Great ideas happen anywhere.
Finding them happens here.

About iStart

iStart began as — the big idea of three Harvard University students, who have since graduated and gone on to launch even bigger ideas.

In 2009, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation bought the site and renamed it iStart. Since then, iStart has grown to become the go-to site for entering business competitions from around the world, browsing pages of idea summaries and networking with hundreds of innovative, energized entrepreneurs.

iStart is now the premier networking site for aspiring entrepreneurs, mentors and advisors to connect with each other and bring potential business ideas to market.

    The iStart Web site is:
  • The catalyst for new businesses. We are dedicated to increasing the number of new firms formed — that's our big idea.
  • Accessible. Applicants can make their idea summaries — and their companies — searchable to anyone on iStart. If you want your big idea to get noticed, this is the place.
  • Easy to use. Whether you are a competition administrator, a judge or an applicant, iStart helps you work at maximum efficiency and speed.
  • Standardized. We offer one simple platform for everything you need — from the call for entries to the final judging round. More functionality. Less time. Sweet!

Downloadable iStart Overview

About the Kauffman Foundation

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private nonpartisan foundation that works to harness the power of entrepreneurship and innovation to grow economies and improve human welfare.

Through its research and other initiatives, the Kauffman Foundation aims to open young people's eyes to the possibility of entrepreneurship, promote entrepreneurship education, raise awareness of entrepreneurship-friendly policies, and find alternative pathways for the commercialization of new knowledge and technologies.

In addition, the Foundation focuses on initiatives in the Kansas City region to advance students' math and science skills, and improve the educational achievement of urban students, including the Ewing Marion Kauffman School, a college preparatory charter school for middle and high school students set to open in 2011. Founded by late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Foundation is based in Kansas City, Mo., and has approximately $2 billion in assets. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter and Facebook.

Management Team

  • Katie Baker

    Katie Baker, director

    Katie provides strategic direction for iStart. She ensures the site's features and functionality empower business plan competitions of any size, anywhere in the world. Katie assists competition administrators in managing their individual projects, deadlines and look-and-feel.

  • Bob Whitehouse

    Bob Whitehouse, technology manager

    Bob Whitehouse manages all things technical, translating competition administrators' goals into technological reality. He has more than 20 years of experience in public, private and nonprofit organizations, primarily in life sciences.

How to Run a Competition

Ready to host a competition? You just need three things:

  1. Your institution's name.
  2. Your subdomain. (This is the portion of the web address that uniquely identifies your competition. For example, a subdomain of “example2013” results in a competition Web address of Also, the shorter the subdomain, the better. And, remember to include a year, such as 2013.)
  3. Your competition administrator's e-mail address.

Then, contact Katie Baker, our director, at [email protected], to finish the process.

Why You Should Participate

  • Business plan competitions allow aspiring entrepreneurs to test their ideas in a safe space, while mentors and advisors get the chance to offer leadership and growth opportunities for scalable business ideas.
  • This environment brings together the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem to help each other groom ideas pre-launch. This preps the idea for survival in the more competitive,high-risk market.
  • Hosting competitions helps keep universities on the cutting edge of innovative thinking and creates interest in the larger community to help students pursue entrepreneurship.

Why Kauffman Encourages Competitions

The Kauffman Foundation believes that the more experiential learning opportunities aspiring entrepreneurs have, the greater chance for success they will get out in thewild. This supports the Foundation's overall mission of promoting entrepreneurship and growing the economy.


    It varies. Here are some general guidelines to help you budget:
  • Nonprofit partners pay $500 per competition.
  • For-profit partners pay price determined by purpose of competition.
  • TIP: Recruit a sponsor, such as a patent attorney, to cover the cost. He or she will get targeted exposure for as long as your competition is active, and you will have your site paid for. It's a win-win!
  • iStart provides you and your staff with efficiencies and consistency that will save hours of work and enhance your competition's overall reputation. It's worth the investment.


Who uses iStart?

One of our biggest clients is Rice University's annual intercollegiate business plan competition, which has the largest judging panel and distributes the most prize money of any such competition in the world. Powerful iStart tools automatically managed communications with more than 500 initial applicants and 300 judges, allowed administrators to customize the competition's look and feel, and it created efficiencies that streamlined project management requirements.

Does the Kauffman Foundation use iStart for research?

Yes. The Kauffman Foundation will use information from submitted business plans as data points in its ongoing research on entrepreneurship.

What if my business plan contains proprietary information I don't want the public to see?

No problem. We only post your abstract for that very reason — and only with your permission.

Does it cost anything to post an abstract on iStart?

No, not a penny. In this economy, everyone deserves a break. This is yours.

What happened to

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation bought it in 2009. We renamed it iStart and created more functionality, including an easier-to-use user interface. We also added the public side of the site to increase transparency — and your chances of getting noticed.

Where do notification e-mails come from?

They are sent from [email protected].

What if e-mails from iStart get caught in my spam filter?

We can't guarantee that won't happen, but our tech people are working continually to avoid these types of issues. You also can add to your Safe Senders list and mark messages you have received from iStart as “not spam.”

Where does my reply to the notification e-mail go?

It goes directly to competition administrators. There is no middleman.

What types of files does iStart accept?

Anything — PDFs, JPEGs, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets. You name it. But, don't expect iStart to accommodate thousands of 10 megabyte downloads. We have our limits.

What should I do if I want to host a competition on iStart?

    Contact Katie Baker, our director, at [email protected] with the following information:
  • Your institution's name.
  • Your subdomain. (This is the Web address that uniquely identifies your competition. For example, a subdomain of “Rice2010” results in a competition Web address of Also, the shorter the subdomain, the better. And, remember to include a date, such as 2010.)
  • Your competition administrator's e-mail address.

Is iStart only for business plan competitions?

No, you can have idea competitions, pitch competitions, etc. Our minimum requirement is that participants submit an abstract. The length of that abstract is up to you. It can be a paragraph or it can be five pages.