What's your elevator pitch?

April 16, 2010: 5:24 PM ET

by Jessica Shambora

The Rice Business Plan Competition kicked off in Houston Thursday night with an elevator pitch contest. All 43 teams had one minute to pitch their plans. Each asked for a specific dollar amount; some suggested a valuation and exit strategy; a few even promised 40x returns!

While there were designated judges for the competition (including VCs and high school students), audience members with the event's iPhone app got to play along, rating the teams as they presented. One student was alarmed: "Will we see our scores in real time?" Fortunately, they were spared. Winners of the people's choice award, and all other contests will be announced Saturday night.

Among the teams presenting Thursday and over the next couple days, there are some common themes.

Medical tools and tests stack the deck, from laparoscopic devices to cervical cancer diagnostics. One team, Urovention, is developing an endoscope for urology surgery. It was hard to miss a demo of their prototype with a piece of raw chicken, accompanied by some stirring visual aids.

A demo of Urovention's prototype. Photo: Jessica Shambora

Seafood farming is also hot. Deli Worm wants to feed worm meals to farmed fish. Blue Revolution Sea Farms plans to grow and sell cobia. AquaREAL promises to efficiently cleans the water in shrimp farms.

Waste processing: Ancora Energy believes microwaving trash can produce power. Biogas & Electric will reduce the Nitrous Oxide byproduct that results when disposing of methane gas. (This team also posted a persuasive tweet during the earlier TwitPitch competition: MOO POO PEE YEW! Biogas exhaust & NOx rot the atmosphere- patent pending BioCat saves the world. See Biogas & Electric @ Rice Bplan Competn.)

Most presenters invoked classic sales pitch gimmicks, starting with a personal anecdote or question. Two teams took the same approach in acknowledging their shortcoming: This business is not sexy. No offense to the turbines and compressors out there.

Stay tuned to find out whether an unsexy business can take home the $325,000 grand prize at the "Superbowl" of business plan competitions.

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