Glioblastoma is the most common primary intrinsic brain tumor and remains incurable despite maximal therapy. Glioblastomas display cellular hierarchies with self-renewing glioma-initiating cells (GICs) at the apex. To discover new GIC targets, we used in vivo delivery of phage display technology to screen for molecules selectively binding GICs that may be amenable for targeting. Phage display leverages large, diverse peptide libraries to identify interactions with molecules in their native conformation. We delivered a bacteriophage peptide library intravenously to a glioblastoma xenograft in vivo then derived GICs. Phage peptides bound to GICs were analyzed for their corresponding proteins and ranked based on prognostic value, identifying VAV3, a Rho guanine exchange factor involved tumor invasion, and CD97 (cluster of differentiation marker 97), an adhesion G-protein-coupled-receptor upstream of Rho, as potentially enriched in GICs. We confirmed that both VAV3 and CD97 were preferentially expressed by tumor cells expressing GIC markers. VAV3 expression correlated with increased activity of its downstream mediator, Rac1 (ras-related C3 botulinum toxin substrate 1), in GICs. Furthermore, targeting VAV3 by ribonucleic acid interference decreased GIC growth, migration, invasion and in vivo tumorigenesis. As CD97 is a cell surface protein, CD97 selection enriched for sphere formation, a surrogate of self-renewal. In silico analysis demonstrated VAV3 and CD97 are highly expressed in tumors and inform poor survival and tumor grade, and more common with epidermal growth factor receptor mutations. Finally, a VAV3 peptide sequence identified on phage display specifically internalized into GICs. These results show a novel screening method for identifying oncogenic pathways preferentially activated within the tumor hierarchy, offering a new strategy for developing glioblastoma therapies. © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Limited All rights reserved.