Dozens of aspiring entrepreneurs will vie for a share of $800,000 in seed money at this month's Rice Business Plan Competition. Meet some of the competitors who are defying the recession to launch ambitious new ventures.
School: University of Virginia, Darden School of Business
Team members: Ravi Yekula, Baijnath Ramraika, Chip Ransler, Pramod Dangi, Ganti Murthy
Concept: Clean India is trying to wash away the global water scarcity issue, starting in India. Using a proprietary algal purification technology, the company aims to build a network of recycling centers that will purify industrial wastewater and sell the recycled water back to commercial customers.
One of Clean India's team members is a Rice Business Plan Competition veteran: Chip Ransler competed last year with Husk Power Systems, which created technology for using rice husks for fuel. Clean India CEO Ravi Yekula says he recruited Ransler to join Clean India's team because of his expertise in running small enterprises in India.
Although Husk Power Systems did not finish among the top teams at Rice last year, the startup went on to win three other competitions and receive a grant from the Shell Foundation UK. It has now installed power plants in 35 villages in India. "We're getting close to being able to make this thing take off," Ransler says. His HPS partners are currently in India, continuing their research and development efforts.
Clean India has already created a small-scale prototype, which it tested in October. The team is currently testing a larger, 10,000-liter model and will have results back at the end of June.
Despite the current economic climate, Ransler sees a growing demand for Clean India's services in the industrial areas of India.
"There's a problem with contamination and scarcity, and one creates the other," Ransler says. "Clean India helps the environment and people, and water recycling and algae saves money and makes us money. Every plant we put in should be saving 2,500 lives a year."
Timeline: Clean India's main objectives for the coming months are to get "on the ground," Yekula says. It aims to talk with customers in India, find potential sites for its first plant, and raise money in India. -Christina Crapanzano
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