Rice Business Plan Contest In Gear, with Almost $2M Up for Grabs

The Rice University Business Plan competition begins today, a weekend of “April madness” that will see a starting lineup of 42 startups get whittled down to just one grand champion Saturday night.

Now in its 14th year, the contest has grown into one of the highest profile platforms for student-led ventures in the world, attracting university-based entrepreneurs from as far away as Taiwan and Kenya. The startups will compete for a slice of nearly $2 million in prize money.

Originally known as the “Southwest Business Plan Competition,” the first contest back in 2001 had nine startups competing for just $10,000. Over the years, more than 400 teams have competed, launching more than 200 startups. Alumni companies have gone on to raise about $500 million in early stage funding.

Rice says the largest exit of a competition startup is that of the 2005 winner, Auditude, which was sold to Adobe in late 2011 and spun out into a second company, Into Now. Yahoo bought that company for a reported $140 million.

Other notable winners include Rebellion Photonics (2nd place, 2010), which makes a real-time hyperspectral camera that detects poisonous or potentially explosive gas leaks from oil refineries or rigs  and dental medtech device manufacturer OrthoAccel, which won the IP Powerhouse award in 2005 and then sold its technology to one of the judges.

The contest was rechristened as the Rice Business Plan competition a decade ago, one year before the Goose Society of Texas—the Grand Order of Successful Entrepreneurs—upped the ante with a $100,000 grand prize. Jack Gill, the Silicon Valley pioneer who started Vanguard Ventures, is a founding member of Goose, along with entrepreneurs like former Compaq Computer CEO Rod Canion. (Gill now teaches entrepreneurship at Rice, among other universities.)

Texas universities are sending five teams to Rice’s ivy-covered campus. Among them are two startups that have grown up at Rice.

Here is a look at the Texas startups participating this year:

A-76: The Rice University startup is marketing a corrosion inhibitor and lubricant, invented by James Tour, chemistry professor. The team is targeting oil and marine services companies with expensive equipment exposed to harsh environments.

Detonation Dynamics: This startup, founded at the University of Texas at Arlington, aims to turn wasted hydrocarbons into usable energy by converting flare and biogas into electricity through a new engine technology. Raheem Bello, Detonation’s CEO, says energy companies flare 30 percent of gas production at the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, worth $2.6 million a day.

SioTeX: This company has developed what it says is an eco-friendly replacement for fumed silica, a thickener used in the manufacture of tires, paints, and plastics. The product, called Eco-Sil, is made using waste rice hulls, and comes out of Texas State University in San Marcos, TX.

NanoLinea: This company comes out of Rice and is developing an implantable material made out of carbon nanotubes. The material can conduct electricity like metal, but it’s flexible enough to thread through the body to the heart, where it can deliver a current to treat ventricular tachycardia.

Wavve: Founded at the University of Houston, this startup is commercializing a nanotechnology coating that it says enhances the effectiveness of water filters.

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