Sunday, March 25, 2007

Rice Business Plan Competition– Emerging Technologies on Display

One of my favorite events of the year is the Rice Business Plan Competition held in Houston every spring. It’s the largest collegiate business plan competition. This year the prizes topped $345K, which far outstrips last year’s $200K awards. In fact, every one of the 36 participants received some funding. Last year, I blogged on the Sadoway method which was a new technique for developing titanium which came from MIT.

This year the field of 36 plans from around the world looks even better. It’s a great view into current university-based research labs as it shows what’s moving into productization. Technologies include Life Science, Medical Devices, Software, Wireless, and more. I’m a judge of the competition in the Life Science flight. Startups apply new technologies to improve medical device performance in the area of appendectomies, breast cancer tumor removal, and heart disease detection. There’s also improve materials using nanotechnology to create anti-bacterial materials for medical devices such as catheters. The judging criteria are “Vote for the company you would most likely invest your money.” This provides quite a range of investing interests since Life Science investors look at the size of the market and the technology offered while non-Life Science investors tend to give more weight to payback timelines and risk mitigation.

One of the interesting companies presenting was Omega Sensors who proposed a MEMS-based technology which they acquired from the military for precise accelerometer measurements. It’s not clear how this technology compares to Crossbow’s accelerometers.

The University of Texas team made the finals with their nanotechnology-based drug delivery system called Nanotaxi which targets diseased cells. Nanolevel materials carrying therapeutic drugs, attaches to the ligands of a cell and then enters the cell. Once inside, if it detects a certain enzyme, the lid dissolves and releases the payload of therapeutic drug into the cell.

The MIT team promoted a new antibacterial coating that could be applied to medical devices such as catheters for reducing infections. The material did not cause drug resistance in the bacteria and did not degrade over time. Although still in the research phase the technology sounded compelling.

The winner of the Rice Business Plan competition came Johns Hopkins team called ResuRx which is a name play on “Resurrect” as their plan involved testing drugs previously discovered and then finding a new use for those drugs. By securing a “new method of use” they could claim the drug as their own and not have to go through extensive FDA trials since the drug has already been cleared.

Best regards,
Hall T.


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