Startup Survivor

Outwork. Outshine. Outpitch. Only the strongest startups will survive.

The Forge is launching an exciting new program for McMaster students and recent alumni with novel business ideas.

Introducing Startup Survivor – a 4-month innovation program culminating with a pitch competition in the Fall.

Throughout the program, The Forge will be giving out up to $75,000 to 10 Startup Survivor finalists. The Finalists will complete a series of challenges throughout the summer focused on innovation, validation, and business development. Upon successful completion of the challenges, participants will receive cash prizes to further advance their startup. Only the top teams will outlast their competition and participate in The Startup Survivor Pitch Competition for the chance to win additional prize money.

Can you outlast the competition?


Startup Survivor is a virtual 4-month innovation program culminating with a pitch competition in the Fall open to McMaster students and recent alumni.

Beginning in May, 10 finalists will embark on a journey to launch their business ideas to great lengths.

Unique challenges have been set up for startups to complete throughout the summer, along with mentorship and workshops to support each milestone. Challenges will focus on improving each startup’s understanding of validation, business development, prototyping, sales and more!

With each challenge completed by the deadline, a release of funding will be granted for the startup. Challenges have been awarded a monetary value and a point allotment that startups will receive upon successful completion as deemed by The Tribal Council (The Forge mentors and staff).

In a cutthroat elimination round, only the top teams will outlast their competition and participate in the final challenge: “The Startup Survivor Pitch Competition” for the chance to win additional prize money.

Throughout Startup Survivor, The Forge will be giving out up to $75,000 cash.

Challenge #1 and Application submissions are now closed.


Eligibility Criteria

Anyone who meets the following criteria may apply:

  1. You are currently a McMaster University student or alumni who graduated between Spring 2020-Present.
    This includes any of the following:
    – Part-time Undergraduate
    – Full-time Undergraduate
    – Graduate
    – Ph.D.
  1. You are not a McMaster student or recent alumni, but you have a Co-Founder who meets the criteria in #1 that will fill out the application form.

If you are not a McMaster student or recent alumni and do not have a McMaster student or recent alumni on your team,
unfortunately you are not eligible to apply. We encourage you to consider other programs offered at The Forge.
Click here to learn more.


Startup Survivor will consist of 6 challenges that each startup will need to complete to release their funding.

Note: these challenges are subject to change

Challenge #1 – Explore the Island

Customer Discovery and Validation

In Challenge #1, we want you as founders to forget about your solution. Most of the time, founders come to us with solutions but often change these solutions after they do proper research. We want you to keep an open mind, avoid jumping to a solution and undertake research to help you understand the problem you are trying to solve on an extraordinarily deep level.

Deliverables for this challenge:

  • 1 x Problem Statement
  • 1 x Customer Discovery Interview Guide
  • 1 x Spreadsheet with detailed transcripts of customer discovery work
  • 1 x A private link to a Dropbox or Google Drive with recordings of customer discovery work
  • 1 x A findings document that outlines the patterns you have identified and your insights from the research.

Goals for this challenge:

  • Identify who is having this problem.
  • Understand why this problem is so potent.
  • Identify the patterns that cross from one end user to the next.

Challenge 2 – Hunt and Gather

Ideation, Business Models and the Solution Interview

Validate the Business Model Canvas and develop either a storyboard or prototype product pamphlet and get feedback from your target market; identify areas for improvement; rinse and repeat.

Deliverables for this challenge:

  • 1 x Validated Business Model Canvas
  • 1 x Product brochure or storyboard
  • 1 x Document that details solution interview notes and learnings.

Goals for this challenge:

  • Identify a possible solution on paper, make sure the target market understands and sees value in your solution.
  • Identify any issues that your customer may face in using your product or service.
  • Make sure your business is viable from not only a product/market fit standpoint, but also from a business model standpoint.

Challenge #3 – Start a Fire

Rapid Prototyping

From paper and pen to the physical world. In this challenge, you will rapidly build a prototype of your product or service. Remember – this doesn’t have to be market-ready. A prototype can be a 3D printed model, or as simple as a cardboard construction or a digital mockup

Deliverables for this challenge:

  • 3 x Versions of your prototype – version 1, 2 and 3
  • A document that has feedback from three target customers (per prototype) and a detailed list of changes + reasons for making them.

Goals for this challenge:

  • Understand rapid prototyping and how to increase fidelity.
  • Learn something new from each prototype version, improving each time.
  • Create something tangible that will warrant more in-depth user feedback.

Challenge #4 – Message in a Bottle

Socialize It

Build a landing page for your company that describes or promotes your product or service and try to gather information from potential customers, end users, partners, suppliers.

Deliverables for this challenge:

  • 1 x Landing page via WordPress, Wix, Shopify, etc.
  • 1 x Social media strategy for either Instagram, Twitter, FB, LinkedIn, Google Ads or TikTok
  • 1 x List of email addresses of people who signed up on your website.

Goals for this challenge:

  • Identify how your end user should be marketed to. What wording/imagery does your target market resonate with?
  • Generate buzz about your product or service. You should get people to sign up for updates on the launch of your product or service.

Challenge #5 – Form an Alliance

Go-to-Market & Financial Analysis

Go-to-market strategy is a plan that will introduce and inevitably grow the adoption of your product in the market. In this challenge you will be heavily involved with your “beachhead market.” Your beachhead market is a group of end-users that have the problem you’re trying to solve, very potently. They are a group that when describing your problem, will finish your sentences. They are in such need of a solution that they will adopt your product even though it is in its infancy and still quite flawed. In this challenge you will learn about go-to-market strategy and make an attempt to understand and/or gain some early traction for your product/service. Additionally, you will build financial projections for your company. While these projections will be a very early attempt, it is important to start thinking in dollars and cents about the future of your company.

Deliverables for this challenge:

  • 1 x Go to market strategy
  • 5 x Pre-sales or LOIs
  • 1 x Three-year financial projections

Goals for this challenge:

  • Understand a staged expansion of your product into the market. 
  • Understand your market and build your go-to-market strategy based on the Buyer’s Journey 
  • Understand the importance of detailed tactics when launching a product/service/app. 
  • Understand the basics of cashflow. 
  • Understand what a company will need in terms of cash, as they scale. 
  • Learn how to use evidence and data in financial projections. 

Challenge #6 – Face Tribal Council

The Pitch Deck

The pitch is on the horizon. If you’re going to pitch, you need a deck but more importantly a story. In this challenge you’re going to learn how to build a pitch deck from the previous challenges.

Deliverables for this challenge:

  • 1 x Pitch deck

Goals for this challenge:

  • Understand the most important elements of a pitch deck for your intended audience.
  • Learn how to tell your company’s story in a compelling way.

Reward Challenges

In addition to receiving cash for completed challenges, startups will have the opportunity to complete “Reward Challenges” to improve their overall score.

Below are some examples of Reward Challenges you can complete for extra points:

Reward Challenges
Stab someone in the back (interview your competitor’s customer)
Eating Challenge (attend Milestone Pizza)
Form a secret alliance (make a connection for a fellow finalist)
Head to basecamp (setup Hubspot CRM)
Administer first aid (send your client paperwork to Program Coordinator)
Hidden idol (add The Forge client logo to your website)