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Amazon hunts for a few good startups

Winner takes $100,000 in currency, cloud capacity

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The Amazon Web Services cloud computing arm of retailing giant Amazon.com has launched its fifth annual Start-Up Challenge contest, with the top prize being $100,000 in AWS credits and cash.

Apparently you should not abbreviate this as the AWS SUC contest, because Amazon is not looking for business ideas using cloudy infrastructure that suck, but rather those that will inspire other startups to think cleverly and shell out cash on virtual server and storage capacity to support their own fledgling businesses. It is debatable how well such contests actually do in stimulating startups, but this is the fifth time Amazon is putting out the call – and the fact that it is expanding the geographic coverage seems to imply that it is worth the trouble and money.

Amazon has not raised the cash awards however, with the grand prize winner still only getting $50,000 in cash and $50,000 in free AWS credits that can be used on Amazon's EC2 compute, S3 and SBS storage, and other cloudy infrastructure services. But in the 2011 edition of the contest, which you can apply to enter here, the contest has gone global and is being administered by a startup called YouNoodle. The company was founded in 2008 by University of Oxford graduates Bob Goodson and Kirill Makharinsky to ask entrepreneurs about their business ideas and rate them on how well they might do and what kind of valuation they might have.

Here's how the contest works. Any startup that has not generated more than $10m in annual revenues or taken in more than $10m in equity funding can apply, so long as you or your family members don't work for Amazon or YouNoodle. Contest entries run from 1 August until 2 October, and you have to start an AWS account before the ending period. YouNoodle will administer the contest and presumably help rank the startups using its algorithms; an Amazon panel will do the actual judging.

Five semi-finalists will be selected from each of the three regions (Americas, EMEA, and Asia/Pacific-Japan), and each will be given $2,500 in AWS credits that they have to burn in three years. Then, in a second round of voting, six finalists will be chosen and given another $10,000 in AWS credits, which again have to be consumed in three years.

In November, these six have to make a 30-minute presentation about the business idea to Amazon's judges, and a grand prize winner will be picked from the finalists. Amazon will shell out up to $2,000 to fly the finalists to wherever the judging is done and put them up in a hotel.

The grand prize winner picked from among the six finalists gets $50,000 in cash and another $50,000 in AWS credits, plus publicity from Amazon and a four-hour mentoring session with Amazon experts. There will probably be some venture capitalists sniffing around, too, but there's no guarantee of that.

Every startup that enters the contest gets $25 in AWS credits just for signing up. ®

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