Acara Challenge

Have a project idea that addresses social and/or environmental grand challenges that you want to see come to real life?

The Acara Challenge is an annual competition to fund students that are developing solutions to address social and/or environmental challenges. Applications are accepted from students of all majors and in all stages of project development from all UMN campuses and are due by 10pm on Sunday, February 9th. Competition finalists receive mentorship on developing proposals and pitches, as well as support in refining their goals and creating a viable launch program.

Winners of the Acara Challenge are awarded an Acara Innovation Fellowship that provides $5000 to pay for expenses related to developing their solutions as well as a $500 prize. All Acara Innovation Fellows receive intensive coaching and training to support them to be successful.

Read more about the 2019 Acara Challenge Winners here.

Get Involved!

  • Looking to be a student competitor? See below for more information! 
  • Looking to be a mentor or competition judge? Contact us at
  • Like Acara’s Facebook page to keep up to date and see our work.
  • Still have questions? Contact

Ready to compete in the Acara Challenge?

  • Prepare: You are encouraged to register for our January course Social Innovation Design, which will provide valuable background in the art of turning ideas into reality. This is not required but will provide a great foundation for your competition entry. Read through the guidelines for the Acara Challenge before starting your application.
  • Propose: The application deadline is 10pm on Sunday, February 9th, 2020!
  • Practice:  Selected finalists meet with Acara mentors to refine their projects, work on their solution plans and presentations.
  • Pitch: Selected finalists are scheduled to present for a panel of judges and then will give a short pitch at the Acara Challenge Reception and Prize Ceremony.

Acara Challenge Competitor Details

  • The competition is open to current degree-seeking University of Minnesota students (undergrad, grad, professional) from all UMN campuses.
  • Each team must have at least 1 currently or recently registered student (1 or more students must be registered Fall 2019 or Spring 2020).
  • Any team with an idea or operational early stage intervention/idea/business/solution that addresses a grand challenge issue may participate.

  • Applications are due by 10pm on February 9th.
  • Students will be notified if they are competing by February 20th.
  • Orientation for Finalists will be February 21st from 3:00-4:00pm on East Bank.
  • Day 1 Presentations on March 23rd.
  • Day 2 Presentations on March 24th.
  • Acara Challenge Reception and Award Ceremony is March 26th.

  • Acara Fellowship of up to $5,000 per team for additional pilot expenses and additional coaching and training to support your success.
  • Acara Challenge Cash Awards up to $500.

All teams will be judged by an investor-like panel. The judging criteria is:

  • What is the problem?
  • How are you sustained?
  • What is the social impact?
  • How does it scale?
  • Who is the team?