Looking for a competition that could change the life of your business? You can't do much better than applying for Startup of the Year. The competition puts founders on an international stage, not to mention makes their companies eligible for up to a $100,000 investment. The top 100 businesses that enter are invited to attend the Startup of the Year Summit, so even if they don't get to pitch, they could meet people who could push their businesses to a new level.

This year, the event took place from October 14-16 in Memphis. We talked to the top five to give you an idea of what the judges are looking for. Who knows? Next year at this time, Alice could be sharing a post about your big win.

Winner:

re:3D

Regular readers of this blog have already met Samantha Snabes, who created this 3D printing company with co-founder Matthew Fiedler. Their extra-large (they call it “toilet-sized") printer, the Gigabot, is helping to reduce plastic waste by using reclaimed materials.

Read more about how it works and about Snabes used Alice to find resources like the Startup of the Year competition, by clicking here.

Second Place:

Immertec

Like Snabes, Immertec co-founder Erik Maltais gained some of the skills that made him a success in the military. He says that his time in the Marine Corps amounted to “five years so I could perform for 37 minutes in Iraq.” He realized that it’s not so different for physicians training on medical devices. “You can do a recorded video but what you’re not going to be able to do is simulate that environment,” he says.

That’s where his company steps in. Immertec is virtual reality software that allows users to instantly stream medical procedures. A doctor who wants to learn to use an endoscope can schedule a time to train and watch a procedure from thousands of miles away. Basically, it’s the highest quality medical training beyond all physical barriers.

Marterrious McClain pitches SecondKeys. (Photo by Forever Ready Productions)

Third Place and Fan Favorite:

SecondKeys

When Amber Hayes approached fellow University of Mississippi student Marterrious McClain about joining her as co-founder of her company SecondKeys, “I told her that her idea sucked,” he recalls. Turns out, it wasn’t so bad.

Their property management software improves on the basics that Hayes used when she was a contractor for five apartment complexes by expanding beyond the usual myopic scope of focusing just on the needs of property managers. The genius of SecondKeys is that it includes everyone in the chain, from tenant to property owner to service provider. That means no more email or phone tag between tenants and landlords. It uses data to predict when an appliance will break, too, so everyone involved is prepared for that eventuality. Transparent communication about home repairs? Thanks to Hayes and McClain, it’s closer than you think.

Ellery Linder and Danielle Rushton of Fruutfull. (Photo by Forever Ready Productions)

Runner Up:

Fruutfull

If you’re wearing a bra right now, chances are it doesn’t fit exactly the way you want it to. Danielle Rushton taught herself to sew because she was confident she could make a better bra than was already available on the market. “We call the first design our Frankenbra,” jokes Ellery Linder, Fruutfull’s co-founder, and Rushton’s former HSN colleague. Nonetheless, “I wanted to be a customer,” she says.

The Fruutfull bra fits better because it takes the sliding functionality of a typical bra shoulder strap and adds it to the back as well, creating a far more personalized fit. This comes courtesy of Rushton’s ingenuity, but also a team of mechanical engineers hailing from companies including Disney, Apple, and Siemens.

Linder says she didn’t expect to make it into the top five of Startup of the Year.  “To be in the company of these incredible tech companies who are really defying odds and disrupting the tech industry, we found a newfound level of confidence,” she says.

Runner Up:

Route

If anyone has come by their business idea from a real need it’s Ricky Regalado. His business-to-business software that connects building service contractors, including every aspect from sales to operations, grew out of his family commercial cleaning business, Rozalado Services. But while the app was born of a need for helping commercial cleaning businesses, the platform is a tool to help digitize the front-end sales process for any type of contractor.

It’s an unexpected victory that Route placed in Startup of Year. “I didn’t even know about it until three weeks before the event,” Regalado admits. After bootstrapping his business for two years, he’s starting to meet with venture capitalists. One of them recommended that he apply for the prize, even though they were no longer taking applications. Regalado says the SOTY judges were impressed with the fact that he’s modernizing and digitizing an industry that in many ways is still stuck in an analogue world. “I think they just got it,” he says.