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Entries open: $1million startup challenge for young entrepreneurs

Running until 6 August, Icehouse Ventures’ First Cut Startup Challenge, is giving one young entrepreneur the chance to pitch a business idea to 1,000 investors and receive up to $1 million of funding to take it to the world.

The aim of the First Cut Startup Challenge is to accelerate the growth of young, first-time entrepreneurs launching global businesses from New Zealand. 

Young people under the age of 30 who want to apply or learn more about the challenge can visit the challenge’s new website and complete a questionnaire describing their bold idea and its potential to make a global impact and create a better future.

Applications will be accepted until 6 August, and everyone who applies will gain exclusive access to a series of events aimed at supporting young people who want to transform their promising ideas into a successful startup.  

New to this year’s challenge is a nationwide Startup Speaker Series tour across seven university campuses from July 19-29, where aspiring entrepreneurs can learn about starting a company and can ask questions of New Zealand’s top entrepreneurs who launched their startup in their late teens or early 20s.  

MC’d by EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Ezel Kokcu, the events are hosted in partnership with Red Bull, which supports student entrepreneurs and innovators through a global “Red Bull Basement” programme. 

The First Cut Startup challenge was born from the creators of a student-led investor fund called First Cut, now part of the Icehouse Ventures team which has backed several of New Zealand’s most ambitious young entrepreneurs under the age of 30, including Halter’s Craig Piggott, Sharesies’ Brooke Roberts, Crimson Education’s Jamie Beaton, and James and Stefan Powell at Dawn Aerospace.

The 2021 startup challenge has been put together by Steph Benseman, Mason Bleakley, Lauren Fong, and Jack McQuire, who were all in their teens when the First Cut team was formed in 2016.

“Growing numbers of young people see entrepreneurship as an exciting and viable career path,” says Benseman.

“Today’s youth want to lead a life with purpose that tackles some of our most pressing social and climate issues. They see starting a company as the best way to do this, and believe it is the pathway to a more sustainable and prosperous lifestyle.”

“As a first time entrepreneur, being part of the First Cut community has been really valuable,” says Pyper Vision founder Emily Blythe, who won the 2018 startup challenge and raised $700,000 following her presentation to 1000 investors at the annual Icehouse Ventures Showcase event.

“The team led my first funding round and has been instrumental in helping connect me with key target customers.”

First Cut Startup Challenge finalists will present to a panel of judges in August, and the winner will be invited to present at the annual Icehouse Ventures Showcase, attended by more than 1,000 investors at Spark Arena on 26 August. 

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