Durf Ondernemen goes USA - Student Acceleration Track

Join our competition, win a trip to New York, Washington DC and Virginia where you may represent Ghent University at the Virginia Tech business concept competition for a chance to win $30.000. After a first selection based on the initial submissions, 5 finalists will be awarded to participate in the Ghent University Student Acceleration Track where they will be coached and supported by some expert entrepreneurs.

For several years, Ghent University and Virginia Tech, USA have a collaboration agreement to send Ghent University students to the international business concept competition of Virginia tech. Grand prize: $30.000! In order to select the best team to represent Ghent University at this competition, we organize a local competition first. On top of that, the winning team is offered an extra one-week stay in New York to do market research in the USA, which includes access to the Belcham coworking space Atelier and meetings with several top-entrepreneurs. 

All Bachelor and Master students from Ghent University can participate with their business concept. It is assumed that business concepts will be based on a concept that, at the time the application form is submitted, has not developed into a commercially available product. Most teams are expected to have a prototype product/service in development, but the product/service will typically not have undergone customer evaluation or assessment. Proposed products/services that support a sustainable environment or specifically address needs of underdeveloped countries are encouraged, but no special credit will be assigned to such business concepts.


Who? At least one member of the team has to be a full-time student at Ghent University (minimum of 55 credits).

When?  Submit your business idea before midnight on the 4th of March in order to join the competition. The trip to the USA is in August.

What do I have to do? When you get through the pre-selection, you'll have to pitch your idea in front of a jury. If you end up being one of the 5 finalists, you'll work on your business idea alongside regular coaching sessions and workshops by both Durf Ondernemen as well as some of our partners until (at least) August. We'll do everything we can to support you as much as possible during our Student Acceleration Track.

What can I win? A trip to the USA worth over €7.500 and a chance to win $30.000.

Are there any other prizes to be won? Extra prizes for the other finalists will be announced soon.

What is the deadline? Apply before midnight on the 4th of March!

Contest timeline

Date / Period


15/02 - 04/03

Submissions are open


Submission deadline (midnight)




Event: Announcement 5 finalists


Student Acceleration Track

mid/05 (will be announced soon)

Final Pitch Night

...- 16/08

New York

16/08 - 18/08

Washington DC

18/08 - 25/08

Virginia Tech 


Durf Ondernemen goes USA competition

1. Submit your business concept before March 4th, midnight

Each team that wants to participate in the competition has to submit the application form on this website. Only one person of the team needs to fill in this form. 

Upon submission each team needs to provide:

  • A project/product name that will be used in the competition.
  • A description of the idea which contains the need(s) that you are solving, the target market you will be selling to, the unique selling proposition of your project compared to competitors, a description or explanation of your product or service and how you will reach your customers (plan-to-market).
  • A description of the business model that you have in mind and how you will make money from your idea or product. Also, explain the largest costs you think you will have to cover and how many customers you aim to acquire.
  • The status of your prototype (if any) at this moment: a description of the prototype, the product features that can already be tested with this prototype, a description of how much your prototype covers the final product and how this prototype has been tested already.
  • A description of your plans around your idea between now and August.
  • For each team member you have to provide the first and last name, e-mail address, study year and degree. 

If you submit your business concept, you agree to come to the planned coaching sessions and to keep working on your idea/project between now and August. You also agree to use the two weeks in New York and Virginia Tech to do some preliminary market research and to give everything you've got during the competition so Ghent University is well represented. 

2. Pitch your idea on March 8th

On Thursday the 8th of March, each team comes to present his or her idea (covering the same topics as submitted) in English in front of a small jury. The details of the pitch presentation will be announced once the submissions are closed. We will make sure there are several timeslots available out of which you can choose. 

3. Announcement of the 5 teams for the final competition on Tuesday, March 13th during an evening event

Based on your submission, your pitch, the business concept, the status of the concept and the motivation of the team, Durf Ondernemen will make a decision on which 5 teams can continue to the finals in May. These 5 teams will go through our Student Acceleration Track, specifically tailored to their needs.

4. Student Acceleration Track for 5 finalists - March 14th to mid-May (exact date to be announced)

Based on the feedback of the pitch and a team discussion about the needs to improve, we put together a Student Acceleration Track in order to give you the opportunity to optimize your business concept in the best way possible. You'll get access to the Durf Ondernemen Eco-System, both within Ghent University (pitching, marketing, business model, strategy) as well as outside Ghent University (another startup as mentor, supporting organisations and businesses relevant for you concept). 

We added the Student Acceleration Track to the competition to improve the impact of the competition within the operations of Durf Ondernemen and to enhance professionalization for the teams. During the Student Acceleration Track, we will support the teams within different expertise fields to optimize their business concepts and enhance their progress. So we give the opportunity to the students to partner with experts within our eco-system: an in-depth approach with engaged professors in several fields, deeper partnerships with organizations and businesses. 

Steve Stevens - Manager of Durf Ondernemen 2018

5. Final on mid-May (exact date to be announced)

Mid-May, the 5 finalists of the competition will pitch in front of a larger audience at our final pitch event. These pitches will have to meet the requirements of the Virginia tech Knowlegde Works criteria and include a prototype which is shown (pictures, video, live, ...). A professional jury will be assigned by Durf Ondernemen who will score each team based on the VTKWGlobal criteria. 

The exact details will be announced soon, but this will be an evening event (after 6PM) in Ghent where other student-entrepreneurs, friends and family are invited to support their favorite team. After the final presentation, we continue the night with drinks and bites whilst we wait for the winner to be announced. The winning team will receive the Durf Ondernemen goes USA trophy, as well as two tickets to USA (New York and Virginia) 

The criteria for the final pitches are (out of a total of 100):

  • Clear description of customer need(s) to be met and whether customers are willing to pay for product or service (15)
  • Target market size (quantitative) (15)
  • Competitive advantage in marketplace (15)
  • Financial summary that shows the financial viability of the business based on product or service sales (15)
  • Go-To-Market plan (10)
  • Team and its core competencies and how other necessary core competencies will be provided (10)
  • Proposed business model (10)
  • Professionalism of the presentation (10)

You'll be informed as soon as we are able to confirm the other prizes for the 2nd to 5th finalist.

6. Winning team goes to New York to execute preliminary USA market research, supported by Belcham (XX - 16th of August)

The Belgian Chamber of Commerce at New York (Belcham NY) offers the students from Ghent University the exclusive opportunity to visit their coworking space Atelier where many of Belgian's top start-ups reside. The students can make use of the coworking space for a full week. BelCham will help you schedule meetings with potential US customers / partners / investors. One meeting in which top-entrepreneurs will take a look at your business concept will be scheduled at the BelCham offices.

My time at Belcham was, business-minded speaking; the best experience I had as a student at Ghent University. The flow of New York, the ambitions of all the start-ups at Belcham, the way of thinking by the top-entrepreneurs. On the one hand I was forced to go outside my comfort zone in an international environment, on the other hand you adopt the open mind thinking so easily. I keep on having this mindset since then.

Adriaan Theys - Durf Ondernemen goes USA winner in 2014

7. Winning team goes to Virginia Tech and joins the international Virginia Tech Knowledge Works Global competition (16 - 25 August)

The winning team will represent Ghent University at the international Virginia Tech Knowledge Works Global competition which takes place in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA. The team will be accompanied by a staff member from the Durf Ondernemen offices. They will have the chance to compete for the $30.000 Grand Prize, the $10.000 Second Place Prize or the $5.000 People's Choice Award. Please note that these prizes are still subject to taxes (+/- 30%). 

More information about VTKKnowldge: www.vtknowledgeworks.com/

Rules and guidelines

  • Only full-time students from Ghent University can join this competition (at least 55 credits).
  • For the 5 finalists: the presentations and all documents have to be in English since the winner will take part in the international Virginia Tech Knowledge Works Global competition. 
  • Up to two team members of the winning team will be able to join the competition free of charge. Flight tickets and registration fees are paid by Durf Ondernemen, food is included in the registration fee and lodging is free of charge at host families. Other team members can join as well (maximum 5 in total) but travel costs will not be reimbursed.
  • Flight tickets to New York are paid by Durf Ondernemen as well. Access to the coworking space is offered free of charge by BelCham. Any other expenses in New York will need to be paid by you, although we are looking for a partner to sponsor your stay.
  • By taking part in this competition you commit yourself and your team to the following:
    • You continue working on the prototype during the semester and the summer holiday to make sure you reach the expected prototype status by August.
    • You are available for the Student Acceleration Track during the 2nd semester and the summer holidays (of course examinations are first priority). Members of the winning team receive the Student Entrepreneur status to be able to reschedule exams if needed. 
    • You will use your week in New York to do preliminary market research and to improve your presentation and business concept.
    • You prepare for the competition in Virginia Tech as best as possible.

Going to Virginia Tech for the international VTKnowledgeworks was my best international experience so far. It's extremely inspiring to experience the American mentality, together with twenty other student-entrepreneurs from all over the world. In this way you learn how other cultures look to entrepreneurship. I lost a part of myself in Virginia Tech and I would take every chance to go back.

Jan-Willem Callebaut - Durf Ondernemen goes USA winner 2013