qualified investors.
  • The Fund will commit to invest no more than the greater of: $5,000 or 10% of the total investment round for a particular venture, with a maximum individual investment of $10,000. The final individual investment amount may be less in the event the opportunity is oversubscribed.
  • No MSU employee or RTC Board member can serve on the board of, or have a material financial interest in, any holdings in which the Fund invests.

Eligibility

  • The Fund will only be used to invest in for-profit entities that have at least one enrolled MSU student and/or qualifying current MSU employee who individually or collectively hold at least 25% of the equity of the target entity prior to investment. Alumni who began working with the CEO prior to graduation qualify. To qualify, an MSU employee must have MURA Authority approval for the target entity.
  • Under no circumstances will the Fund be used to provide financial support to any business that is (or otherwise perceived to be): (a) based in a foreign country; (b) engaging in any activity that is illegal under federal and/or state law; (c) lewd or sexual in nature; (d) promoting violence or drug use; (e) gambling; or (f) multi-level marketing.

Investment Process

  • The E-Center staff will first review qualified opportunities to ensure the opportunity meets established guidelines. Once satisfactory, the E-Center will draft a memo indicating a preliminary, non-binding amount the Fund intends to invest should the deal proceed. The amount will be based on the above guidelines and the available balance in the Fund account.
  • The E-Center will perform due diligence. The E-Center may collaborate with other potential investors to conduct such due diligence.
  • After performing necessary due diligence, the E-Center Director will draft a formal recommendation to the E-Center Advisory Board (ECAB). The recommendation will be voted upon by a quorum of the ECAB and approved with a 2/3 majority of the Board. If an ECAB member is part of the investment round as an individual investor or has a material financial interest in the target entity, he or she must recuse him/herself from participating in the ECAB’s discussion of the investment and voting.
  • If approved by the ECAB, the E-Center Director will submit a memo, along with a copy of the subscription agreement, a company operating agreement, and any other requested documents to the Office of General Counsel and Director of RTC for review and approval.
  • Upon approval of the General Counsel and the RTC Director, the memo and other requested documents will be submitted to the RTC Sidecar Fund subcommittee. Upon approval by the subcommittee, the Director or President of RTC will execute the subscription agreement and payment directly with the target entity.

Exit Event

  • The Fund will seek “drag-along,” and “tag-along” rights in all investments, which will trigger a sale when either the target entity decides to sell, or a majority shareholder/member sells his/her interest in the target entity.
  • In the event “drag-along” and “tag-along” rights are not secured, the E-Center Director may draft a recommendation to the ECAB. The recommendation will be voted upon by a quorum of the ECAB and approved with a 2/3 majority. If an ECAB member is part of the investment round as an individual investor or has a material financial interest in the target entity, he or she must abstain from voting.
  • Proceeds of the Fund, less applicable taxes, and fees as established in Section 1, shall be used at the discretion of the E-Center in the following priority: (i) Replenishment of the investment fund to the determined minimum level; (ii) Growth of the Fund to target size; and (iii) Disbursement of remaining earnings to the E-Center.

Investment Up To

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Logistics:

  • No pitch is required. Document review only.
  • Interested applicants should schedule a meeting with the Director of the E-Center.

Required Documents:

  • Agreed Term Sheet with at least two (2) qualified investors
  • Business Plan
  • Min 36-mo Financial Projections
  • Pitch Deck

Notification & Disbursement

  • Applicants will be notified of their award status via email within 24-hr of their presentation date.
  • Awardees may be supplied with additional feedback of their presentation and application within one week of the notification.
  • Awardees must promptly remit an invoice, signed W9, and award paperwork within 5 business days of notification. Failure to do so may delay award up to two months.
  • Awards will be issued by check on Friday approximately 2-3 weeks after notification of award.
  • When award payments are ready, awardees will be notified for pickup in the CEO Main Office.

Terms of Award

  • Grant money from MSU is taxable income for you and/or your company. The E-Center does not withhold taxes nor can the E-Center provide any tax guidance on ensuring compliance with tax regulations. You can find trusted CPAs who have worked with the E-Center here.
  • Awardees must submit at least four quarterly reports of their progress after receiving an award. The E-Center will provide a template for this report, which includes financial (company sales revenue, projected sales, payroll, external investments), product traction (user/clients served), employment information, and progression to goal.
  • Awardees will provide a detailed summary of expenditures made.
  • Awardees must comply with any stipulations or contingencies proposed by the review board and listed in the notification email.
  • Awardees are strongly encouraged to stay involved with the E-Center and help its mission, including mentorship of future teams.
  • Awardees agree to use grant solely for the purposes enumerated and described within grant request.
  • Awards are offered expecting no return, equity position, or royalties from entrepreneurial businesses and are funded through private contributions.
  • The review boards have the discretion, on a case-by-case basis, to consider exceptions to eligibility and use of funds. This is uncommon and must be discussed in advanced.
  • Under no circumstances will MSU provide financial support to any business that is (or otherwise perceived to be): (a) based in a foreign country; (b) engaging in any activity that is illegal under federal and/or state law; (c) lewd or sexual in nature; (d) promoting violence or drug use; (e) gambling.
  • By accepting funds from the Mississippi State University and any other associated funding sources, the award recipient affirms that his/her business is in compliance with all local, state, and federal tax laws and license requirements and that his/her business will maintain compliance with all appropriate tax and business compliance guidelines as set forth by the appropriate jurisdictions.