I participated in the Rice Business Plan Competition again this year. It’s my third year running and I must admit it’s quite impressive how the quality of the business plans and presentations has risen each year.
This year the program showcased 36 teams (28 from the USA, and the 7 international), with prizes totaling $675,000. About 20% of that is in-kind services. About 1/3 of the presented plans were companies that are up and running as a business. The surprising news from the conference is the number of previous year competitors who have gone on to launch a company. It was about 50%.
There are 170 judges of which 53 are from venture capital, 21 from an angel community, and 18 from private equity. I enjoy judging the competition because I learn a great deal about the industry from talking with the other judges and listening to the questions they ask.
I judged the life science competition and have done so for the past two years. Two years ago, almost none of the plans had a strategy for achieving FDA validation. Today, most have a fairly sophisticated plan for how to do it at the lowest price possible. Two years ago, most plans sought $2M with the goal of creating a pharmaceutical company which was completely unrealistic. Today, most plans focus on partnering with a pharma company for clinical trials and then licensing the technology after trials finish. Today, some of the plans still emphasize the science, but the winners are those who can present a business case including productization, go to market strategies, and financial numbers with some backing.
Business plan competitions have grown substantially in the past few years. There are quite a number of business plan competitions available to the student today. For a general list check out this link.
The top six finalists this year are:
Etoh Pharmaceuticals, University of Chicago—a triple drug combination for treating alcoholism.
Qcue, University Texas at Austin—dynamic pricing solution for concert promoters.
Enexra, Harvard University—reduces cost of silicon wafer-based solar cells by 30%.
Filigree Nanotech, Wake Forest University—improves battery performance through silver nanowire.
Klymit, Brigham Young University—noble gas-based insulation in clothing.
Microtransponder, University of Texas at Dallas—uses subcutaneous neurostimulation device to mitigate pain.