The Extracurricular Major: The Dempsey Startup Competition

Apply by April 3 for the 2023 Dempsey Startup Competition hosted by the Foster School's Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship in the Foster School of BusinessFour students walk into the HUB Ballroom. One studies computer science and engineering. Two study bioengineering. The fourth is an informatics major. They smile, but jokes are the last thing on their mind. It’s time to showcase their idea. It’s time to see if what they’ve been working on could become something they talk about after college—how they created their own startup, became their own bosses. And, they won’t have to do it alone.

For thirty years, the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship in the Foster School of Business has worked with thousands of students to grow their ideas—and given thousands more the resources to develop new skills and shape their careers in significant ways. Participating in opportunities like the 2023 Dempsey Startup Competition is a key step in that process.

The competition gives students a proving ground to test their assumptions. Some teams are newly formed, some are continuing a journey that began in fall quarter or winter. For others, it’s the next step after our health and environmental innovation competitions. All are treated equally and given the same resources to advance and move forward.

We give students a chance to focus on validating ideas that break down the barriers between what is traditional and what is transformational. From prototypes to services to consumer products, students pitch and receive direct feedback from the very professionals that will one day be their peers.

Since 1998, students have submitted thousands of business plans to the Dempsey Startup Competition and advanced through the multi-stage event to earn millions in seed funding awards. The Buerk Center takes nothing from them. No equity, no stake in the idea. That’s part of our promise.

When we speak to students, we are direct. The effort they put in to engage in competitions and courses will define their university experience. It will uniquely prepare them for the rest of their lives, no matter how they want to measure success.

The judges that students engage with in the Dempsey Startup include UW alumni who have walked in their shoes, as well as proven professionals from every industry, venture capitalists, angel investors, startup legal experts, and more. These seasoned professionals provide direct feedback and award significant prizes. As instructors and mentors, they lay the groundwork for understanding how to embrace and overcome failure, earn funding, pivot, or innovate from within as an intrapreneur. After the competitions, they also help transition interested student teams to fully formed early-stage startups in the Jones + Foster Accelerator by challenging them to make progress and achieve milestones.

But it starts with taking a chance and applying for a competition experience that has evolved alongside the startup world. The Dempsey Startup Competition is now open to enrolled students at accredited colleges and universities across the Cascadia Corridor—Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia, as well as Alaska. The ideas, not borders and geography, take center stage. Dozens of colleges and universities around the region are represented now annually. Students can team up with their friends at other schools or make connections from across the region that will benefit them in the years to come.

After graduating, these students become the heart of biotech, cleantech, retail, hardware, and software companies that uniquely define Seattle’s business landscape. Meanwhile, those who choose to disrupt the world with ideas of their own, create a similar toolset gathered through a combination of extra-curricular experience and education.

In this way, student entrepreneurs help make the University of Washington a nexus for translational innovation that draws others in for a better tomorrow. Apply today and learn more at!

This article originally appeared in the March 7 “Majors Issue” of The Daily UW newspaper.