Environmental Winners at Rice University’s Business Plan Super Bowl

Rice University

Rice University began their business plan competition in 2001 with $10,000 in prize money.  In eleven years  it has rightfully earned the title of the Business Plan Super Bowl, the “richest and largest business plan competition” among universities.  In 2001, there were 420 entries and the winners took home more than $1.3 million in cash and prizes.  The entrants had to fine-tune everything from their elevator pitch to their PowerPoint presentations and run the gauntlet through more than 250 judges.  The judges are from the investment sector including successful venture capital investors, entrepreneurs, and business leaders.   The primary criteria for judging is, “which company are you most likely to invest in?”  While winning is not a guarantee of continued success, 120 past winners have gone on to raise $337 million in funding.  This year, three of the six winners were environmentally focused. They were as follows:

PK Clean

The third place winner uses technologies developed in Australia to recover minerals and energy from waste products such as electronic components, used batteries, old tires, and biological waste.  The PK Clean technology would result in less hazardous waste as well as provide alternative energy sources.

The concepts were originally tested in various  laboratories across Australia.  Further development was conducted at an MIT laboratory in India.  And now the company has established   a 10,000 square foot pilot plant in Pune, India.  The pilot has the potential to convert 20 tons of plastic waste into 80 barrels of fuel each day.  PK Clean is hoping the results from the India facility will allow them to expand into the US market by 2014.

cycleWood Solutions

Biodegradable plastic bags that decompose in 150 days is the concept behind the fourth place winner.  The company was started in 2010 by five graduate students at the University of Arkansas who wanted to contribute to a more sustainable society.  cycleWood Solutions has developed and patented biodegradable and compostable thermoplastics that can be used to produce plastic bags, cups, plates, and utensils.

Aside from their fourth place finish in the Rice University contest, cycleWood has won several other business plan competitions in 2011 including overall first place in the Governor’s Cup in Arkansas, third place in the Venture Challenge at San Diego University, and first place for the  Net Impact, Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge Mid South Region.


The fifth place winner wants to reduce the costs of heating and cooling with windows that will electronically darken at the flip of a switch.  The co-founders of SmarterShade from the University of Notre Dame developed a durable aftermarket window treatment.  The current version can be installed in existing skylights in-between the panes of  the insulated glass unit.  With the touch of a button on a remote control, the user can control the level of tint from clear to completely blackened windows. 

The SmartShade only uses electricity to trigger the initial change in tint, unlike their competitors that require  constant power usage.  Depending on the location, the SmarterShade solution is expected to reduce energy use by 20-40%. Once their first product is brought to market they plan on expanding to other applications.

Given the previous success of the winners of the Business Plan Super Bowl, one can only hope that these three ventures can successfully bring their products to market to reduce waste and decrease energy consumption!

Jennifer Elder CPA is the owner and President of The Sustainable CFO, making the world better one business at a time. The Sustainable CFO provides practical and effective small business consulting, on-demand CFO services, and business coaching services for environmental and socially responsible businesses.  Visit their website at www.sustainablecfo.com or follow her on Twitter @SustainableCFO.

Jennifer is a CPA, CMA, CIA, CFF with a passion for how sustainability can improve a business. She is the owner and President of The Sustainable CFO, making the world better one business at a time. The Sustainable CFO provides consulting, on-demand CFO services, and business coaching to sustainably themed small business. Jennifer has 24 years of experience improving the business operations for a variety of companies in industries such as construction, legal services, and hi-tech. She also teaches finance in the Green MBA program at Antioch University New England. You can visit the website at www.sustainablecfo.com or follow her on twitter @sustainablecfo.

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