The next big business idea

A new treatment for lower back pain took home the grand prize Tuesday at the Wharton School's annual business plan competition.

By Jessica Dickler, staff writer

PHILADELPHIA ( -- A cure for lower back pain could be the next big business idea - at least that's what a panel of judges thought when they picked the winner of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School's business plan competition Tuesday.

The winning team, NP Solutions, received $20,000 in startup money and a big vote of confidence from the judges, which included executives from Schering-Plough (Charts, Fortune 500) and Johnson and Johnson (Charts, Fortune 500).

The winners of the Wharton School's business plan competition, NP Solutions, received $20,000 in startup money.

The six-person team, composed of MBA students and Ph.D. candidates, presented their plan to design, develop and market a new patented treatment for lower back pain on Tuesday before an audience of potential investors, peers and competitors.

Their business idea, for people suffering from degenerative disc disease, would offer patients an injectable treatment that would be far less invasive and debilitating than surgery.

The self-hardening solution, called RejuvaDisc, gets injected through a small needle into the center of the disc in the patient's back.

The technology was developed by team member Neil Malhotra, 32, who is a neurosurgeon currently completing his residency at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Winning the competition is just an amazing feeling," Malhotra said. "Now I really have some hope that this will become a potential treatment for patients."

Although the team has decided to split the prize money equally, Malhotra says he intends to use his portion to support further RejuvaDisc research.

The team will also compete again in the Draper Fisher Jurvetson Venture Challenge next month in New York City.

Second place and $10,000 went to a semiconductor company called Nantronics, which specializes in low-cost flash memory chips.

The third-place winner, a startup called Energetica, took home $5,000 for inventing technology to convert contaminated biogas into fuel. The Energetica team said its objective is to facilitate more efficient production of energy at landfills and wastewater treatment plants.

Regardless of the outcome of the competition, "we will make this happen," said Mat Peyron, Energetica's team leader, before awards were announced.

All three winning teams will also receive legal and accounting services to facilitate the development of their ideas into full-fledged businesses.

Other competitors in the venture finals included Foodilly, a make-your-own-candy-bar store, and Tamara Kanes, a British-based tailoring retailer for women.

The Wharton business plan competition was launched in 1998 and has drawn more than 150 student teams annually. Top of page