SHRM Introduces Better Workplaces Challenge Cup

By SHRM Online staff December 17, 2020

​Startup companies innovating to solve today's most pressing workplace challenges can compete for the Better Workplaces Challenge Cup sponsored by ParagonLabs, the workplace innovation lab and venture capital arm of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The competition is the HR version of the TV show "Shark Tank," in which entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of judges to secure funding. There are three rounds of competition that conclude with a $50,000 cash prize, investment opportunities, the right to display the ParagonLabs Soaring Startup Badge and accompanying media coverage.

"Technology has undoubtedly taken center stage this year, showcasing its remarkable capabilities to enhance how we do work," said Guillermo Corea, managing director of ParagonLabs. "Organizations have counted on it to support their workforces and help them maneuver the challenges of working amid a global pandemic. Business leaders and employees are both seeing the potential firsthand to bolster performance if they have the right technologies in place.

"This competition," he added, "will open the door even wider for startups to harness the insights of HR to see how these technologies will stand up in the workplace. It's an opportunity to test these innovations in front of the very people who know the workplace best."

The first round of competition begins at the local level in February, followed by a regional round in April and May. Companies at the regional level will be paired with a mentor to help guide them through the upcoming competitions.

The final round will be held during SHRM's Annual Conference & Expo in June. Those advancing to the final round will receive an all-expenses-paid trip for two company representatives to the conference and complimentary booth space in the SHRM Exposition's Workplace Innovation Zone, with potential exposure to 18,000 future users and investors. The accompanying SHRM media coverage reaches an audience of 300,000 HR professionals who touch the lives of more than 115 million employees.

Ten applicants each from 19 cities will be selected to participate in the local rounds. Only one application per company, per region in which the company is located, is permitted from a list of cities provided.

To apply for and participate in the Challenge Cup, a prospective competitor:

  • Must be a for-profit, U.S.-based company.
  • Cannot have raised more than $2.5 million in outside funding or have earned more than $2.5 million in revenue.
  • Must have a prototype or minimum viable product. If the company solution is a service, at least one pilot project must have been successfully completed.
  • Must have a workplace solution that directly contributes to creating better workplaces. In particular, judges will look for solutions in these workplace market segments:
    —Business-process improvement.
    —Communication and engagement.
    —Diversity, equity and inclusion.
    —Employee benefits.
    —Employee experience.
    —Employee recognition and reward.
    —Health and wellness.
    —HR information systems and payroll.
    —Leadership development.
    —Learning management.
    —Onboarding and knowledge management.
    —Performance management.
    —Project management.
    —Team enhancement.
    —Upskilling and reskilling.
    —Workforce planning and succession planning.

Application screeners will show a preference for companies that are led by entrepreneurs who embody different ideas, experiences and realizations than mainstream society, as well as for companies that are committed to facing biases, shifting perspectives and valuing diverse employee experiences and that support their clients to do the same.

Judging Entries

Participants at each level will present their ideas to a panel of judges. The panel will include HR professionals and business leaders from SHRM's membership.

The top three companies in each of the local rounds will advance to the regionals. Implementing feedback received during the first round of competition, those advancing to the second round will work with a mentor to perfect their pitches for the regional competition. One winner from each region—five in all—will advance to the finals.

SHRM members will be able to view all rounds of competition at the local and regional levels, which will be virtual events. Annual Conference attendees will be able to view the final round of competition. Audience members at the final round will include investors, leading HR professionals, other innovators and the media.



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