Startup showdown 2008

The top finishers at the Rice Business Plan Competition may put scalpers out of business, help you control the elements, and give your neural stem cells a place to chill.

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Student grudge match Student grudge match Student grudge match
FSB co-sponsored Rice University's prestigious national competition for the first time this year. The winners took home a total of $327,000 in prize money, plus priceless bragging rights. Meet all 36 semifinalists below. Photographs by Evan Kafka for FSB.

HOUSTON (FORTUNE Small Business) -- "Entrepreneurs are the new rock stars," says Cindy Boyd, president of Houston-based consulting firm Sentigy and one of 170 judges at the 2008 Rice University business plan competition.

Considering the growing number of teams vying for the competition's $675,000 in cash and prizes, she may be on to something.

This year, for the first time, FSB co-sponsored the competition, and a record 234 entrants from universities worldwide - twice as many as last year - battled to make it to the semifinals. Ultimately 36 teams (each of which included at least one student) faced off in four categories: life sciences, sustainability, information technology, and consumer goods and products.

Over three grueling days in Houston, the teams were judged on the viability of their business model, the clarity of their presentation, and the strength of the management team. This year's top finisher won prizes totaling $327,000.

Since the competition began seven years ago, 192 startups have reached the semifinals. An impressive 66 of those are still in business - and of 2007's competitors, more than 50% went on to launch their company.

Check out our start-to-finish coverage, and meet the next round of tomorrow's stars.  To top of page

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