College isn't just a time of self-discovery; it's also a chance to prove your mettle.

While the founders of Inc.'s 16 top college startups have been coached, corralled, and graded throughout the years, they've never been judged like this before. Here we bring you Inc.'s version of March Madness.

Each week, we'll ask you to pick your favorite college startups, and based on that input we'll narrow the list of 16--first to eight contenders and then to the Final Four. Come early April, a championship round between two final contenders will reveal Inc.'s top college startup of 2014.

In addition to bragging rights, the winning team will get free tickets to Inc.'s 2014 GrowCo conference in Nashville, Tennessee in May. At that event, billionaire investor and well-known Shark Tank judge Mark Cuban will keynote.

Happy judging and tune in next Monday (March 24th) for the results from Round 1.

1st Round Voting
Golden Gear
Syracuse University student Daniel Goldberg founded Golden Gear after a series of combat sports injuries. The company, which makes protective gear for amateur and world-renowned ultimate fighters alike, has more than doubled its sales to $110,000 in the past year.
Building upon his experience in the DJ and events-management world, Duncan Abdelnour, a senior at the University of Tampa, founded Beatmerch, an electronic music merchandising company. The company, which represents renowned DJs including Hardwell, Nicky Romero, Paul van Dyk, reported $126,000 in sales last year, its first year of operation.
Co-founded by Storm Anderson and Samuel George, entrepreneurship students at Indiana University, Cavebox is a subscription box service, supplying men's hygiene products. The service is brand new, but has already signed up customers and anticipates sales of $10,000 in its first year.
Try The World
Co-founded by Columbia University graduate students, Kat Vorotova and David Foult, Try the World is a $45 bi-monthly subscription box that offers gourmet foods from around the world. It anticipates about $400,000 in sales in its first year and hasn't spent a dime on marketing.
Co-founded by Seton Hall University senior Taseen Peterson, the TapFactory is the applications-development firm behind Notefuly, an app that allows users to update notices across their desktop and mobile devices.
Ohio State University students, Keith Shields and Joshua Tucker co-founded Applits in 2012. The platform where app builders and enthusiasts go to create new apps, has since launched nine mobile apps resulting from the platform, and has 11 more currently under development.
Co-founded by Drexel University student Christopher Gray, who has won $1.3 million in scholarships, Scholly is an app that helps high school seniors, undergraduates and graduate students find scholarships. The app has returned $50,000 in annual sales and Drexel University recently purchased the app for its student body.
FiscalNote, a platform that attempts to make sense of government data, landed $1.2 million in funding from the likes of Mark Cuban and First Round Capital's Dorm Room Fund and Jerry Yang's AME Cloud Ventures. The company was founded by Jonathan C. Chen, Timothy Hwang and Gerald Yao, who are seniors at University of Maryland, Princeton University and Emory University, respectively.
Pufferfish Software
Pufferfish Software, a mobile-app maker for autistic children was founded by Megan Holstein, an 18-year-old student at Ohio State University. The company has received support from organizations such as the Autism Society of Ohio, Apps for Children With Special Needs and, a national partnership for Asperger's.
Co-founder Joe Landolina, a New York University master?s degree candidate, formed the company after creating a gel product that slows or stops blood flow. Currently, Suneris has opened a manufacturing lab in Brooklyn, N.Y. and is now looking to start commercializing its first product, VETI-GEL, to veterinarians. Meanwhile it hopes to land Food and Drug Administration approval to begin serving military personnel.
Strados founder and Illinois Institute of Technology student, Nishanth Samala, hopes to sell the nation's car owners on the idea of reading your car's mind. The company may be brand new, but it plans to release its limited beta app onto Google Play at the end of the month. It plans to ship beta versions of the product late March/early April.
Keen Home
Founded by New York University graduate entrepreneurship students Ryan Fant and Nayeem Hussain, Keen Home develops home automation products and services that combine smart design with an interface that can be controlled through a user's smart phone. The New York City-based company has yet to ship its first product, but it's now a member of Techstars accelerator and has inked agreements with giant companies like Lowe's, ADT and SmartThings.
Grove City College student Samantha Webber founded ProfilePasser, a Pittsburgh-based mobile platform that aims to connect high school athletes with college recruiters by increasing relevant and valuable interactions before, during, and after showcase events. The company launched its app in September and now has more than 600 users.
George Washington University students Jon Halpern and Rey Coriano co-founded the Pittsburgh-based AthleteTrax, which aims to be a one-stop-shop for athletic team needs from scheduling and communicating to raising funds and paying dues. So far, more than 100 teams and 2,000 users representing more than 30 schools and 16 sports have signed up for the free cloud-based platform. In the future, the company hopes to secure revenue with transactions fees and through the sale of team goods and services.
Wink Natural Cosmetics
Co-founded by Megan Cox and Miguel Salinas, Wink Natural Cosmetics, out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is dedicated to solving women's toughest beauty problems with real science and natural ingredients. Wink's first product, released in July 2013, is a natural eyelash and eyebrow growth enhancer. The second product--a two-in-one brightening and anti-aging eye cream--is currently in testing, and scheduled for release in Fall 2014.
Revita Ink
Co-founded by Nolan Simons, a senior at Loyola Marymount University, Revita Ink is a skin-care product line specifically developed to prevent tattoo fading and color loss. While revenues are sparse at present, this Los-Angeles-based five-person startup boasts global sales and a 20 percent repurchase rate. Additionally, high-profile fans like major league baseball players and recent world champions Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli of the Boston Red Sox.

The Rules:

So, how do you vote? Unless you're already registered with the site, click on the login box above and quickly register for You'll be redirected to our College Startups bracket, where you'll see the companies that are in contention for this year's top honor. Hover your mouse over each company name for more information about each team and click through to even more information, should you need it.

Inc.'s 2014 March Madness tournament operates in a phased voting system. There are four different rounds, in which you'll vote for your favored team or teams for that round. You can only vote once per round (which typically last one business week). Then press "Save," and tell your friends!

Each new round will start weekly on Mondays from March 17 through early April. The championship "match" will take place on April 7 and the winner will be announced on April 8. 

Voting and Announcement Timeline:
March 17
1st round voting beings
March 21
1st round votes are tabulated
March 24
Final 8 announced: 2nd round voting beings
March 28
2nd round votes are tabulated
March 31
Final 4 announced: 3rd round voting begins
April 2
3rd round votes are tabulated
April 7
Championship round: voting is tabulated same day
April 8
Winner announced!
IMAGE: Corbis
Last updated: Mar 17, 2014

Published on: Mar 17, 2014