The Triangle isn’t want for startup pitch events and competitions. 

Casual pitch opportunities like 1 Million Cups and Triangle TechBreakfast happen regularly, and local entrepreneurs have a chance to receive funding through competitive programs like The Startup Factory and the Citrix-Red Hat Accelerator. Our local universities are also home to their own entrepreneurial competitions—the Carolina Challenge, the NCSU Lulu eGames, and the Duke Start-Up Challenge provide student ventures a means for exposure, feedback, and funding. 
Those competitions are great. I judged the Carolina Challenge last year and was blown away by the world-changing ideas presented in the social entrepreneurship track. But these competitions are only accessible to student competitors at their respective universities, and often focus on specific sectors. 
Through my work at HQ Raleigh and Innovate Raleigh, I’m often thinking of ways we can drive not only local entrepreneurial collaboration, but also build regional ties and position the Triangle as a central hub for innovation. That’s why I see great value in Startup Madness, which returns to Raleigh on March 27th. 
The event brings student startups from across the ACC to compete in a bracket-style pitch-off (because, hey, it’s Tobacco Road during March—we can’t not think about basketball). The ventures come from all sectors, including tech, social entrepreneurship, health and hospitality. 
You may be familiar with some past participants from the Triangle: Neurospire and Mati Tea, both hailing from Duke, Koyr Engineering out of NC State, and CommuniGift from UNC (founders pictured above). 
This year’s competition already has nearly 20 undergraduate and graduate teams lined up from ACC schools. The ideas include a mobile app that rewards children for completing STEM education problems (Aleph at UNC), an Android application that enables Gmail, Facebook and Google Maps without using cell data (SMSmart at Duke), an embeddable device to monitor diabetes in pets (Bioletics at Georgia Tech), and a phone case that charges cell phones via solar or artificial light (Saura at Florida State). 
Last year’s second and third place winners have continued to scale; Florida State startup Optimal Bagging joined Domi Station, Tallahassee’s co-working space, and has further refined its QuickPack trash bags. The founders plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of their 13-gallon and 55-gallon trash bag solutions later this spring. SouthYeast Labs out of Clemson University completed a successful crowdfunding campaign and has beers on tap around the region, including at Hi-Wire Brewery in Asheville. 
Two years after winning Startup Madness, Jebbit, a post-click engagement platform out of Boston College, participated in the Techstars Boston accelerator and has since raised over $2.25M. 
But it’s not just about the notoriety, prizes (up to $3K in seed funding, a trip to meet with Silicon Valley investors, scholarships and consultations), or the ACC bragging rights. It’s a huge opportunity for collaboration. The presenting host, NC State’s Poole College of Management, has planned a university roundtable for visiting entrepreneurship faculty to share best practices in teaching and developing student entrepreneurs. Visiting students will also participate in a pitch workshop hosted by the newly-launched NCSU Entrepreneurship Clinic, and will be able to grow their startup network beyond their own school community by meeting folks from the likes of The RTP, Hutchison Law, ThinkHouse, ImpactU in Charlotte, Tech Talent South, IDEA Fund and more. 
I hope you’ll join me for the action on March 27th (Tickets here). I’ll secretly be wearing my Carolina gear. Don’t tell Lewis Sheats.