Organization:Rice Business Plan Competition

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The Rice Business Plan Competition is a graduate-level student startup competition. It is hosted and organized by the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Rice University's internationally-recognized initiative devoted to the support of entrepreneurship. In 18 years, it has grown from nine teams competing for $10,000 in prize money in 2001, to 42 teams from around the world competing for more than $1 million in cash and prizes.


The competition is designed to give collegiate entrepreneurs a real-world experience to pitch their startups to investors, receive mentoring, network with the entrepreneurial ecosystem, enhance their startup strategy, and learn what it takes to launch a successful startup.

Judges will evaluate the teams as real-world entrepreneurs soliciting start-up funds from early-stage investors and venture capital firms. The judges are asked to rank the presentations based on which company they would most likely invest. In fact, 84% of the 275 judges at the 2017 RBPC said they were considering investing in a team that pitched at the 2017 RBPC or said they referred a team to an investor in their network.

Past competitors have received over $20 million from investors they met at the Rice Business Plan Competition. Alumni from the RBPC have raised more than $1.6 billion in funding and have generated more than 25 successful exits, valued at nearly a billion dollars.


RBPC  provides an intense, immersive experience over the course three days for student startup founders to pitch to investors, receive multiple rounds of feedback and advance their startup.

There will be over $1 million in prizes, and all 42 teams who compete at Rice University in Houston are guaranteed to win cash prizes. The minimum cash prize is $500 and the grand prize winner receives a $300,000 investment (typically in the form of a convertible debt note, without geographic restrictions.)


Teams must meet all the following eligibility requirements in order to be selected to compete:

Student Enrollment

The competition is for degree-seeking students currently enrolled on a full- or part-time basis (i.e., in the academic year from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018). This includes students who graduated, or will graduate any time after July 1, 2017. (For example, December 2017 graduates are eligible to compete). Students who graduated before July 1, 2017 are not eligible to participate. Adjustments may be made for teams from non-U.S. universities that have a different academic calendar; please contact the RBPC director if you are from a non-U.S. school and feel this applies to you.

Outside Funding Limitations

All ventures must be seeking outside equity capital, typically early-stage venture capital investment or early-stage angel investment. All ventures must be “for profit” entities. This is an early-stage pitch competition, therefore, startups that have raised more than $250,000 in equity capital from sources other than the students or their friends or families prior to July 1, 2017 are not eligible to compete. Startup teams may have raised ANY level of equity funding AFTER July 1, 2017.

Equity funding awarded as part of an accelerator/incubator program does count toward funding limits.

The following do not count toward funding limit: Research and other grants; competition winnings; traditional loans; and any friends and family funding.

Revenue Limitations

Ventures with more than $100,000 in revenues in prior academic years (before July 1, 2017), are excluded.

Prior Activity

Both student and other team members may have worked on an idea or new technology in previous academic years, or in the case of the student team members, even prior to entering graduate school, provided that their venture’s revenues and equity capital raised does not exceed the above limits.

Team Composition

This is a competition primarily for graduate-level students. All graduate students, not just MBA candidates, are eligible to participate in the competition. This includes, but is not limited to, PhD candidates, MBA students, MD candidates, JD candidates, and other Masters candidates. Competing team members may be from different disciplines and/or different universities.

However, undergraduates are allowed to compete fully, as long as at least one member of the presenting team at the RBPC is a currently-enrolled graduate student and a member of the venture’s startup management team, and part of the team that presents in the competition (competing team). In other words, a team of two students could be comprised of one undergraduate student and one graduate student. Alternatively, a team of five students could be comprised of four undergraduates and one graduate student.

Minimum Team Size

The presenting team that competes at Rice University must include at least two current students and not exceed five current students. In other words, at least two members from each startup team must travel to Rice to compete, and both of these two members must be current students. The purpose of this rule is to encourage startups to enlist at least two founders in order to increase the potential for a successful startup.

Maximum Team Size

Teams may bring up to five startup team members who participate in the presentations on Friday and Saturday. In other words, at least two and no more than five startup team members may participate in the verbal presentations on Friday and Saturday. Others involved in the venture (non-students, faculty advisors or mentors) are welcome to travel to Rice with the competing student team, but are prohibited from participating in the presentations or Q&A sessions. More than five students can travel to Rice with the team, but only five students can serve as presenters. In fact, we encourage the team to bring a faculty, staff or other advisor with them to the RBPC, and we will invite them to attend our special lunch with the Dean of the Rice business school on Friday afternoon.

Team Presentation

at least two student members of the startup should participate in every round of presenting the startup’s investment pitch (i.e., the startup business plan presentation) on Friday and Saturday, April 6-7. Of the team members presenting, at least two of them must verbally present in the rounds they are involved in. To “verbally Present” means give/speak at least 20-30% of the presentation. The intention is that at least two team members share speaking responsibilities in the presentation section. The Q&A does not count toward the presentation time.

The team may divide speaking time in their presentation however they choose, but a minimum of two members must speak at some point in the main presentation.

The exception is the Elevator Pitch Competition on Thursday, April 5, where only one member of the team will be able to give the 60-second presentation.

Student Involvement

The competition is for student-created and student-managed ventures, including new ventures launched by licensing university technology. Students participating in the competition (i.e. members of the founding team) are expected to:

(1) be a driving force behind the new venture,
(2) have played a primary role in developing the business strategy (3) have key management roles in the startup venture, and
(4) own significant equity in the startup venture.

In general, a member of the student team should be CEO, COO, or President of the venture, or members of the student team should occupy 50% or more of the functional area management positions that report directly to the CEO, COO, or President.

Members of the student team are expected to own equity in the new venture. It is anticipated that students should own at least 20% of the total equity in the venture or at least 50% of the equity owned by the management team. One objective of this rule is to exclude ventures formed and managed by non-students who have given little or no equity to students for helping to develop the business strategy or create an investor pitch deck.

However, we recognize that the equity structure of some new university-based ventures may not yet be established, the 20% equity ownership rule may be waived in this situation. This waiver will be examined on a case-by-case basis.

In addition, we recognize that if the Intellectual Property (IP) is owned by the university, it is likely that a license for that IP may not have been finalized at the time of the competition. A license to the IP is not required to compete at the RBPC, but we encourage student teams to seek an option to obtain an exclusive license to the IP or provide other evidence that the startup will have ability to obtain an exclusive license to the IP in the future. The owner of the IP should be aware that the team is competing using that IP.

Faculty Involvement

Each team MUST have the endorsement of a faculty or staff advisor at their school and must provide contact information for their faculty advisor, regardless of whether or not the advisor will travel with the team to Rice University. All faculty advisors will be asked to confirm the eligibility of the team.

Nature of Ventures

The competition is for new, independent ventures in the seed, start-up, or early growth stages. Generally excluded are the following: buy-outs of existing businesses, expansions of existing companies, real estate syndications, tax shelters, franchises, licensing agreements for distribution in a different geographical area, and spin- outs from existing corporations. Licensing technologies from universities or research labs is encouraged.

Prior Activity

Technologies may be presented in the RBPC only once. Competing team members may participate in the RBPC more than once if entering with a new venture/new technology.

Prize Payments

Award payments will be issued to either the Company or the Team’s affiliated university. All required taxes will be withheld, and tax refund documents issued by Rice University.

Required Forms

Each team will be required to provide appropriate documentation to receive award payments which include W-9 and/or EIN forms for US teams, and W-8 BEN forms for International teams No prizes can be awarded without the required forms submitted.


Business plans and companies should fall into one of four categories, or sectors:

Life Science

– includes (but not limited to) Medical Devices, Therapeutics, Diagnostics, Health IT, Biotechnology.

Energy/Clean Technology

– includes (but not limited to) Sustainability, Water, Battery Technologies, Control Systems, Smart Metering, PV Technology, Natural Gas, Transportation/Mobility, Oil & Gas Technologies, Algae, Fuel Cells, Hybrid Vehicles.

Information Technology

– Includes (but is not limited to): Mobile Apps, Software, Digital Media, Consumer Web, B-to-B Applications, Enterprise Software, SAAS, Internet, Web, Virtual Reality, Big Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Drones, Hardware, Robotics, Unmanned Vehicles.

Other Innovations

– Includes (but is not limited to): Advanced Materials, Nanotechnology, Composites

Teams must choose one sector/category for their companies. Teams may chose a second sector/category, though a second sector/category is optional and not required. Please choose sectors/categories that best align with your company’s product, technology, system or mission.

The RBPC Selection Committee and the Rice Alliance have the final decision on which teams are invited to compete in the Rice Business Plan Competition and reserves the right to include or exclude any teams for any reasons. 


The Rice Business Plan Competition takes place over 3 days with 5 segments of competition. Teams are required to participate in all segments that apply to them.

Elevator Pitch Competition

This this fast-paced event has all teams competing against each other for the best 60-second pitch to attendees. The Pitch takes place Thursday evening. There are cash prizes for top 5 best Elevator Pitches. This scoring does NOT factor into the overall scoring of the Rice Business Plan Competition.

Business Plan Competition First Round 

In the First Round, all teams in the competition will be divided into seven flights. The flights will consist of six teams, “clustered” by industry sector, to the extent possible. Current sectors are: 1) Life Science, 2) Energy/Clean Technology, 3) Information Technology, and 4) Other Innovations. Judges will be assigned to flights based on their background and areas of expertise.

The first and second place teams from each of the seven flights in the First Round plus the top-scoring third place team overall will advance to the Semi-Final Round, and the teams who finish third through sixth place in their flights will advance to the Challenge Round.

Business Plan Competition Semi-Final Round, Challenge Round 

The Semi-Final Round and the Challenge Round will take place concurrently. The Semi-Final Round, composed of the top 15 teams from the First Round, will be placed into 3 flights of 5 teams each. Flights will not be sector-specific.

The top two teams from each Semi-Final Round flight will advance to the Final Round (6 teams total).

The Challenge Round, composed of the remaining 27 teams from the First Round, will be placed into 7 flights of 4 teams each (one flight will have only 3 teams). Flights will not be sector-specific.

Business Plan Competition Final Round 

The top six teams from the Semi-Final Round (2 from each flight) will compete in the Final Round, the last part of the Business Plan Competition. These final 6 teams will be in one flight; the flight is not specific to any sector.

Cocktail Reception & Company Showcase 

Teams have one final opportunity to discuss and promote their business ideas with investors, judges, sponsors, local business members. Attendees will vote on the Best Showcase Company during the reception. There is a prize for Best Company Showcase. 


General Evaluation Criteria

The competition simulates the real-world process of entrepreneurs soliciting start-up funds from early-stage investors and venture capital firms. The judges function as early stage venture capital investors deciding on which business venture they would most likely fund. The quality of the innovation, the size of the market, the competitive differentiation, the strength of the management team, and the clarity and persuasiveness of the written plan and oral presentation, all influence the judges’ decisions. Ultimately, the winning team should be the team in which the judges would most likely invest their money.

Most of the judges of the RBPC come from the investment community and are involved in making early-stage investment decisions on an ongoing basis. Judges are provided a scorecard that is used as a guide and used for feedback to teams. However, ultimately the judges based their ranking on where they would invest their money.

Judging Criteria

While judging the competition, judges will be asking many details questions about business viability and investment potential. Consider how your business plan and presentation responds to the following:

  • -  Is the startup addressing a big problem and is there evidence that customers will be willing to pay for their solution?
  • -  Will the technology work? Is their evidence that the technology will solve the problem (e.g., lab results, field trials)?
  • -  Is the problem big enough to build a company around? What is the size of the addressable market?
  • -  What is the competition? Does the startup have a significant, sustainable competitive differentiation?
  • -  Is there intellectual property (IP)? What is the status of licensing of the IP? Does the startup have access to a license or option to license the IP? Are there other startups pursuing this market with similar IP?
  • -  Does the management team understand its strengths and any gaps in the current team?
  • -  Is the team coachable? Is this a team I want to invest in and work with?
  • -  How long will it take to generate revenue? How much additional product development is required?
  • -  How much investment will the company need in order to reach breakeven cash flow?
  • -  Does the startup understand key milestones that need to be reached? Does the team have a fund raising strategy tied to those milestones and value inflection points?
  • -  Is there a credible exit available within a reasonable timeframe?
  • -  Should I invest in this business?

How scores are tabulated

The winners of the competition will be determined by the judges’ ranking of the teams based on their assessment of the startup’s investment opportunity. This ranking will be based on the judges’ willingness to invest in the company as noted above. The ranking will be completed by the judges at the end of each round. Judges will rank the teams from 1 (most likely to invest) to 6 (least likely to invest).

The individual feedback forms are designed to provide guidance for judges in evaluating the individual components of each team in order to develop their overall rankings. Feedback forms are also designed to provide feedback to the competitors, and will be given to competitors at the end of each round.

Before arriving at the competition, each team will be assigned to a first-round flight of 6 teams. Judges assigned to each flight will review the written submission of each of the six teams in their flight and complete Part I of the RBPC Scorecard online for each plan in advance of the competition. The feedback will be provided to the teams prior to the competition. An example of Part I is below.

This feedback is designed to help assess the key aspects of the startup and alert the team to questions that might be raised by the judges during the competition on campus. The scores provided to the teams in advance are for feedback purposes only, and will not be used to determine advancement or winners.

During the competition, in each of the rounds, each team will be ranked against the other teams their flight relative to the judges’ perceived investment opportunity. For example, in the first round, teams will ranked from 1 to 6, where 1 = highest: most likely to invest, and 6 = lowest: least likely to invest)

Scoring in Competition Rounds

There are five rounds of scored competition throughout the event, and all teams will compete in 4 of them:

Elevator Pitch 

All attendees at the Elevator Pitch competition will judge the competition. Judges will score each team that presents on a scale of 1 (excellent) to 5 (poor). The teams with the best (i.e., lowest) aggregate overall scores are the winners. All 42 teams are required to present their elevator pitch on Thursday evening. Each pitch will last up to but not exceed 60 seconds. The Elevator Pitch Competition is a stand-alone event and does not factor into a team’s scoring for the Business Plan Competition. There are cash prizes for the five Best Elevator Pitches.

Judges should evaluate each team based on how convincingly they present their business concept, such that the judge would want to learn more about the company as a potential investor. The best teams are those teams that an investor would want to schedule a follow-up meeting for further discussion because they believe this company represents a strong investment opportunity.

We encourage teams to clearly and succinctly describe the problem they are solving, their solution, and competitive advantage. Teams are allowed, but not required, to have a small, hand-held prop if appropriate. The prop will simply be displayed and not passed around. No power point presentations or other audio-visuals are allowed.

Business Plan Competition First Round 

In the First Round on Friday, teams will be clustered by industry segment to the extent possible, and judges will be divided based on their area of experience. Current groupings include: 1) Life Science, 2) Energy/Clean Technology, 3) Information Technology, and 4) Other Innovations.

Each judge will assess the investment potential based on the criteria listed above. Comments on each team’s strengths and areas for improvement will be written on a comment sheet and given to the teams at the end of the day on Friday.

The winning team from each of the seven flights will be determined by the judges ranking of the teams within each flight. This ranking will be determined Friday afternoon after all of the teams have presented to the judges. The judges will rank the teams within their flight from 1 (most likely to invest) to 6 (least likely to invest).

Semi-Final and Challenge Round

The winners of the Semi-Final Round will be chosen in the same manner as in the First Round. Judges will rank teams from 1 (most likely to invest) to 6 (least likely to invest). In total six teams will advance to the Final Round.

The Challenge Rounds are formatted differently than the Semi-Final Rounds and will provide competitors with a third type of presentation experience. Each will have a total of 25 minutes for presentation and Q&A. However, there will be no specified time limits on the presentations or Q&A. Judges are encouraged to ask questions throughout the presentation. The winning team in each flight of the Challenge round will be determined in the same way as the other rounds by a ranking by the judges. This ranking will be determined after all four teams have presented to the judges. The judges will rank the four teams in the Challenge Round from 1 (most likely to invest) to 4 (least likely to invest).

Final Round 

The winning teams in the final round will also be determined by the judges’ ranking of the teams. This ranking will be determined Saturday afternoon after all of the teams have presented to the judges. The judges will rank the six teams in the finals from 1 (most likely to invest) to 6 (least likely to invest).

The rankings from each of the judges will be aggregated and the teams with the lowest total scores will be the winners. As in the previous rounds, in the case of a tie, the team with the most number of first place scores will be declared the winner.

Cocktail Reception & Company Showcase at the Awards Banquet (Saturday evening, April 7)
All attendees of the Awards Banquet are eligible to judge the Company Showcase. All attendees will be given 2 tickets to give to a team(s) of their choosing. The team with the most tickets is the winner. 


Catherine Santamaria

Director, Rice Business Plan Competition
(713) 348-3190

Mary Lynn Fernau

Marketing Director, Rice Alliance
(713) 348-5374

Created by

 Ha An Nguyen