Tag Archives: Rice Business Plan Contest

Watch This Excellent 1 Minute Elevator Pitch

Although it doesn’t take an MBA to do it, one of the things business schools teach more often these days, as part of the entrepreneurship curriculum, is the elevator speech, also called elevator pitch.

The one embedded here, from the Rice Business Plan Competition last week, won first prize in a contest that included 42 elevator pitches. It’s a great example. Notice how Gaylene Anderson, CEO of Solanux, hits all the high points, and all in just 60 seconds.

In case you don’t see the video here, you can also click here to go to the source video on YouTube.

And in addition, if you’d like to see more, click this link to see the whole collection.

I’ve posted some how-to advice on the elevator speech on this blog, in a four-part series. What I’m recommending in that series fits very well with what’s working in this contest.


Business Plan Contests Grow Up and Mean Business

It’s time to note a major change. Just a few years ago business plan contests were an academic oddity, a dress-up exercise at a few business grad schools. Suddenly, or so it seems, they’re pretty much for real. Some very powerful new businesses are appearing at business plan contests, winning significant money, attracting investors, getting funded, and turning into real businesses.

Rice ContestFor milestones, try this: last weekend Rice University hosted the first business plan contest to offer $1 million in total prize money. This is a serious event now. If you’re at all curious about how strong some of these businesses are, read Lora Kolodny’s ‘I Want This Drug on the Market by the Time I Need It!’ on her You’re the Boss Blog at the NYTimes.com.

How important are these contests? How real? Well Lora wasn’t the only journalist at Rice last weekend. Fortune and CNN are covering that contest in detail. Expect to see some of these major contests in the Wall Street Journal.

Brad Burke, head of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, chief host and organizer of the Rice contest, likes to point out how many of the teams entered have gone on to be successful:

More than 97 past competitors have gone on to successfully launch their business, including 33 of the 42 teams from the 2009 competition. In total, past competitors have raised more than $220 million in funding.

Moot Corp, meanwhile, the first of these competitions, started in 1984, has trouble keeping up with all of its Moot Corp success stories. Moot Corp will be taking place in Austin again this year, in early May, gathering together the winners of several dozen other competitions.

And at the University of Oregon’s annual New Venture Competition, of which I’ve been a judge 12 times, all four of the teams in my semi-finals track looked like real companies with good probability of making it in the real world. That’s impressive. I’ve seen a lot of good companies in that one before, but never before have I done a track in which all four of the four groups seemed likely to be real viable companies in the real world.

Big Plans, Big Show, Rice’s Business Plan Contest

Jeff Mullins is a man with a mission. He says he was a patent attorney for seven years to get to know how that works. Then he went back to school, in the MBA program at Carnegie Mellon University, to focus on entrepreneurship. He’s now got the hottest startup I’ve seen in a while, Dynamics, the winner of the big prize at the Rice University Business Plan Contest.

And the big prize is pretty big. It’s hard to piece apart the package between cash and cash equivalents. There’s $20,000 in cash, $80,000 in free services, a $100,000 investment from Opportunity Houston (which is contingent on moving to Houston), and, certainly the real value jackpot, a $125,000 investment from the famed GOOSE Society of Texas. 

The GOOSE group — it stands for Grand Order of Successful Entrepreneurs — was formed by Rod Canion, Bob Brockman and four other very well known Texas entrepreneurship giants a few years ago, mainly to invest in the Rice contest winner. It now includes eight members. And past winners have ended up with more than just the investment money promised — mentorship, good advice, and deeper pockets.  They’ve supported past winners with a lot more than just the initial amount.

What Dynamix has is a market-ready credit-card technology that programs the magnetic stripe. It’s compatible with the 60 million existing card swipe readers out in the world, but still manages to manipulate what the stripe shows using buttons the owner pushes. And it’s just about the same size as the standard credit cards everybody now uses.

The flow of awards and prizes Saturday night took two hours (Brad Burke, Director of the Rice Alliance that puts on the show, and master of ceremonies, struggled in Oscar-Awards fashion to keep the talking short. Rumor has it that I was fingered as one of the offenders). Awards began with the $2,500 specialty awards like Palo Alto Software’s, which we give for the best written business plan, ( as in my post here last Friday) and mounted up through a NASA $20,000 life science Innovation Award and a $20,000 Dow Chemical Sustainability award. Total awards, including service equivalents and investment offers, totaled $805,000.  

These were very good plans in an excellent business plan contest. Several speakers cited the prize money to lay claim to the biggest and best. Although, in the fine print, the winner also gets a berth in next month’s Moot Corp contest at the University of Texas, which director Rob Adams will tell you is the “Super Bowl” of venture contests, started in 1984, the oldest or at least the most well known (I hate having to miss Moot Corp this year because of a scheduling problem).

As a judge, I struggled with the contest’s insistence on absolute rankings, without ties, because so many plans were so good. Rice got more than 340 entries, which it weeded down to 42 teams for last weekend. By the end of the finals, it seemed to me like most of the finalists were worthy of first place in any normal venture contest. For example:

  • NextRay, which took second place (and also won our best written plan award, and the NASA life sciences award), presented a new technology that may be able to replace X-rays with only one tenth of the radiation. From the University of North Carolina.
  • Tendix Development, representing Johns Hopkins Univeristy, showed the IRIS Engine, a new kind of internal combustion engine promising to deliver more power than what current engines with less than half the energy consumption. It has already won awards from NASA and ConocoPhillips.
  • Integrated Diagnostics, from the University of California at Berkeley, showed a quicker way to test blood for HIV.
  • Audiallo, from the University of Michigan, presented a new technology for processing sound, based on waves rather than digital, that hopes to offer way better clarity for hearing aids, and, later, bluetooth headphones and other uses. 
  • In Context Solutions, from the University of Chicago, showed a dazzling 3D store simulation able to perform fast in real time, targeting the high-end market research done for consumer packaged goods companies.
  • Authors of the open-source MODx content management system, a team including students from SMU, is building a company called Enterprise Theory to commercialize MODx support and services and tools, following a Red Hat model. This one, which had one of the best-looking business plans I’ve seen in a while, didn’t even make the finals.

So I’m flying back to Oregon now, as I write this, thinking that the Rice event has become a real winner. Lots of sponsors, lots of judges, and about 350 teams that were eventually paired down to 42. Great plans. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.

Business Plans and Prizes and Too Many Winners

Most venture contests deal with three elements: the business plan, the pitch presentation, and the question and answer session. Where does the plan itself stand, in the mix? What I’ve gathered from 13 years of judging graduate level business venture contests is the following:

  • The best business plan isn’t always the best venture.
  • The best venture usually has one of the better business plans.
  • The best venture almost never has a bad business plan.
  • There are relatively weak ventures with relatively strong business plans.

I’m in Houston the rest of this week for the Rice University Business Plan Contest. The finals are tomorrow. Winners will be announced tomorrow night. And there, amidst about $800K in cash and in-kind prizes, will be the $2,500 Palo Alto Software outstanding business plan award. With me announcing the winner.

Leading up to that, two days ago, 11 of us met in a Palo Alto Software conference room. It was the culmination of a three-week process that required evaluating the 42 business plans competing today at Rice. The award is for the plan, not the venture. We’ve seen the plans only, not the people, not the presentations, not the questions and answers. We divided them up so that everybody read at least 10 of the plans, most of the people 12, and a couple of people read as many as 16. The participants included me, our CEO, COO, VPs of product development and customer experience, web producer, and marketing managers. To help balance the output, every plan was read by at least four people.

But we had four winners, not just one. There were four plans which were that good.

Rice University and the contest should be very proud of these plans. The teams that submitted them should be very proud of them. After all of the scrutiny, we ended up with four plans that we’d be very proud to award as the best plan.

Several of us had different views on the relative weight of the plan as document vs. the plan as description of the venture. I know that’s a hard concept to swallow, but think of it like this: can a business plan that has every major factor locked down, but has some occasional spelling and grammar problems, be a winner? Is that better than a plan that is beautifully written, easy to read, has great illustrations, looks sensational, but has maybe one hole in the business details?

And how about this one: is a high-risk, high-return plan, taking tens of millions of dollars to yield hundreds of millions 10 years from now, but only if it runs a very narrow gauntlet of challenges, better than a plan that has only medium risk, a product already selling, happy customers, but projects getting to $8 million in five years, with a valuation of $15 million?

Tomorrow I have to announce a single winner, and, happily, we did finally come to a decision on which one to name. But that one is one of four plans that deserved to win.