Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia is looking for a few budding entrepreneurs with fresh ideas about medical marijuana and industrial hemp.

The school is launching the first-ever university-sponsored competition for cannabis-related businesses. The rewards for participating in JAZ Tank: CannaVation are substantial: The grand prize is $10,000 and one free provisional or utility patent application and consulting services. Two runners-up will win $5,000 and similar legal support. (In case you were wondering, JAZ stands for Jefferson Accelerator Zone.)

"It's open to everyone so they don't have to be university-affiliated," said Zoe Selzer McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp in the Institute of Emerging Health Professions at Jefferson.

The focus is on innovation. Legal cannabis in the U.S. is expected to erupt into a $22 billion industry by 2020, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy group. Thirty states in the U.S. have legalized marijuana in some form, with nine states and the District of Columbia permitting adult recreational use. Interest in industrial hemp has taken off as CBD, a non-psychoactive molecule produced by the plant, increasingly is touted as a dietary supplement and cure-all for numerous ailments.

"We want to see creative and different approaches to the industry, especially in ancillary businesses," McKinley said. "We're looking for new ideas in grow systems or lighting or delivery or anything that will improve patient outcomes or improve the industrial hemp market in the U.S."

Online applications, which must be submitted by Aug. 13, will be reviewed by a panel of industry experts. The panel will select finalists to pitch their ideas to an audience at a Shark Tank-like program at Jefferson on Oct. 3. Judges drawn from the Lambert Center's international steering committee will choose the winners.

"We want business that have some development already in place," McKinley said. "They need to have a business plan, and five years of financial projections. If they win, we want them to be ready to go."

Start-ups that enter are capped at $100,000 in external funding, she said. "We want people who are still an early enough stage where winning this competition can help boost their business."

To apply online or for more information, visit

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