Invent@SU helps transform undergraduate students into inventors as they design, prototype and pitch original devices.

Students learn about design, ideation and intellectual property, then conceive an original invention, prototype the invention and refine it in response to weekly feedback from diverse audiences of guest evaluators.

For 2021, the Program will run from Monday July 5th to Friday August 13th on the Syracuse University Campus.

The program is open to all undergraduate students who have not previously entered their invention idea in another business plan or entrepreneurship competition.

In addition to 4 teams being awarded cash prizes, students will receive:

  • A $1,500 stipend
  • A $1,000 budget per team for project materials
  • Guidance from expert consultants and evaluators
  • Access to laser cutters, 3D printers, a machine shop, and professional machinists
  • Assistance with a provisional patent application
  • Daily lunch, coffee, and snacks

Please note that participants will need to arrange their own housing.

Prizes Available

During Week 6 of the program, teams will present virtually before a final judging panel of accomplished Syracuse University alumni and entrepreneurs. All prizes will be equally split among team members.

First place – $7500

Second place – $4500

Third Place – $3000

Honorable mention – $1500

During Week 5, guest evaluators will also award prizes to teams in specific categories during initial judging.

Past Participant Accomplishments


Who can apply?
All matriculating SU undergraduate students in good standing may participate in the program. This includes incoming freshman and current seniors who will graduate just before Invent@SU begins this summer.

How do I apply?
Selection for the program is competitive. We plan to select approximately thirty students who will participate as ten teams of three. During open application periods, you can find the application form at invent.syr.edu/apply. Depending on the applicant pool we may interview some or all applicants.

The online application form asks for your name, college/school, anticipated graduation date, contact information, and up to 500 characters (which may include URL’s to some of your work) to persuade us that you are a good fit.

What kind of invention might I work on?
Check out past inventions in the Inventions section of this website.

You will begin developing ideas for your project (and be matched with your partners) during the weekend of April 18th and 19th. A critical focus of the selection process is determining that your invention addresses a real need — a consumer need, a societal need, or both. We don’t want you to invent a particular widget for the reason that you can invent that widget – the world may not need it, and therefore may not be willing to pay for it. You will have to convince us that there is a need for your invention before we approve your project.

Another important criterion will be feasibility. We want you to have (or be able to quickly develop) the expertise/skills necessary to complete a working prototype of the invention within the 6-week program. This precludes overly ambitious proposals such as tissue engineering and nanostructures. Other constraints on project selection: no chemical inventions and nothing that would require IRB approval (i.e., involving human subject experimentation).

We are looking for inventions that perform a useful function, not purely ornamental creations that could receive a “design patent.” Your invention must be both “novel” and “non-obvious.”  This means that you must be the first to invent your device, and your invention must be, in some sense, non-trivial. Your invention may be an improvement of someone else’s existing invention.

Your invention must have commercial potential (“need”). Your invention must be something tangible – something you can build. You will spend much of your time making, testing and refining a prototype of your invention — and demonstrating it to others. Your invention may involve software, but it cannot consist entirely of software (e.g., a smartphone app).

What if I haven’t invented something before?
You are an SU student! Believe in yourself. We believe in you.

Is this an entrepreneurship program?
No. There will be no writing of business plans, considerations of marketing or seeking venture capital. This is a program in inventing. However, Invent@SU is part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem on the SU campus. Teams often connect with resources like the Blackstone Launchpad.

What are the deliverables at the end of the program?

You will develop a physical prototype and present your invention to a jury that will include designers, architects, engineers, patent lawyers, consumers, venture capitalists, and others. Your presentation will include a short video that demonstrates your invention. The jury will select the first, second and third prize winning “best inventions” along with an honorable mention.

What do I get if I win?
$7,500 for first prize. $4,500 for second prize. $3000 for third place. $1500 honorable mention. To be split by the three team members.

What do I get if I don’t win one of the final prizes?
An exciting summer experience. Pizza/Thai Food/Chipotle. A cool Invent@SU t-shirt. An invention that you may want to bring to market through Kickstarter or with the help of a VC. Perhaps you will enter your invention into a larger competition (e.g., the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize). You will learn just enough about patent law to help you protect any inventions you might develop in the future. You may also greatly improve your communication skills and your prototyping skills.  And, you might just get hired by one of the judges or guest evaluators who come to SU looking for talent. All the teams could also win awards as part of initial judging during week 5.

How will the program be structured?
After you are accepted into the program, but before Invent@SU begins, you will be sent a few warm up (“ideation”) exercises by email to get your creative juices flowing. We know that final exams will be approaching, so the exercises will not be very time-consuming. But the exercises are required. They may be solo exercises or we may require that you work with one other admitted student.

Once the program starts, by the end of the first week you will have identified the problem you want to solve, studied the “prior art” (is your invention new?)

Is it (in the patent law sense of the term) obvious? You will also learn how to use the laser cutter and 3D printers.

By the end of week two, you should have conceptually finished the design of your invention and ordered any required components. You will likely be working on your first prototype.

Weeks two through six will focus on building and refining prototypes, testing your invention, subjecting your prototype to critiques from other members of the program as well as outsiders. Critiques will focus on the need for your invention, whether or not your invention meets that need, and diverse practical considerations (safety, size, weight, and cost). Everything you do must be documented. You will likely be taking photographs, producing short video clips, and perhaps making CAD animations for inclusion in your weekly presentations to “guest evaluators.”

There will be plenty of unstructured time for you to develop and refine your invention.

When will I get my stipend?
You will receive your stipend shortly after the end of the program provided that you have completed all program requirements on time (attendance, a working prototype, presenting your invention to the judges on ‘judgment day,’ and completion of a video shoot). Editing of the videos will likely extend into the fall.

Do I have to pay taxes on my stipend?
The IRS says a stipend is reportable income. Of course, depending on a number of factors, you may not owe any taxes in a given year or you may be entitled to a refund.

What ultimately happens to all of the materials my partner and I purchase with our project budget?
You and your partner will have a budget of up to $1,000 for materials. Anything you purchase from that budget that does not appear in your final prototype will remain the property of Syracuse University. You are free to retain your final prototype, once we have completed all photography and videography required for promoting the Invent@SU program.

Must I work with a partner?
Yes, the program faculty will help in forming inter-disciplinary teams that bring different skills together.

What if I don’t like my partner / my partner quits halfway through the program?
Yes, we can expect some of these issues to arise, just as they do in the real world. We will deal with such problems as they arise.

Is this program only open to students in engineering and industrial design students?
No! The program is open to all current Syracuse University undergraduate students.

Will there be classes?
Yes, there will be a few single session classes in things like using a laser cutter, how to research prior art, writing a patent application. They will be informally structured, with no tests or grades. Mostly this program is about giving you the support and resources to develop an invention without distractions.

Can I get academic credit for participating?

Can I continue a project that I am already working on?

Can I work on a project that I have already pitched in another competition or class?


During Invent@SU can I also… (work at a job/take a course/participate in an externship)?
No. Not even if the work/course/etc. takes place before or after the ‘official’ program hours of 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Not if the job/course/etc. overlaps with the six-week program.

Do I have to sign a photo/video release to participate in Invent@SU?
Yes. Videos and still images of participants, their inventions and their presentations help to promote SU and the Invent@SU program. We require that participants sign the standard SU photo/video release and participate in the making of videos. You will be provided with a copy of the release to review and sign if you are offered admission into the program.

Do I really need to be there from 11 to 5 every weekday?
Yes. And as discussed in the answer to the very first question in this FAQ, there will be one late night per week in weeks two through five.

I have to leave a week early, or mid-day each Thursday. Is that okay?

What will I be judged on?
Identifying a need, meeting that need, and meeting the need practically. While there may be a need for an improved can opener, it probably shouldn’t weigh 100 lbs., cost $1000 or emit gamma rays.

Additional questions?
Email us at inventaccel@syr.edu.