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Rice University is inviting graduate-level students from around the world to enter the 2019 Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC), which is the world’s richest and largest graduate-level student startup competition, providing more than US$1.5 million in cash and in-kind prizes.

The competition is designed to give collegiate entrepreneurs a real-world experience to fine tune their business plans and elevator pitches 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.

Students should form teams of 2 to 5 members and submit their application and executive summary of their business plan, and RBPC will select 42 teams to compete and present over 3 days at Rice University in Houston, USA, from 4 to 6 April 2019.

Startups should fall into 1 of 4 categories or sectors:

  1. Energy/Clean Technology, including: Sustainability, Water, Battery Technologies, Control Systems, Smart Metering, PV Technology, Natural Gas, Transportation/Mobility, Oil & Gas Technologies, Algae, Fuel Cells, Hybrid Vehicles
  2. Tech, including: Mobile Apps/Software, Digital Media, Consumer Web, B2B Applications, Enterprise Software, SAAS, Web, Virtual Reality, Big Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Drones, Hardware, Robotics, Unmanned Vehicles, Internet, IoT
  3. Life Sciences, including: Medical Devices, Diagnostics, Digital Health, Health IT, Biotech, Therapeutics
  4. Other Innovations, including: Advanced Materials, Composites,, Nanotechnology, Consumer, Other Technology.


There will be over $1.5 million in prizes, and all 42 teams who compete at Rice University in Houston are guaranteed to win cash prizes. Currently, the minimum cash prize is US$500 and the grand prize winner receives a US$300,000 investment (typically in the form of a convertible debt note, without geographic restrictions.


Any student startup team, in any industry, from any university, in any degree program can apply to the RBPC. The team of maximum 5 must consist of 2 degree-seeking students, 1 of whom must be a current or recently graduated graduate-level student. This includes MBA, PhD, MD, JD, and Master’s candidates. The other student may be a current or recently graduated graduate-level student, or current or recently-graduated undergraduate-level student. “Current” means currently seeking a degree, enrolled on a full- or part-time basis (i.e., in the academic year from 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2019). “Recently graduated” means students who will graduate any time after 1 July 2018.

Adjustments may possibly be made for teams from non-U.S. universities that have a different academic calendar. Teams may comprise students from different schools. Up to 5 team members will be allowed to compete and present at the RBPC. and at least 1 of those students needs to be a graduate degree-seeking student.

The following are not eligible:

  • Students who graduated before 1 July 2018
  • Startups that have competed in prior Rice Business Plan Competitions and
  • Teams or technologies that previously presented or competed in the RBPC.

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. Startups may have raised any level of equity funding after 1 July 2018. Startups that have raised more than US$250,000 in equity capital from sources other than the students or their friends or families prior to 1 July 2018 are not eligible; neither are ventures with more than US$100,000 in revenues in prior academic years (meaning before 1 July 2018.

The competition is meant 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 startup) should:

  • be a driving force behind the new venture;
  • have played a primary role in developing the business strategy;
  • have key management roles in the startup venture
  • own significant equity in the startup venture;
  • hold a major position in the startup (CEO, COO, or President);
  • occupy 50% or more of the functional area management positions that report directly to the CEO, COO, or President;
  • own equity in the venture, of at least 20% of the total equity in the venture or at least 50% of the equity owned by the management team. If the equity structure of some new university-based ventures is not yet established, the 20% equity ownership rule may be waived.

The competition is for new, independent ventures in the seed, start-up, or early growth stages. Competing startup members may participate in the RBPC more than once if entering with a new venture/new technology. Licensing technologies from universities or research labs is encouraged.


Applications are to be done online together with the Executive Summary by 10 February 2019. Multiple student startup teams from the same school, institution or university center may apply to compete. There is no limit on the number of applications per school.

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