Applications are being accepted now through March 13 for the School of Information Studies’ (iSchool) Raymond von Dran (RvD) Fund for Student Entrepreneurship pitch competition and the Hunter Brooks Watson Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award (Watson Award) for full and part-time students at Syracuse University.

This event is also the regional qualifier competition for Compete CNY, the New York Business Plan Competition (NYBPC), which is open to student teams from across Central New York. However, non-SU teams are ineligible for RvD Fund and Watson Award prize money. Registration for the NYBPC competition by Syracuse University students automatically enters the teams into the RvD competition. Teams must select “Central New York” as the region in their application to compete in the qualifier competition. Syracuse University students should note that completing the SU common app as well is strongly preferred.

The joint 2020 RvD iPrize/Compete CNY event is being held on Friday, March 27, from 1 to 6 p.m. in Bird Library. The awards announcement and reception will take place at 5 p.m. in the Peter Graham Scholarly Commons on the first floor of Bird Library. The annual competition is coordinated for the iSchool by the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at Syracuse University Libraries.

“The iSchool has a history of supporting student innovation. This competition encourages students to pitch their ideas within the entrepreneurial community,” says Rajiv Dewan, dean of the iSchool.

The Blackstone LaunchPad in the Libraries is the hub of interdisciplinary entrepreneurship at Syracuse University,” says David Seaman, dean of Syracuse University Libraries. “And we are delighted to continue to partner with the iSchool to support opportunities for students.”

The RvD Fund is named after former iSchool dean Raymond Von Dran, who served from 1995 until his passing in 2007. Von Dran was a longtime academic entrepreneur and staunch supporter of student innovation. He started several innovative programs in higher education. To honor his memory and ensure that her husband’s infectious spirit for innovation continued, his wife Gisela generously created the RvD Fund. Prizes totaling $40,000 will be awarded to top performing Syracuse University students across categories through the RvD Fund, and an additional $10,000 will be awarded to Syracuse University student teams through the Hunter Brooks Watson Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award. All monies will be awarded as non-dilutive seed funding, so students will not give up any equity in their proposed business venture.

The RvD iPrize and Compete CNY competitions require that applicants select from six categories, including both for-profit and non-profit ventures. Teams must indicate which category they are applying and provide a one sentence explanation of the reason they are competing in that category. The categories are the following:

  • AgTech and Food: Ideas, technologies, processes, products and services that relate to agriculture, food production or distribution
  • Energy and Environment: Ideas, technologies, processes, products and services that relate to energy, clean energy, renewable energy, energy efficiency, environmental and/or sustainability applications
  • Military and First Responder: Ideas, technologies, processes, products and services that relate to the needs of utility workers, military, first responders, government applications or transportation industry
  • MedTech and Wellbeing: Ideas, technologies, processes, products and services that relate to biotech, sports, medical care or well-being, or mental health
  • Consumer Products and Services: Ideas, technologies, processes, products and services not included in any previous category, generally intended for use by individuals or households
  • Technology and Entertainment: Ideas, technologies, processes, products and services that relate to consumer software and online platforms, cryptocurrency, entertainment, fintech or music

After completing Syracuse University’s common app, campus teams will receive important updates and information, including pitch practice workshops and other tools to prepare for the competition. Workshops will be held in the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars in Bird Library.

Participating teams will be asked to provide their pitch decks in advance of the competition. The top two teams from all Central New York student teams that participate in Compete CNY will be selected by a panel of independent judges to move on to the statewide finals being held in Albany, New York, on May 1.

For more information, e-mail or John Liddy, adjunct professor and director, Syracuse Student Sandbox incubator, iSchool, at or Marcene Sonneborn, assistant professor of practice, iSchool, at

Feature photo: Syracuse University student Brooke Walden ’19 speaks with attendees at the 2019 RvD iPrize. Photo by J.D. Ross.