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AAAS Kicks off Effort to Engage Young D.C. Entrepreneurs

Young science and technology entrepreneurs in Washington, D.C. have a week left to pitch a winning plan and become part of Lab to Launch, a new entrepreneurship program created by the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Research Competitiveness Program.

The program seeks to identify and support District entrepreneurs who have a new idea or startup based on a scientific or technical innovation. Lab to Launch will provide training sessions and networking opportunities and present winners with seed capital from a $10,000 funding pool to help advance the top ideas. Winners will be selected from a group of finalists who will be invited to pitch their innovations to a group of experts during a live pitching event to be held at AAAS headquarters on April 18. Applications close Feb. 20 for the program.

The innovation program will draw on the expertise of the Research Competitiveness Program, which provides peer review and guidance to entities engaged in scientific research and innovation. RCP has many years of experience managing entrepreneurship and innovation competitions, bringing together experts to review applications and organizing training sessions for competition finalists.

“In many ways this is very similar to the programs we have done in the past; however, it is the first time we have done this kind of work in our backyard,” said Brandon van Hoff, an RCP program associate.

This type of competition appears to be a first for District residents as well, added van Hoff.


“While there are certainly similar national and regional competitions, as well as competitions in Maryland and Virginia, we could not identify any competitions solely focused on encouraging the District’s young innovators to commercialize their science and tech innovations like Lab to Launch,” van Hoff said. The team’s research did find a number of science and tech entrepreneurship competitions in the District hosted by universities for their students, but none facilitated cross-university competition or were open to members of the public, he said.

Students enrolled at local universities may compete in Lab to Launch, but the competition is also open to District residents or individuals who own or manage a startup headquartered in the District. Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 30.

“We hope that applicants who traditionally have not had access to training and capital to start their business will apply,” van Hoff said. “Additionally, we hope that the competition serves as a tool to communicate to undergraduates and early-career STEM researchers that entrepreneurship is a possible career path for them.”

Lab to Launch applicants must submit an online application and a two-minute video pitch of their innovation and business strategy, which will be reviewed by a panel of experts in science and entrepreneurship, assessing a number of factors, including the significance of the problem being addressed, the level of innovation and technological soundness of the proposed solution and the underlying business strategy. The panel will select up to 10 finalists, who will be invited to attend the training workshops and networking events in March and April.

RCP is currently developing a resource fair where the budding entrepreneurs can network with members of the D.C. startup scene and learn about the mentorship and support offered by some of the many incubators, nongovernmental organizations and government agencies in the city, van Hoff said. The Research Competitiveness Program is also organizing talks about federal funding opportunities for tech commercialization and about U.S. intellectual property protections.

The training will also help finalists prepare for the April 18 pitching finals, where $5,000 will be awarded to the first-place winner, $3,000 to second place and $2,000 for third place.

The competition is open to individuals and teams, though teams must be represented by one person in both the video pitch and the live pitching finals. Startups must be less than 18 months old and cannot have received more than $75,000 in funding.

The online application and additional details about contest rules and eligibility are available on the Lab to Launch website.