An Unnecessary Distraction?
by Karen Stearns on April 21, 2010
Let’s face it: our world is in turmoil. Political issues, the economy, the Middle East, nuclear proliferation… even the people who want to save the earth—such a noble cause—are fighting and can’t agree on what’s wrong with our planet, much less how best to save it. And here I sit at the Rice University Business Plan Competition watching a bunch of college kids, some who traveled from other countries, compete with one another at enormous cost of time and resources. Is this really the best way for us to spend our time and money? Couldn’t we be more productive focusing on bigger things, things that could alleviate pain in suffering in third world countries, maybe? In an era when people are unemployed and the nation’s future looks dubious, we’re focused on this?! Yeah, we are. Let me offer some justification.
With a $1 million purse, the Rice BPC is the richest and largest competition of its kind. Of the 420 business plans submitted, 42 were chosen to compete onsite; seven of these teams traveled from outside the U.S. One hundred volunteers and 250 judges donated their time over three days. In addition to submitting a business plan, teams competed by presenting “Elevator Pitches,” a 60-second “pitch” to a potential investor. The majority of these pitches are top-notch, professional and polished and are hardly what one would expect from college kids, even if they ARE the best and the brightest. Since 2001, 228 teams have competed in this competition and 37 percent are successfully operating businesses today. But the BEST attention-getter, in my humble opinion, is the variety and importance of the innovations these students present. Many of the teams hold patents, many are competing for seed money to conduct clinical trials or to gain FDA approval of their product, and some are total game-changers in their industries.
Consider a few of the innovations presented this year:
- A contact lens that monitors blood glucose; current glucose tests involve needle pricks to draw blood.
- A handheld probe that can accurately and painlessly diagnose cervical cancer in real time; today’s pap smear takes much longer and produces frequent false positives.
- A camera that allows users to decipher an object’s chemical composition; users can immediately tell the difference between anthrax and powder, toxic fumes and water vapor, or a benign cyst and cancer.
- An osteoporosis medication that binds directly to bone, tripling new bone growth, with a single, annual injection.
- And advances in battery and solar power, waste management, infection detection and more.
If we agree on NOTHING else, we should agree on the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation. We should agree that startups and game-changing ideas such as these, operating in our Free Market system, provide the best chance to solve our current and future ills. And we should agree that venues such as Rice University must continue to provide support to our next generation innovators. They are our future.
If you have not yet listened to the Rice BPC's Elevator Pitches posted on the BusinessMakers website, you should.
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