By Anne VanderMey
FORTUNE -- Aspiring entrepreneurs from all over the country are converging in Houston this week to throw down for more than $1 million in startup money at the country's best-funded business plan competition.
The Rice Business Plan Competition, which officially kicks off Thursday, is arguably the Super Bowl of MBA contests, the largest of its kind in the world. It draws some 400 applicants in the U.S. and 1,200 globally. Of those, just 42 teams are selected for a shot at this year's $1.2 million in prizes -- and the chance at entrepreneurial stardom.
Which of today's startup hopefuls will be tomorrow's next household name? Here's a sampling of the contenders:
The team has a handheld device that it says can detect malaria quickly and for just 20 cents. Their advantage: realizing that malaria parasites have a magnetic byproduct that can be traced if detected in a drop of blood.
The company promises to "turn brewing dreams into reality" with a technology that halves fermentation time, and in turn, makes home-brewed beer accessible to the common man.
This company will actually pay you $200 for the privilege of doing "green" improvements on your house (insulation, air-sealing, etc.). It then recoups its cost by splitting the savings on the utilities with its customers.
Technology to track your habits and sleep patterns is in vogue, but why stop there? This team wants to let you monitor your baby's as well. Information on an infant's heart rate, oxygen levels, and sleep trends are transmitted to parents' iPhones.
The team estimates that millions of pounds of food are trashed each year by restaurants, caterers, and grocery stores. Its technology would match businesses that have excess food with shelters and charities who need it, tracking need in real-time. The benefit to the restaurant? A warm feeling of accomplishment. That and tax write-offs.
Other hot topics this year included analyzing and storing big data (three teams), technologies that will ease the detection of diseases and certain cancers (three teams), and plans to squeeze every last drop out of oil and gas reserves (two teams).
A lot of these ideas sound like long shots, but many Rice business plan competitors go on to start companies based on the ideas they pitch. The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, which hosts the competition, says that of the 395 would-be businesses that have competed in the history of the event, 221 of them have launched. Today, 129 are still in business, and 9 have successfully sold their companies.
Occasionally, they sell for a bundle. Auditude, which took first place at Rice in 2005, went to Adobe (ADBE) for more than $100 million in late 2011. In December of last year, the 2011 competitor BlackLocus sold to Home Depot (HD) for an undisclosed sum. And last June, the 2007 competitor Semprus BioSciences sold to medical device company Teleflex (TFX) for $30 million. Investors have also pumped startup funds into companies that once competed at Rice. Last year, former Rice contenders picked up $150 million in startup funding. That brings the grand total invested to about $600 million. Not bad for a bunch of school projects.
The competition kicks off Thursday, official team presentations begin on Friday, and winners will be announced Saturday night. Fortune will be on the ground, so stay tuned for updates. May the best mouse trap win!
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