For Ambitious Students, Entrepreneurship Can Be a Big Win
This year, 40 teams from around the world competed for prizes totaling $135,000. The winner was NuMat Technologies, a company started by a team from Northwestern University, which produces high-performance materials for storing clean fuels.
While clean energy is a popular field for young entrepreneurs, health care-related businesses were the big winners at other business plan competitions. At the Harvard Business School's competition, the winner of the Business Venture Track prize (following a traditional business plan) was a company that plans to produce vaccines stored on thin strips of film, eliminating the need for refrigeration. The Social Venture Track winner (run on a social entrepreneurship model) created an Internet-based system that streamlines the process of transferring patients from a hospital to a specialized care facility.
Oklahoma State University's Riata Business Plan Competition gave top honors to a team specializing in gene therapy, while the Wharton Business Plan Competition at the University of Pennsylvania awarded a grand prize of $30,000 to RightCare Solutions, which makes software that helps nurses identify which patients are at highest risk for hospital readmissions.
Healthy living was also a winning theme at Northwestern's Kellogg Graduate School of Management, which recently instituted a Social Entrepreneurship Award for promising start-ups focused on social responsibility or environmental challenges. The inaugural $80,000 prize went to Fresh Takes Kitchen, a service that provides healthy meals and nutrition education to low-income families.At MIT, not surprisingly, tech companies dominated the school's $100,000 Entrepreneurship Competition. This year's winning business was CloudTop, a service that allows users to search for and move files between online services such as Google (GOOG) Documents and Facebook (FB). (And yes, they got a check for $100,000.) Amid all the medical, tech and energy start-ups, it is possible for more off-the-beaten-path concepts to win funding. The winner of Columbia University's Outrageous Business Plan Competition was Cup and Compass, which plans to produce drink dispensers for fast-casual restaurants that offer healthier options, such as the Latin American drink horchata. (For purposes of the competition, Columbia defines "outrageous" as "ambitious in scope and scale" rather than out-there crazy). Other finalists produced organic cocktails, mobile toilets and a computer-based system for schools to track and analyze student behavior. Graduating from a competitive university or business school is a great accomplishment. But leaving school with funding for the next step of your life is the ultimate graduation present.
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