Each Arizona Innovation Challenge competition is highly competitive and takes place in four stages.


All companies must download an application and financial model template, complete them in accordance with guidelines and upload the documents into the Arizona Innovation Network, the ACA’s electronic system used for administration of the competition. The application window will remain open for up to four weeks.


First round submissions will be screened for eligibility requirements and may also be screened on the basic merits of their business plan. The ACA has full discretion in making final decisions regarding a company’s eligibility or ability to continue in the competition. Once all applications are screened over a five to seven-week period, applicants will be able to review the feedback on the Arizona Innovation Network.


Applications that did not meet eligibility criteria, or may not have been deemed competitive enough to successfully continue, will be notified.


Note: The ACA recognizes that it takes time and commitment for companies to participate in the Arizona Innovation Challenge. Applying companies should be prepared to follow through on all phases of the Challenge. However, should a company make a decision to not participate in a subsequent phase for any reason, a representative should inform the ACA immediately, providing ample time to consider a replacement company.



Upon the completion of the first round evaluation period, judges will select 25 semifinalists to advance in the competition. Once the semifinalists have been identified, they will be given the opportunity to update their application and the associated financial model from the prior round.


In addition, selected companies may be required to provide additional materials such as a pitch deck and narrative surrounding the judges' feedback provided to the company. The information requested during this round will be clearly communicated to the semifinalists, and is at the discretion of the ACA. Semifinalists will be given one to two weeks to submit the requested materials.


Judges will evaluate those submissions over a three-week period and select 15 companies to enter the finalist round.


During the finalist round, companies will use their semifinal business plan submissions, including their pitch deck, as the basis for a live pitch in front of a final judging panel*. The pitch presentation will be followed by an interactive period during which the judges provide feedback and/or ask questions to further evaluate the company’s proposal.


After all finalists have executed their pitches, the final judging panel will discuss and select the companies that they recommend to receive the final grant awards. The CEO of the ACA will ultimately name the awarded companies based on the final judging panel recommendations. Up to ten awardees will be publicly announced by the ACA.


*For the Fall 2020 competition, all pitches will be conducted virtually.


The final stage of each AIC competition culminates in the awarded companies using their funding to commercialize or scale their product or service over a 12-month performance period. AIC grant funds should be viewed as working capital tied directly to furthering the business – such as developing and executing strategic and tactical initiatives, capital expenditures, sales and marketing activities, or hiring new people – and will generally not be used to pay for administrative and overhead expenses, or to compensate existing executives or employees.


At the beginning of the fulfillment and commercialization phase, each company and the ACA will enter into a legal agreement obligating the awardee to various terms of compliance for five years, extending four years beyond the performance 12-month period related to receiving the grant funding. The performance period will be defined by the following funding phases:


  1. An initial amount of funding up front, upon execution of the legal agreement and completion of other necessary administration.
  2. A performance period of enrollment in the ACA's Venture Ready program, during which an Entrepreneur-In-Residence (EIR) is assigned to coach the awardee through a series of panels. Some funds will be paid after successfully passing each panel, and other designated funds of up to $50,000 may be made available to compensate for EIRs (up to $5,000) for their coaching efforts and entrepreneurial service providers/programs (up to $45,000) to help the awardee with specific activities to help their progress that are identified during the Venture Ready accelerator.
  3. A final amount conferred upon successful graduation of Venture Ready.

The ACA may also facilitate specific activities and events benefiting companies that have successfully graduated. The agreement compliance includes reporting the awardee’s achievement of key business metrics, allowing onsite visits by ACA personnel, and facilitating the review of key documents as needed. In the spirit of proper stewardship of the awarded funds, if a company does not successfully graduate from Venture Ready the ACA may withhold any remaining funding and bar the company from participation in graduation related activities. Companies will never be given the full grant award amount upfront.


The ACA has significant discretion in determining the funding processes and phases during the performance period, which will be finalized in the agreements with the portfolio companies. Clawback clauses will also be implemented to discourage certain activities by portfolio companies that would be counter-productive for the state of Arizona – to include, but not be limited to, moving the company's operations out of the state, or being acquired by a company which moves the operations out of state and/or does not comply with reasonable reporting requirements. Portfolio companies that do not successfully graduate the Venture Ready program will still be considered an "awardee" status, and will be obligated to fulfill all of the other compliance terms of the five-year agreement.