Best Buy Goes Back To School With College Innovator Fund, Giving Away $100,000 For The Next Big Tech Idea

The big-box retailer doesn’t just want to be known as the place where you get the cheapest gear — lately it’s been highlighting technology innovation and innovators in its ads and messaging. To that end, the company is launching a contest aimed at finding the next big thing, and it’s asking college kids to compete for a total $100,000 in prizes and the chance to get advice from its own internal development team.

Best Buy’s College Innovator fund is a contest that will award four cash prizes of up to $50,000 to folks it believes are building technology that could change the way people interact with each other. It’s looking for applications that focus primarily on technology, sustainability, education, or related fields, and is ok with various stages of development — from a full-blown piece of software to an idea that’s not quite yet under development.

Those who wish to compete for a chance to win some cash as part of the College Innovator Fund, need only go to Best Buy’s Facebook app and record a two-minute video explaining what they’ve built — or what they’d like to build. The site went live this morning, and applicants have until August 14 to submit their proposal.

Best Buy has selected a panel of judges who will narrow down all the applications to a group of 10 finalists. Those judges include the Best Buy Digital’s own president of global marketing and strategy, Stephen Gillett, as well as Pandora founder Tim Westergren and uBeam’s Perry. On August 17, the retailer will announce the final 10, and it will give Facebook users the opportunity to vote for a “fan favorite.”

The fund has one grand prize of $50,000, as well as an opportunity to mentor with folks from Best Buy Exclusive Brands — the retailer’s in-house development team, which is responsible for its Insignia and Dynex brand consumer electronics products, among others. There will also be two runners-up who will each receive a $20,000 cash prize. And, of course, $10,000 will go to the fan favorite. Winners will be announced September 17.

Best Buy will push the College Innovator Fund as part of its newest ad campaign, highlighting innovators you know (and some you don’t) that built technology while in college. It follows on the heels of Best Buy’s Super Bowl ad, which was all about tech folks who built cool mobile technology. The new back-to-school campaign is slated to run during the 2012 Summer Olympics, and will include folks like Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley, as well as Jessica Jackley, founder of Kiva, and uBeam’s Meredith Perry.