InnovateHER 2017: Innovating for Women Business Challenge
Submission Deadline05/25/2017

Competition Description

The U.S. Small Business Administration - InnovateHER Challenge is a business competition used to identify, recognize, and reward excellence in entrepreneurs.The Challenge was created on the idea that our nation’s workforce looks very different from 50 years ago. Today, women now make up nearly half of the labor force and play a critical role in our nation’s economic prosperity. Most children live in households where all parents work and as our population ages, families are increasingly caring for aging parents while balancing the needs of work and home. As the demands on women and families grow, the need for products and services that address these unique challenges increases. SBA's InnovateHER provides that platform.

The goal of the Challenge is to showcase products and services that do the following:

(1) Have a measurable impact on the lives of woman and families

(2) Have the potential for commercialization; and

(3) Fill a need in the marketplace.

The 2017 InnovateHER Challenge is a national prize competition that culminates in a live pitch Final Round. The two division winners of the St. Louis InnovateHER Challenge will be submitted and reviewed by the SBA for admittance into the national InnovateHER Semi-Finals.  Up to ten (10) InnovateHER Finalists, will be invited to compete for $70,000 in cash prizes provided by The Sarah Blakely Foundation. 

What do winners of the St. Louis InnovateHER competition receive?

  • The Illinois division winner will receive a $1,500 cash prize coordinated by the IL Metro East SBDC and up to $1,000 of in-kind legal services provided by Mathis, Marifian & Richter, Ltd.
  • The Missouri division winner will receive a $2,000 cash prize along with an array of in-kind professional services coordinated by the Missouri SBDC St. Louis
  • Each division winner submitted by an approved local host will advance to the semi-final round of the national InnovateHER Challenge.

SBA will review all semi-finalists nomination packages submitted by the local competition host organizations and select up to ten (10) finalists. In September 2017, the finalists will be invited to participate in the national InnovateHER Challenge (Location TBA) scheduled for September 2017, where they will make a live marketing pitch to a panel of expert judges drawn from the private sectors and compete for up to $70,000 in cash prizes.

Participation in 2017 St. Louis InnovateHER Woman Business Challenge

Applicants will be required to submit a complete business plan to be eligible for semi-final consideration. SBA also set the following guidelines:

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 or team of such individual; 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, see #1
  3. An individual may belong to more than one team submitting an entry in this Challenge.
  4. SBA employees are not eligible, nor are federal entities or Federal employees acting within the scope of their employment.
  5. Individuals or organizations that are currently suspended or disbarred by the federal government are not eligible for this Challenge.

Special Note:  Both females and males are eligible to participate as long as criteria are met.

There are two separate divisions in the St. Louis competition: Illinois and Missouri. The on-line entry form requires a choice of one of the divisions described below:

  • Illinois -- Eligible counties include: Bond, Calhoun, Cass, Christian, Clinton, Greene, Jefferson, Jersey, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Madison, Marion, Menard, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Randolph, Sangamon, Scott, Shelby, St. Clair and Washington. (This category is hosted by the Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center.)
  • Missouri -- eligible counties include: St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles, St. Peter, Franklin, Jefferson, and Warrenton. (This category is hosted by the Missouri Small Business Development Center - St. Louis.)

Structure and Schedule

Sign up Deadline: Open enrollment until May 16, 2017.  Contestants submit a summary of why and how their business meets the 3 goals of the Challenge:

1. Showcase products and services that have a measurable impact on the lives of woman and families (30%)

2. Have the potential for commercialization (40%)

3. Fill a need in the Marketplace (30%)

Decision on Advancement to Business Plan Phase

Applicants will be immediately reviewed for competition eligibility and ability to meet the Challenge goals.  Those applicants that satisfy this criteria will be advanced to the business plan phase of the competition.  


Business Plan Submission Deadline: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 @ 11:59pm

Evaluation Start Date: Thursdayday, May 25, 2017 (Competition evaluators start reviewing Executive Summaries and Business Plans)

Evaluation Deadline:  Friday, May 26, 2017 (Evaluators and host organizations make final selection of Contestants who advance to the live pitch and panel interview.)

Announcement of the finalists: Saturday, May 27, 2017 @ 5:00pm (Qualifying contestants informed of their advancement to final phase and  begin preparing pitch for final event.)

Final Pitch Event Date:  Thursday, June 1, 2017 starting at 1:30pm (Selected contestants participate in live pitch and panel interview. Contestants must address the connection between their business and the goals of InnovateHER.) 

St. Louis Competition

St. Louis SBDC is having an information on 5-22-2017 at 2 pm at the TREX 911 Washington 5th floor St. Louis MO 63101

  • Business Plan Submission Deadline: May 30th at 11:59 pm
  • The St. Louis SBDC judges will review business plans on June 2
  • The St. Louis winner will be notified on 6-30-2017

Competition Rules

Use of Competition Materials: The Illinois Metro East SBDC, Missouri SBDC, and Grace Hill's Business Center and the Southwest Illinois "W" Network reserves the right to use any material prepared for the InnovateHER Challenge for the purpose of publicizing and promoting the event. The sponsors may use these materials in any printed materials and any videotapes or any other medium. The sponsors reserve the right to videotape any portion of the Competition and use for future publicity and promotion.

Changes to the Competitions Rules: St. Louis InnovateHER rules and prizes are subject to change at any time. Interpretations of the rules will be at the sole discretion of the host organizations and local sponsors.

Decisions regarding the Competition and the Winners: All decisions regarding the competition rules, procedures, and processes are that of the sole discretion of the Illinois Metro East SBDC, Missouri SBDC, and Grace Hill's Business Center and the Southwest Illinois "W" Network. Changes and/or interpretation of these rules may be made by at any time, even though they may (or may appear to be) in the conflict with some previously published information. The selection of divsion winners is at the sole discretion of the judges, IL SBDC, MO SBDC, and Grace Hill's Business Center and the Southwest Illinois "W" Network.

Confidentiality: The InnovateHER Challenge considers all submitted business plans as confidential and treats all team matters accordingly. But, due to the nature of the event, we cannot guarantee complete confidentiality for proprietary matters. Challenge sponsors and the organizers of the competition are not responsible for any proprietary information and/or intellectual property included in a submitted business plan.  Ultimately, protection of sensitive materials such as intellectual property, copyright, or patent confidentiality is the sole responsibility of the individual or team participating in the competition. Non-Disclosure Agreements will not be signed by judges, mentors, or any host organization staff associated with the business plan competition.

InnovateHER Contestant Summary Guidelines

This should include a brief executive summary of the business and whether or not the business meets the three Challenge expectations. Briefly, explain and justify the conclusion you have made.

1. Showcase products and services that have a measurable impact on the lives of woman and families (30%)

2. Have the potential for commercialization (40%)

3. Fill a need in the Marketplace (30%)

InnovateHER Business Plan Guidelines

  1. The narrative of the plan should be no longer than 15 one-sided pages with no less than 1.5 line spacing. To conserve length, try not to repeat information or data from one section to another.
  2. The appendix containing your supporting documents should be uploaded with your business plan but does not count toward the 15-page limit. (Reminder:  Do not share highly confidential or proprietary information in the plan.)
  3. The financials -- Profit and Loss Statement, Cash Flow Projections, etc. are not included in the 15-page limit.
  4. Must be typed in a font sized between 10 and 12 point. You may use any font you like; however, for ease of readability recommended fonts include: Times New Roma, Arial, and Tahoma. Margins no less than .75 not including the header and footer.
  5. All pages must have either a header or a footer stating the name of the business.
  6. It is strongly recommended that you format the financials in Excel or Word.
  7. Submit your plan in PDF format including appendix. Available sources:,, and create a
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