AWS Startups Blog
Entrepreneurship shines in the 2022 AWS University Startup Competition
It’s no secret that some of the most successful startups were founded by members of the university community: from Ava Labs to Anyscale and InsightFinder, to name a few. At Amazon Web Services (AWS), we believe this is because students and faculty are often creative thinkers who are willing to take risks and collaborate with their peers—all essential qualities in a founder.
With this in mind, AWS Startups launched the University Startup Competition to find and support student and faculty entrepreneurs as they build and launch their ventures. The competition is in partnership with Amazon Launchpad, a program that supports entrepreneurs by providing resources, expertise, and global support to help showcase and deliver unique products to Amazon customers.
Applicants to the University Startup Competition are associated with a US-based university as an undergraduate or graduate student, faculty member, or staff member.
Now in its third year, the 2022 AWS University Startup Competition received over 1,000 applications between September and November from startups across 300+ university campuses.
Prizes and categories for the AWS University Startup Competition
To encourage startups to keep testing and building, all applicants qualify for up to $1,000 in AWS Activate Portfolio credits. The thirteen finalists qualify for up to $5,000 in AWS Activate Portfolio credits, additive to any of the category prizes:
- 1st place – $20,000 cash + qualify for up to $100,000 in AWS credits*
- 2nd place – $10,000 cash + qualify for up to $100,000 in AWS credits*
- 3rd place – $5,000 cash + qualify for up to $100,000 in AWS credits*
- Top physical consumer products startup – $10,000 cash + up to $10,000 in marketing support, both from Amazon Launchpad
- Top AI/ML startup – qualify for $10,000 in AWS credits*
- Top HCLS startup – qualify for $10,000 in AWS credits*
- Top web3 startup – qualify for $10,000 in AWS credits*
- Top fintech startup – qualify for $10,000 in AWS credits*
*Pending AWS Activate eligibility requirements here.
The competition process
The AWS University Startup Competition consists of three rounds of evaluation. For each round, AWS Startups hand-picks a team of evaluators based on their experience as founders, investors, and operators.
Selecting the semi-finalists
To narrow down the 1000+ applications to 150 semi-finalists, in December the first group of evaluators reviewed each application with the following criteria in mind:
- Preparation for launch
- Execution plan
A second group of evaluators selected 13 of the semi-finalists to participate in the final round: a virtual live-stream pitch event. In addition to the original criteria, the finalists were chosen for their ability to articulate that their startup offers a “need to have” solution instead of a solution that is “nice to have.”
Live-streaming the finalists’ pitches
On January 19th, 2023, the AWS Startups University Team streamed the final pitch event via a Zoom webinar. Each finalist presented virtually to a panel of four judges.
Startups were judged on clarity of their solutions, progress in their journey, and vision to scale their business.
The judges shared the most impressive things they saw at the final pitch competition were strong founder market fit, articulate explanations of how startup solutions connected to problems, and confident and prepared speakers. In particular, the diversity among applicants and among the schools represented was a highlight of the competition.
For applicants who plan to compete in next year’s University Startup Competition, Stephanie Danner advises, “Obsess over your target customer. Gather insights, data, and anecdotes to ensure you deeply understand their wants and needs, and design around them. Be mindful of what your competitors are doing, but don’t let them distract you from your ultimate end goal!”
Meet the winners
Without further ado, meet the overall competition winners and the category winners. These are some of the best and brightest startups within the US university startup ecosystem.
First place (and also the category winner for “Top healthcare / life sciences (HCLS) startup”)
Hubly Surgical, from John Hopkins University, built the Hubly Cranial Drill to provide safer medical drilling during neurosurgery. Unique features on the single-use and battery-powered drill include auto-stop, force indication, and visual feedback. The drill improves surgical safety while reducing patient complications and operating room dependence.
“I was so honored to compete alongside all such impressive student founders and absolutely astounded to have won! The AWS program officers have been (and continue to be) incredibly supportive throughout the entire process. The amount of hard work they put into making this competition successful blew me away. They went above and beyond to ensure that each team had the resources and support it needed to succeed. And to the expert judges who took the time to come out and review our pitches: thank you for lending your expertise and knowledge. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn from your experience. Thank you again for this honor! I am excited to put this funding toward our early clinical pilots—a crucial step in modernizing neurosurgery for the better.”—Casey Grage
The startup will use their prize to fund their first in-patient pilots in Chile. This includes building and shipping the Hubly drills, as well as sending a team member to Chile to organize and train the participating neurosurgeons.
Second place (and also the category winner for “Top fintech startup”)
Sotira, from UC Berkeley, is a customizable tool that integrates with top e-commerce marketplaces to provide sellers and resellers up-to-date analytics and insights. Sotira helps sellers and resellers to be more profitable and to streamline their sales, profits, and pricing.
“One key takeaway and learning is the value of starting to build in school and all the resources to build, test and iterate that students have access to. ”—Amrita Bhasin
The Sotira team will put their prize toward the $1.5 million round they are currently raising. They plan to allocate 70% of the funds to hiring and growth, 15% to marketing, 10% to security and storage, and 5% to legal.
Boston Quantum, which hails from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is working to disrupt the financial industry with their enterprise quantum computing software. Their Vision software locates arbitrage opportunities in systems with over 10 currencies, offers interface via easy-to-integrate APIs, and obtains results that allow users to trade in milliseconds.
“This year’s finalist cohort had both an incredible range of focus and depth of expertise. Clearly, students across fields want to get their hands dirty and build ventures, while still in school. This experiential learning even seems to be an essential part of the education of an aspiring entrepreneur. With the right resources and support networks in place, universities can nurture and kickstart generations of entrepreneurs. I’m excited to see how today’s student entrepreneurs will shape tomorrow. ”—Shantanu Jha
The Boston Quantum team will use their prize to continue bootstrapping, quantifying their value proposition, and onboarding paying customers. Looking forward, they plan to hyper scale.
Top physical consumer products startup
Ceres Plant Protein Cereal, from Tulane University, has created a vegan, keto, non-GMO, and gluten-free cereal that is actively good for the planet. Each serving of cereal contains 20 grams of sustainably sourced plant protein and zero sugar or artificial sweeteners. They ship sustainably and have a carbon footprint lower than most animal-based breakfasts.
“Through the AWS University Startup Competition, I got a sneak peek of tomorrow’s revolutionary companies. It’s empowering to share the stage alongside many companies working to tackle important social and environmental problems through innovative concepts.”—Rich Simmerman
Ceres will use their prize to support their ingredient-sourcing and production process, lower their cost of goods sold, expand their business on Amazon and Thrive Market, and market their cereal.
Top artificial intelligence / machine learning (AI/ML) startup
S-3 Research, from the University of California, San Diego, is a research-as-a-service company that meets public health challenges with custom technology and human research. They have worked to prevent illegal online sales of opioid and fentanyl, helped fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and improved health equity with their S-3 engine, which combines data generation with analysis and visualization.
“The major takeaways and learning we got out of the AWS University Startup competition is that there is a huge diversity of solutions that can be built on or leverage AWS architecture, and that flexibility leads to an accessible environment for innovation that in the past would have been much more resource intensive.”—Tim K. Mackey
S-3 Research plans to use the prize to integrate their technology stack into their AWS infrastructure and tackle underserved societal challenges.
Top web3 startup
CryptoClear, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is a software-as-a-service company that provides crypto ecosystem ratings and portfolio analysis for investors and institutions. Their platform uses big data and AI to help people quickly identify relative value and manage risks.
“The AWS competition is an incredible opportunity for us to showcase our startup in front of a national audience. The tremendous support that we received from AWS Startups throughout our startup journey and the final recognition go above and beyond what we can express in words. ”— Anne Wang
The CryptoClear team will put their prize toward a $1 million seed round, which will support their product research and development, IT deployment, and data sourcing. The AWS credit will help with their data storage and cloud computing.
Looking ahead to the 2023 University Startup Competition
Congratulations to all of the winners for working hard, showing up, and disrupting industries in the pursuit of proving what’s possible.
Do you want to participate in next year’s AWS University Startup Competition? Get started today—wherever you are in your startup journey, AWS has you covered:
- AWS Activate: Find tools, resources, content and expert support to accelerate your startup at every stage.
- AWS Startup Lofts: Get founder assistance, from inception to IPO.
- AWS Cost Explorer: Visualize, understand, and manage your AWS costs and usage over time.
- AWS Startup Programs: Discover programs that connect your startup to new opportunities, from events and accelerators to technical partners and more.