Texas smackdown: The winners

Meet the champs of the 2011 Rice University Business Plan Super Bowl

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The best of the best
The best of the best
The top team at the Rice Competition, TNG Pharmaceuticals, took home prizes valued at nearly $650,000.
The U.S. economy may be limping along, but the world of business plan contests is pretty strong. Case in point: This year's Rice University Business Plan Competition. More teams than ever entered the Houston event, of which Fortune is a sponsor. And the prizes have never been bigger.

How does it work? The best 42 student teams were selected from among 510 applicants. They pitched promising solutions -- first in writing and then in front of a group of judges -- to big challenges like cancer diagnosis, energy efficiency, and food safety. The rules: Teams must have from two to five students, one of whom has to be a current graduate school student (they can have day jobs). The stakes: $1.3 million in cash, equity investments, and professional services were up for grabs, making Rice the richest event of its kind. The schools: a diverse group that included Johns Hopkins, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Arkansas, the University of Missouri, and the London Business School.

One reason the Rice contest is so popular is that the teams get to make their case to a group of judges who are well-connected investors and veteran entrepreneurs -- Compaq founder Rod Canion and Blair Garrou, co-founder of venture capital firm DFJ Mercury, for instance. Like American Idol, you don't have to be the champ to garner some interest from investors. (There were 257 judges on hand this year, 18 of whom had been at every event since the competition started in 2001.) Of the 312 past competitors, 120 actually are open for business today.

The competition is also popular because there are a number of ways to win. For example, teams in the "elevator pitch" contest battle over $6,500 in cash. If you're able to convince the judges -- in a 60-second pitch -- that you're the next Facebook, the money's yours.

The following are the top six teams from the main competition.

NEXT: Grand prize winner: TNG Pharmaceuticals
Last updated May 24 2011: 12:47 PM ET
TNG Pharmaceuticals win the Rice University Business Plan Competition and takes home $647,350 in prizes. More
Second place Rice University Business Plan Competition winner turns Captcha, an online human-user verification test, into a game. More

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