About the Competition

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the University of Wisconsin-Madison are excited to launch the 2014 Agricultural Innovation Prize.

The competition is open to U.S. undergraduate and graduate students across all academic disciplines and runs through spring 2014, when teams will compete for the chance to win $215,000 in prize money, with a grand prize of $100,000; making this the largest agriculture-focused student competition in the world.

The contest encourages student teams to develop innovative plans to address social and agricultural challenges within food systems, improving the standard of living and quality of life for the world’s population.

The contest will narrow down all of the entries to the top 25 teams who will be invited to the final round, taking place in Madison, WI at the University of Wisconsin – Madison in the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

We hope that the process of competing in the Agricultural Innovation Prize goes as smoothly as possible. We have listed some frequented asked questions to help assist you.  If you have additional questions, please e-mail [email protected] and a member of the organizing committee will help you with your question.

What institution’s students qualify to participate?
Any accredited school, college, or university’s students enrolled at half time or more may submit an entry to the prize.

Can my team extend across college boundaries?
As long as you meet any other criteria, you are welcome to form cross college or cross disciplinary teams.

Do I need to be an undergraduate student to participate?
All students are eligible to compete, undergraduate, graduate, continuing, etc.

Can I enter multiple ideas in the contest?
Yes, although as contest organizers we’ve previously found that students who are focused on a single entry tend to have more success in the competition.

Do all of my teammates need to be students?
No, your team may consist of a blend of students and professionals, as long as the students have a controlling (majority) interest in the business entity’s activities. For example if you were a student who partnered with an individual with some intellectual property around a novel agricultural process, you would have to have worked out a 51% majority share in the business entity that controlled the IP.

How many teammates can I have on my team?
There is no limitation to the number of participants on your team, however we would caution against creating a large team (5+) as it will make entry coordination, communication, and travel difficult.

Does my innovation have to be unique, completely novel, or entirely new?
No, your concept does not need to be new to the world, many of the worlds greatest innovations are subtle changes to existing techniques or technology that allows a vast improvement in usability, access, or control to an existing process or product.

Does the contest cost money to enter or participate in?
There are no mandatory conferences, entry fees, or cost of any kind to participate in the competition. The finalists will be compensated $1,000 for their travel expenses, including hotel stay in Madison, WI, plane or vehicle travel to Madison, WI, and materials for their poster presentation.

I’m an international student currently studying at XYZ United States university – am I eligible to compete?
Yes, as long as you’re an enrolled student (who will remain enrolled through the spring semester), you’re eligible to compete.

Judging Criteria

An anonymous panel of judges will review the first elimination round of entries, reducing the entries from all those received, to the top 25 via an online voting system.  The second round of judging will take place in Madison, Wisconsin via a parallel process of 3 to 4 judging panels (specific panel configuration will depend on entries received and logical track divisions where possible).  Finalists from the second round will compete on the final day of the contest in front of a new panel of judges to determine the $100,000 grand prize winner and the four $25,000 runner up prizes.

The judges will consider the following areas in your proposal:

  • Technology and risk assessment
  • Creativity and originality
  • Execution and strategy
  • Market and customer understanding
  • Team structure and dynamics
  • Financial feasibility
  • Social, environmental and food system impact
  • Long-term viability
  • Transdisciplinary approach

The decisions of the judging panels are final.  Please see the student information section on rules and submission requirements.


We’re proud to offer $215,000 in cash to winning teams, the largest cash prizes awarded in any student contest focused on agriculture worldwide.  The prizes are broken up into multiple stages over the submission and refinement periods:

25 final teams will receive a $1,000 travel and presentation material stipend (less cost of hotel) to appear in Madison, WI for the final round of the competition.

The team who receives the most online votes will receive an audience choice $15,000 cash prize.  The mechanism by which this award is determined will be announced soon.

The top four finalists will receive a $25,000 cash prize.

The grand prize winner will receive a $100,000 cash prize.

All travel and prize money awarded is taxable and must be reported to the IRS. Finalist and grand prize awards can be awarded to a business entity or pending agreement from the university, to a student’s university where it may be considered a re-grant and non-taxed. If considering awarding to a university, more information on re-grants is available here. Any university accepting an award on behalf of its students must agree to make available the full award to their student winner(s), the university may not retain any funds to cover overhead or other costs associated with processing, dispensing, or maintaining funds.


All teams must abide by the following rules of the Agricultural Innovation Prize to be considered eligible to compete. Any questions or clarifications can be sent to [email protected].

  1. A team must consist of at least 50% students who are enrolled at half time or more at an accredited US college or university.  Students may be U.S. nationals or international students.
  2. An entry must be a product, service, technology, or process (no policy, marketing, etc.).
  3. Individuals may participate on more than one team as long as each team is aware of the shared participation.
  4. Teams may not enter an existing business which has secured more than $50,000 in capital (for instance – revenue, sales, investments, grants, loans, etc)  Teams may not enter an existing business (greater than $50,000 in sales per year).  (updated 2/24/2014 to reflect the language on the official entry form at iStart – http://agprize2013.istart.org/)
  5. Students must hold a controlling interest in any competition entry (business entity must be majority owned by participating students).
  6. Any coordinators for the Agricultural Innovation Prize with access to contest-entry materials, judges, mentors, or the competition management may not enter into the competition.
  7. Any funding raised prior to entry must be declared in the competition entry.  Failure to fully disclose funding will result in disqualification.
  8. Any submitted materials must be the original work of a declared team member or held under a disclosed license.
  9. Teams are encouraged to pursue appropriate intellectual property protection (including but not limited to patents, copyright, trademark, trade secret, etc.) to protect their entry prior to disclosure in the competition.
  10. Any prizes awarded are at the sole discretion of the judging team and not subject to appeal.
  11. To receive any prize, a student member of the team must be present at the competition and awards ceremony.
  12. Eligible teams or individuals may submit more than one entry into the contest.
  13. All submitted work and materials must be the work of the entrants, except in the case of properly licensed intellectual property.
  14. Only student members of the team may present the competition material, however non-student team members are allowed to answer questions.
  15. The coordinating team with the Agricultural Innovation Prize reserves the right to withhold awarding of any prize should there be no worthy entry available.
  16. These rules, terms, and conditions may be updated or modified at any time. The Agricultural Innovation Prize will attempt to notify registered participants of the updated terms.
  17. Failure to abide by the rules, terms, and conditions may result in disqualification from current and future competitions years, subject to the sole discretion of the Agricultural Innovation Prize organizers.

Prize Winning Teams:

  1. The finalist, grand prize, and audience vote prizes must be awarded to affiliated universities or legal business entities. The travel grants will be awarded to individuals, affiliated universities or legal business entities. As the award recipient, you decide to whom the award is granted. Please know there are definite tax implications tied to how the award is made. Any university accepting an award on behalf of its students must agree to make available the full award to their student winner(s), the university may not retain any funds to cover overhead or other costs associated with processing, dispensing, or maintaining funds.
  2. All finalist and grand prize teams must meet mandatory reporting requirements at 6 months and 1 year from the close of the competition.  These reports must include an update on the state and status of the business and students involved, a summary of expenditures to date, and a trajectory or likely outcomes of the business looking 6 months in the future.


The Agricultural Innovation Prize was developed to encourage cutting-edge technology in agricultural and food systems. It strives to connect various sectors and disciplines in an effort to better address the challenges of the 21st  century. These challenges include bringing our food, climate and social systems within a safe operating space. It hopes to identify ways to achieve food security while keeping us within sound environmental boundaries.  The Ag Prize seeks students who are interested in transforming global food systems into one that facilitates sufficiency and resilience. This transformation will occur with the increased awareness and attention of the next generation of leaders, unbridled by any number of constraints. Local and global food systems directly and indirectly interact with numerous parts of our globalized world. We intend to draw diverse student teams from a very wide range of disciplines and backgrounds to compete in the Ag Prize.


This graphic (derived from: Community Food) illustrates the pieces of the food system where we are specifically seeking innovations. Competition materials should address challenges in one or more of these food system components  and recognize the complexity within the system.

The United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service posts a list of all patents available for license here.  This list is a great resource to consider, as you can leverage an available technology without  needing to devise your own.

If your idea doesn’t fit in the agricultural or food system ecosystem but is better aligned in another area, you should consider competing in another innovation prize – we have a short list of national competitions at the bottom of our references page.


Please review the competition timeline carefully. Entry and deadline times are non-negotiable, if you miss any submission deadline you may be removed from the competition. Teams in the top 25 finalists must plan to travel to Madison, WI for the final round of the competition. Funding is provided for airfare, accommodations, and competition materials.


Initial submission deadline is February 28th, 2014.

Teams are notified if they’ve moved on to the top 25 by March 14th, 2014.

Mentors are assigned and will assist teams from March 14th until the final round of competition, updated materials for each of the top 25 teams are submitted by April 18th, 2014.

The final round of competition is hosted on April 25th, where judges will select the top 5 teams from 25 finalists and on the 26th judges will pick a grand prize winner from the top 5 teams.  The contest is hosted in Madison, WI at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus.