Startup Survivor

Are you a McMaster University student or alumni with a business idea?
If you’re ready to make your ideas come to life, The Forge is here to help!  Startup Survivor provides startups with the funding, resources, and mentorship to guide and prepare you for launch. Join Startup Survivor to start and build your business in just 4 months!

Applications for Summer 2024 are now CLOSED.
Program runs May to August 2024.

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

Startup Survivor is a four-month innovation program and pitch competition open to McMaster University students and recent alumni. If that isn’t exciting enough, we’re giving out $80,000 cash throughout the program!

Startup Survivor

  • Throughout the summer, companies are given business and technical challenges to complete.
  • Challenges focus on customer discovery, business modelling, rapid prototyping, go-to-market strategy, and pitching to investors.
  • For each challenge, educational workshops with subject matter experts will take place so participants can learn about the topic.
  • One-on-one mentorship is offered weekly to provide support to teams as they tackle challenges.
  • At the end of each challenge, a panel of external judges reviews deliverables and provides competitors with feedback for improvement and a challenge score.
  • All teams receive $1000 per challenge with The Forge giving out $50,000 throughout the Summer. That’s a total of $5000 awarded to each team throughout the summer!
  • We will double your funding to $10,000 if your business idea is focused on smart, sustainable and/or autonomous transportation solutions.
  • Companies are encouraged to work out of The Forge, located at McMaster Innovation Park. Our prototyping facility and makerspace technician are available on-site to support companies with hardware components.
  • Participants are invited to meetups to share key learnings, ask questions, and connect with peers.
  • The last challenge has the teams pitching to a Venture Capital firm who may choose to invest or engage further with your company. The teams are paired with a pitch coach to ensure they are well-prepared and ready to give an investor pitch.
  • The summer ends with a graduation ceremony celebrating all the teams’ startup achievements and business milestones.

Application Process

DISCLAIMER: The application process for Startup Survivor has multiple stages. Please read the information below carefully.

  1. Submit one (super short!) online eligibility form, due March 10. Submitting early will give you a head start on your application package.
  2. All eligible applicants will be required to attend one workshop as part of your application. The workshop will give you critical information you will need to complete your application package and the required task. Workshops will take place February 8, 13, 22, and 28.
    The final workshop takes place February 28. If you missed the workshops, your information package will contain alternate arrangements.
  3. Applicants will work on the first challenge submission until the application deadline, March 31.
  4. During the first two weeks of April, The Forge will conduct interviews with the top applicants.
  5. Top 10 teams will be invited to join the program from May to August 2024.


  • At least 1 founding team member must be a McMaster University student or recent alumni (graduated on or after Spring 2023)
  • Students may be enrolled in any faculty, program, and level (undergraduate and graduate)
  • Teams may be comprised of domestic students, international students, or a combination.
  • Business can be from any industry sector (software, hardware, medical device, clean technology, consumer product, social innovation, etc.)

Check out all the excitement we got up to in 2023!

Watch the 2022 recap video here.

Startup Survivor Pitch Competition

  • At the end of August, all competitors’ scores are tallied, and the top 5 companies are invited to pitch at our annual Startup Survivor Pitch Competition where we’re giving away the remaining $30,000 in cash prizes!
  • The Pitch Competition includes our five remaining startups pitching to a panel of esteemed judges and a live audience.
  • The one-night event is the flagship of McMaster’s Entrepreneurship Week.
  • The event is open to the public and a great opportunity for networking with other students, faculty, startup founders, researchers, and special guests.
  • The lucky grand prize recipient will walk away with $15,000 to go towards their startup!

Frequently Asked Questions

To ensure that all program participants have the best experience possible with hands-on support, we unfortunately have to limit the number of startups we accept into the program.

The Forge will accept TEN startups into the Startup Survivor program.

Solo founder or co-founders – all are acceptable!

While running a startup can be tougher without a co-founder (or multiple), there’s nothing stopping you from applying on your own! It can be done, and it has been done for many years. In 2023, the top three winners were solo-founders. It just means that you may have to be prepared to work a little bit harder than those who enter with a team of two or more.

Yes! The Forge is home to many founders who don’t have a technical background and are building something that’s… well, technical.

We have partner connections, industry experts, and a BUNCH of resources to support you and fill the gaps in your team as you build your business.

Unfortunately, no. Each of the six challenges you will participate in throughout the summer have mandatory in-person commitments (such as workshops, mentor meetings, and pitches). If there is no one on your founding team who can represent your startup at the in-person requirements, you will not be able to continue in the program.

Sending someone on your team who is a not engaged in the development of your startup is not beneficial to your progress, nor is it acceptable for program participants.

No, this is an experiential learning opportunity! We help you immerse yourself in the world of entrepreneurship and fast-track your idea to market.

Startup Survivor is not approved for co-op credits.

As the founder(s), you retain 100% ownership and equity of your business. This program is entirely free and generously funded by McMaster University. We’re here to support you, not take from you! 

Definitely! We’re glad you continued working on your startup.

The Forge is looking to work with dedicated individuals for the next cohort of Startup Survivor.

During the program, we expect minimum commitment of 20 hours per week to cultivate your startup. This includes attending scheduled events, such as workshops and mentor meetings, as well as dedicating time to work on your business at your own pace.

The majority of our sessions are conducted in person at The Forge, with some held virtually via Zoom. While we encourage full team participation for maximum benefit, it is mandatory for at least one co-founder to attend all events, providing flexibility for different team members. Please note that non-founding members (interns, volunteers, staff, etc.) cannot substitute for co-founders at events.

Our workshops and meetings are scheduled from Monday to Friday between 9 am and 5 pm. You can find the provisional program calendar via this link. However, please bear in mind that dates and times might shift as we finalize speakers and mentors.

Teams must maintain Good Standing throughout the program to continue accessing funding and resources. The Forge reserves the right to withhold funding or disqualify teams that fail to uphold Good Standing criteria, such as attending mandatory events, actively progressing with business development, meeting challenge deadlines, and participating in pitch-related activities, including the final Investor Pitch Day.

We are dedicated to providing comprehensive support for your team’s success, provided that you remain committed to the program’s requirements. Your commitment to this endeavor is crucial to our joint success!

Startup Survivor 2023 winners posing on stage with their cheques.
From left: TechMedic founder Shania Bhopa won the $15,000 top prize in Startup Survivor, Mann Parikh from Nerview finished in second place ($10,000), Fatima Gafoor, Julia Ungureanu, Warisha Rehman, and Rabbea Sidhu from Cloak The Poke won the People’s Choice Award ($1000), and Ibrahim Iftikhar from CrowdVision came in third place ($5000).

Hear from Previous Participants

Ibrahim Iftikhar, founder of CrowdVision

Prize Recipient, 2023 Startup Survivor

I’ve always been passionate about concerts and live events, but recording them is always a hassle. Recording not only distracts and takes away from the overall experience, but often the videos end up being poor quality anyway. I knew that there was something that could’ve been done to address the issue, and I chose to work with the Forge to help me figure that out.

But why the Forge? What sets The Forge apart for me is their approach to nurturing early-stage entrepreneurs. They helped not only build up my business but myself as an entrepreneur. Through workshops and close mentorship, I’ve gained a level of support that is rare and invaluable.

The aspect of working with The Forge that brings me the most joy is the sense of community. The community at the Forge is like a supportive family where the mentors and fellow members genuinely care about your success. For an entrepreneur just starting, that support is crucial. The nurturing environment at the forge is focused on your success. Their role in my journey has been instrumental, and I’m truly thankful for their support.

Josh McGillivray, co-founder of Universole Fit

Winner, 2022 Startup Survivor

The Forge Startup Survivor program was pivotal not only for Universole Fit but also in my transition from researcher to entrepreneur. We entered the competition with the goal of trying to improve the wide-spread problem of finding the right size shoe, not knowing in the span of a few months they could help turn an idea into a scalable business. The workshops on business development, access to skilled professionals for mentoring, and The Forge’s extensive network provide all the tools for a determined entrepreneur to turn their startup dream into a reality. We would recommend the competition to anyone trying their first startup venture as the mentorship paired with the funding opportunity means regardless of the competition outcome it will be invaluable to your business development. Without the constant guidance and support of The Forge, Universole Fit would not be where we are today. Continuing to work with The Forge as an incubator client, even after the competition, continues to prove to be the best decision we could have made.

Parisa Agahi, founder of Tression

Prize Recipient, 2022 Startup Survivor

Tression was shaped as a startup through working with The Forge. The mentorship and support offered by this community was paramount for Tression’s growth from an early-stage startup with little validation, to an incorporated company with a large network of advisors and planned go-to-market strategies. I would highly recommend the Startup Survivor and Incubator programs to anyone with a business idea and a passion to solve a real world problem!

Christopher Juman, co-founder of Dahlia

Winners, 2021 Startup Survivor

Our experience with the Forge Startup Survivor program has been incredibly valuable. We entered the competition looking to gain guidance on our first steps in launching our business while also hoping to gain some funds along the way. We never would have imagined how many skills we would develop all the while having the opportunity to build connections with valuable mentors and other co-founders who have helped shape our business. Startup Survivor has helped catapult Dahlia forward and we are very grateful for this experience. We encourage new founders to apply if they want to gain guidance and direction on how bringing their startup to life!