And the Winner Is…

At lunch on Saturday, in the judges’ room, Jeff Mullin of Ropes and Gray, suggested I not rule out NeuroBank.

“They’ve done a lot since the Rice competition,” he said. “They’ve got a waiting list now.”

Jeff, however, is an alum of Carnegie Mellon. And NeuroBank was the entry from Carnegie Mellon. And NeuroBank finished third at the Rice University Business Plan Competition, behind Qcue and Klymit (I posted on that last month). And Klymit tied for first at the University of Oregon New Venture Championship, a week after Rice (I also posted on that last month).

And the event last week was what they call the superbowl of venture contests: Moot Corp, in Austin, at the University of Texas. Every year since 1984. This year, eight divisions, 38 teams, each one a winner in some other major contest.

And this time NeuroBank took the prize. Klymit was second, and Qcue third.

NeuroBank is built on two innovations: first, and most important, a better way to harvest brain stem cells, using a spinal tap instead of drilling into the brain. Developed and proven by a surgeon who is on the team. Second, less innovative perhaps, a system to save those brain stem cells so they can be used later. That’s something that’s being done with human eggs, sperm, other kinds of cells, but NeuroBank is the first to apply it to brain stem cells.

And I have to say that I have enjoyed this month of venture competitions immensely, judging first at Rice, then the University of Oregon, and last week at Moot Corp. Business plans have never looked better.

I’ve been judging venture contests for more than 10 years now, starting with the University of Oregon’s in 1997. I’ve done them there, Rice, here in Austin, at USF, in Notre Dame, and in New York. This year’s crop was the strongest I’ve seen.

I posted about Qcue last month after they won the contest at Rice University, in Houston. Fortune Small Business also covered that Qcue, from the University of Texas, complete with a video of their elevator speech. I also posted about Klymit, which is now calling its product “the holy grail of insulation.” Looks like a great new idea in ski clothing. Klymit, from Brigham Young, came in second place at Rice, then tied for first at the University of Oregon contest.

The fourth finalist was OvaGuard, a patented natural egg coating technology developed in Thailand and developed into a venture plan by students at Thailand’s Thammasat University. Disease outbreaks require the $177B egg industry to implement the washing and coating of eggs. OvaGuard offers breakthroughs in safety and performance.

There were some excellent ventures that didn’t make it to the finals, but — I’ll bet — will also make it to the real world. I judged semifinals, wildcard, and challenge round, and saw several other very interesting ventures:

University of Oregon
TakeShape will license a patented, 3D body scanner to sell to institutional sports teams and high-end fitness clubs. The scanner allows athletes to monitor important physical information and track progress towards fitness goals.

Orchid King
Thammasat University
Our OKlone micropropagation technology cultivates market dominating Phalaenopsis, growing these highly demanded orchids at 5,120% greater yield, while practically eliminating labor in this $1.5 billion segment.

London Business School
ShellSwitching is an online community that helps vacation home owners find trusted guests by filtering potential guests based on personal relationships, shared group affiliations and owner reviews.

University of Texas at Dallas
MicroTransponder is a medical device company commercializing wireless interfaces for the repair or enhancement of the nervous system.

University of Utah
AmWell provides innovative vaginal drug delivery technologies to the pharmaceutical industry; products that empower women to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases.

PhotonWave Technologies
Indian School of Business
PhotonWave Technologies offers a Silicon Photonics & Nanotechnology-based patented innovation that will revolutionize fiber-optic communications through high performance, cost effective optic interconnects for FTTx/last-mile and high-performance computing markets.

Georgia Institute of Technology
AccelerEyes’ solutions deliver up to 100x speed improvements for existing technical computing software by optimizing the software’s use of desktop and laptop hardware.

ReTel Technologies
University of Chicago
ReTel’s patent-pending solutions bring powerful online shopper analytics and dynamic pricing capabilities to offline retail environments.

University of Oxford
X is community-based sharing of Internet bandwidth via wireless medium. It’s a really interesting idea; a community sharing project, something like Fon, but with some refinement.


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