Arizona is the best state to start, launch and scale new ideas and business models. The state's collaborative, entrepreneurial community plays a key role in driving the economy. The Arizona Innovation Challenge has been serving this ecosystem since 2011, resulting in more than 2,800 applications and 140 awarded companies that are striving to become the industry giants of tomorrow.


If you're interested in competing in the Arizona Innovation Challenge, here's what you need to know:  

  • The Arizona Commerce Authority hosts AIC every fall.
  • The AIC has a total of three rounds:
    • First round: AIC applications are reviewed by various community experts. Judges provide feedback to all applicants on their application’s relative strengths and weaknesses.
    • Semifinal round: Judges will select up to 25 companies from the applicant pool to move on to the semifinals. Semifinalists will have an opportunity to respond to the judges’ feedback from their first-round application and will submit additional materials.
    • Final round: 15 finalists will pitch their startups to a panel of investors.
  • Judges will select up to 10 companies as AIC awardees.
    • AIC awardees will be enrolled in Arizona’s premier startup accelerator, Venture Ready Accelerator.
    • AIC awardees will unlock their award grant funding by successfully completing standard milestones as part of the Venture Ready Accelerator. AIC awardees can receive up to $150,000 in non-dilutive funding by participating in Venture Ready Accelerator.
  • The Venture Ready Accelerator program connects Arizona talent with rich resources, partnering an entrepreneur with a seasoned CEO to coach them through a series of five rigorous panels over a 12-month period, resulting in a stronger business model. The panels focus on intake, marketing, finance, dry run and final/graduation. In each panel, the company pitches its business model to a team of CEOs and professional experts and receives specific points of feedback that identify gaps and strategic opportunities. Venture Ready participants can expect the following:
    • Entrepreneur-in-Residence: The ACA pairs all participants with an Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR). The EIR is an expert business coach who will provide actionable insights throughout the accelerator’s duration.
    • Panels: To release AIC grant funds, founders must complete five panels focused on investor readiness, go-to-market strategies, and entrepreneurial finance. Completing each panel will release a portion of the AIC grant funds.
    • Public Relations and Media Amplification: Awardees will receive media support and promotion, as well as network with investors, business executives and successful startup CEOs.

Each company should read the following before applying: