OWL Open Business Plan Competition

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Welcome to the 2014 OWL OPEN Business Plan Competition.  We appreciate your interest in participating in this year's event, hosted by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.


New for 2014! The OWL Open is pleased to offer $5,000 in cash prizes for the 2014 top three-placing teams:

First Prize:          $2,500

Second Prize:      $1,500     

Third Prize:          $1,000

The OWL Open is a Rice University-wide business plan competition and qualifier for the 2014 Rice Business Plan Competition. The winning team at the OWL Open will win an invitation to represent Rice University at the 2014 Rice Business Plan Competition on April 10-12, 2014. The top 3 teams will also receive cash prizes totaling $5,000, and an automatic spot in the Rice University OwlSpark Accelerator (qualifications apply). The top three winning teams from the OWL Open will also receive an automatic invitation to participate in OwlSpark, the Rice University startup accelerator program, taking place May through August 2014. Please visit  for more information on the program and qualifications to participate.

Note:  if you are a Rice student team and want to apply to compete in the Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC) on April 10-12, 2014, you MUST apply and compete in the OWL Open on February 21, unless you have already won a spot to compete in the RBPC through the Creative Entrepreneurship Course (MGMT 625).   All teams from MGMT 625 are welcome to apply for the OWL Open. Rice teams cannot apply directly to the Rice Business Plan Competition.

How to Enter 

Prior to submitting your application, please review eligibility requirements and submission guidelines
. The OWL OPEN uses the iStart platform to manage applications. To enter, one individual from the team should complete the online enrollment form by clicking the "APPLY NOW!" button above. There are 3 steps to complete your application:  1) Team Leader creates an individual account  2) Team Leader creates business  3) Team Leader applies business to the OWL Open by answering the questions listed, and uploading your Executive Summary and Optional Video Pitch.  All 3 steps must be completed no later than noon CST Friday, January 31, 2014. Teams may make changes to the application until the deadline.  The system will close at noon CST, and no applications can be submitted after that deadline, partial applications will not be accepted, so please plan accordingly.

Important Dates and Deadlines


Thursday, January 16, 2014, 2:30 to 5:30 pm   "Ask the Director" Office Hours sessions for questions about the competition.  Please sign up for your time here

Friday, January 31, 2014
by noon CST

  Deadline to submit Application, Executive Summary and Optional Video Pitch:
Submit online: click "APPLY NOW!" button above to access iStart platform.

All teams that complete an OWL OPEN application will receive a free 6 month subscription to LivePlan by Palo Alto Software. Instructions for accessing your free subscription will be provided after the application deadline.

Monday, February 3, 2014

  OWL Open announces Teams to Compete.

Friday, February 7, 2014
by noon CST

  Deadline to commit to compete online                                                               
Monday, February 10, 2014 by noon CST      Deadline to submit written business plan online
 Friday, February 14, 2014 presentation times tbd 8 am - 5 pm   OWL Open Presentation Practice Session
Tuesday, February 18, 2014 by noon CST   Deadline to submit revised written business plan online
Friday, February 21, 2014 presentation times tbd 8 am - 5 pm   OWL Open Business Plan Competition


General Notices

Use of Conference Materials: The Rice Alliance reserves the right to use any material prepared for the OWL Open in publicizing and promoting the event. The Rice Alliance may use these materials in any printed materials and any videotape or other medium that it may produce. The Rice Alliance may videotape any portion of the Competition and utilize these tapes in any way that its sees fit.

Entry Fees: The OWL Open does not have an entry fee.

Changes to Competition Rules: While not anticipated, these rules and prizes are subject to change at the discretion of the Rice Alliance at any time. The Rice Alliance staff has the right to interpret these rules according to its own judgment.

Decisions regarding the Competition and the Winners:
All decisions regarding the competition rules, procedures, and processes are at the sole discretion of the Rice Alliance. Changes and/or interpretations of these rules may be made by the Rice Alliance at any time, even though they may be (or may appear to be) in conflict some previously published information. The selection of the teams to compete and the decision of the winners are at the sole discretion of the judges and the Rice Alliance. Best efforts will be made to make decisions in accordance with this Official Rules document.



Student Enrollment: The competition is for students enrolled in a degree program in the current academic year, i.e., from July 2013 through May 2014. Students in certificate programs are not eligible to participate.  Students from part-time and executive programs are eligible, provided they will receive a degree at the conclusion of their program. Teams from international schools following a different academic calendar should contact RBPC organizers for eligibility considerations. The competition is for students enrolled in a degree program in the current academic year, i.e. from July 2013 through May 2014.  Students in 


Team Size: The presenting team should include at least two students and not exceed five students.  (At least two students must present the business plan on February 21).  Non-student team members are welcome to attend with the student team, but are prohibited from participating in the presentations or Q&A sessions.  More than five students can attend with the team, but only five students can serve as presenters.  Faculty advisors or other team mentors are encouraged to attend.

Team Composition: This is a competition for graduate students, and at least one graduate student must be a member of the venture’s startup management team.  A team with some undergraduates will be allowed to compete, and the undergraduates may participate fully.  All graduate students, not just MBA candidates, are eligible to participate in the competition.  This includes executive MBAs, MD candidates, JD candidates, other Masters candidates, and PhD Candidates.  Individuals in University Postdoctoral positions are not eligible to compete as students.  At least one student must be a currently enrolled Rice University student.

Non-students may be members of the venture’s management team and may participate in planning the venture.  However, only students may present the plan and answer questions from the competition judges.  The maximum number of student competitors on a team participating at Rice is five (5), although there is no restriction on the total size of the venture’s founding team.


Outside Funding: All ventures must be seeking outside equity capital, typically early stage venture investment or early stage angel investment.  Except in the case of Social Ventures, all ventures must be “for profit” entities.

Student Involvement: The competition is for student created and managed ventures, including new ventures launched by licensing university technology.  Students are expected to:

        (1) be the driving force behind the new venture, 
        (2) have played the primary role in developing the business plan, 
        (3) have key management roles in the venture, and 
        (4) own significant equity in the venture.


The competition is for student created and managed ventures, including new ventures launched by licensing university technology.  Students areIn general, a member of the student team should be CEO, COO, or President of the venture, or members of the student team should occupy 50% or more of the functional area management positions that report directly to the CEO, COO, or President. 

Members of the student team are expected to also own equity in the new venture.  It is anticipated that the presenting students should own 50% of the equity that is allocated to the management team, and 20% overall equity.  (One objective of this rule is to exclude ventures formed and managed by non-students who have given little or no equity to MBAs for writing their business plan.)

The competition is supportive of graduate teams that have created a business plan to launch a new venture based on university-developed research and innovations.  A goal of the competition is to support the commercialization of promising university technologies through the licensing of technologies to start-up ventures.

Recognizing that the equity structure of these new university-based ventures may not yet be established, the 50% equity ownership rule may be waived in this situation.  This waiver will be examined on a case-by-case basis. 

The Rice Alliance has the final decision on which teams are invited to compete in the OWL Open Business Plan Competition and reserves the right to include or exclude any teams for any reasons.


University Sponsored: The business plan must be prepared under faculty supervision.  Ideally, the business plan will be prepared for credit in a regularly scheduled course or as an independent study.  The business plan must represent the original work of members of the team.  

Each team MUST have the endorsement of a faculty advisor and must provide contact information for their faculty advisor, regardless of whether or not the advisor will attend the competition.  All faculty advisors will be contacted for verification.

Nature of Ventures: The competition is for new, independent ventures in the seed, start-up, or early growth stages.  Generally excluded are the following: buy-outs, expansions of existing companies, real estate syndications, tax shelters, franchises, licensing agreements for distribution in a different geographical area, and spin-outs from existing corporations.  Licensing technologies from universities or research labs is encouraged, assuming they have not been commercialized previously. 

Prior Activity:  Ventures with revenues in prior academic years, i.e., before August, 2012, are excluded.  Ventures that have raised equity capital from sources other than the members of the student team or their friends and families before the current academic year, i.e., before August, 2012, are excluded.  However, both student and other team members may have worked on an idea or new technology in previous academic years or in the case of the student team members even prior to entering graduate school, provided that their venture had no revenues and raised no outside equity capital prior to the current academic year.

Attendance: To compete, the team must be present on campus on Friday February 15, 2013, at an assigned time between 9 am and 5 pm cst.





• Non-confidentiality: All sessions of the competition, including but not limited to oral presentations and question/answer sessions, are open to the public at large. Any and all of these sessions may be broadcast to interested persons through media which may include radio, television and the Internet. Any data or information discussed or divulged in public sessions by entrants should be considered information that could possibly enter the public realm, and entrants should not assume any right of confidentiality in any data or information discussed, divulged, or presented in these sessions.

Due to the nature of the competition, we are not able to ask judges, reviewers, staff, or the audience to agree to or sign non-disclosure statements. However, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the organizer of the RBPC, will make every effort to limit distribution of business plans presented at the competition. The Rice Alliance cannot guarantee that other individuals will not obtain access to electronic or hard copies of the business plan. All presentations are open to the general public, and some presentations may be videotaped. Attendance by media personnel is expected.

• Copyrights & Permissions: If a team uses copyrighted materials and/or images from a third-party in their submissions or presentations, they must obtain permission and authorization in advance from the owners to use this material.



The Executive Summary should be submittted via the iStart platform as part of the OWL OPEN application (see "General Information" section above for details). The final executive summary from each team is due online on or before noon CST on Friday, January 31, 2014.  Please submit the file in Adobe Acrobat PDF. No other format will be accepted. Files should be named according to the following format: ES_CompanyName_Rice.pdf.  


Guidelines: Executive summaries must be limited to 5 pages of text (typed, double-spaced, minimum 12 point font, and 1" margins on all sides.)

The Executive Summary should include information on: 

    » Company summary 
    » Customer/market analysis (market size and potential market share) 
    » Product or service description 
    » Intellectual property status (e.g., patents, licenses, etc.) 
    » Competitive differentiation 
    » Management team and/or advisors, including relevant experience 
    » Financial highlights 
    » Status and offering of the company (how much investment you are seeking)

In your executive summary, we expect you to convey: 

    » The problem or need your company solves 
    » The size of the accessible market & evidence that customers will buy your product/service 
    » Your differentiation vs. competition and how you will sustain that 
    » The experience of your management team and/or advisory boards 
    » The current state of development (e.g., beta, customer trials, etc.) 
    » Timeframes to achieve significant revenue and/or cash flow positive 
    » The amount of funding you are seeking



As part of your OWL OPEN Application, every team has the opportunity to submit a Video Elevator Pitch which will be used as part of the evaluation to select teams to compete.  Create a 60-second Video that gives an overview of your company using any recording technology available to you:  handheld video cameras, webcams, mobile phones, etc.  One (and only one) member of the student team should present in the video (use the Elevator Pitch guidelines below).  Name the video in the following format:  "Video Pitch-Company Name-Rice".

  • Upload your video to YouTube.  If you wish to restrict viewing of your video, feel free to designate it as "Unlisted" in settings, however DO NOT designate "Private".  Also in settings, check the box to allow the video to be embedded in an external site. 
  • The Video Pitch URL should be submitted to your OWL OPEN Application via the iStart platform where the link will be automatically embedded in your file.  DO NOT upload video files directly to iStart.  Completed applications are due online before noon CST on Friday, January 31, 2014.  Remember, videos may not upload immediately on YouTube based on recording device, file size and YouTube traffic, so please plan ahead to avoid technical difficulties in your application.
  • The Elevator Pitch is your business overview that you should be able to deliver powerfully and concisely to any investor who happens to ride the same elevator as you. The first impression is critical in capturing the attention of a potential investor or customer.
  • The elevator pitch should provide enough information to pique the interest of potential investors and strategic partners. It should provide a clear picture of the company and its solution. It should be delivered effectively and succinctly.

Teams should strive to communicate the following:

  • Clear explanation of their product/service and the problem it solves
  • How their company is unique and differentiated
  • Sizable market opportunity and ability to penetrate that market
  • Current Development Stage
  • Viable business model
  • Clear measures of success and potential exit opportunities
  • Understanding of how much money is needed and how it will be used


Suggested Guidelines

To help you focus your Elevator Pitch, remember to highlight the following key topics – remember you’re just providing a “teaser” to the audience with the purpose of having them ask "tell me more about your company":

  • Product and service offering (e.g., the problem and your solution)
    • Brief description of offering
    • What problem or need does it solve? What are the benefits of your product?
  • Unique Differentiators
    • Why is this unique or different from competition?
    • Is this difference sustainable (e.g., patents, intellectual property, etc.)?
  • Market Opportunity & Target Customers
    • Who are the targeted customers?
    • What is the size of the market?
    • Is there evidence they will buy the product?
  • Current Development Stage
    • What is the current status of technology/venture?
    • What are key next steps?
  • Business Model – how will the company generate profitable revenue?
  • Milestones and Success Metrics
    • What are the success metrics?
    • What is the exit strategy?
  • Capital Needs
    • How much funding is needed to move forward?
    • How will the money be used?
    • Why is your business an attractive investment?

Common Elevator Pitch Mistakes  

o No energy and passion in the presentation
o Too much technical language; focusing on the technology rather than the customer need
o Failure to explain what customer problem you are trying to solve
o Too much discussion about the idea and product and not enough explanation about the market, business opportunity, and revenue models
o Listing too many names of clients or partners. Indicate how many clients and name a few big names to spark interest



Written Business Plan Submission: A complete written business plan from the invited and confirmed teams will be due to the Rice Alliance online before noon CST on Monday, February 10, 2014. Please submit online via the iStart platform in Adobe Acrobat PDF. No other format will be accepted. Files should be named according to the following format: BP_CompanyName_Rice.pdf.

General Guidelines: Written business plans are limited to 10 pages of text (typed, double-spaced, minimum 12 point font, and 1" margins on all sides), and includes the executive summary and summary financial data, but does not include a one page cover page. Detailed spreadsheets and appropriate appendices should follow the text portion of the plan but will be limited to 5 pages. Plans with fewer than 10 pages of appendices may not use the remaining pages to increase the size of their business plan beyond 20 pages. In total, the maximum number of pages is 15.

Contents of the Written Business Plan: your business plan should include (max 10 pages) 
    » Executive Summary 
    » Product or service description (incl. current status of development – beta, prototype, etc.) 
    » Customer/Market analysis (market size and potential market share) 
    » Sales and Marketing Plan (how you will go-to-market) 
    » Intellectual property status (e.g., patents, licenses, etc.) 
    » Competitor Analysis (competitors and your competitive differentiation) 
    » Management team and/or advisors, including relevant experience 
    » Financial highlights (cash flow, income statement, & balance sheet) 
    » Offering of the company (how much investment you are seeking, uses of funding, possible exits)

Business Plan Financial Data: Financial data should include a cash flow statement, income statement, and balance sheet. This data should be included in a summarized fashion in the main section of the business plan. Include an explanation of the offering to investors indicating how much money is required, how it will be used, and the proposed structure of the deal, (i.e., stock, debentures, etc.) and possible exit strategies. Detailed financial data and tables should be included in the appendix. 

Please note: The team is not required to reveal the exact desired terms of the deal (i.e., proposed company valuation and percentage of company being offered). However, teams should expect to be asked about these terms and should be prepared to answer these questions in some fashion (if this information is not already provided in the written plan.) It is up to the team to assess the BEST way to address this question; however, past experience indicates that some judges will want to know a team's estimated company valuation.

Appendices: should be included only when they support the findings, statements, and observations in the plan. Because of the number of teams in the competition, judges may not be able to read all the material in the appendices. Therefore, the text portion of the plan (10 pages) must contain all pertinent information in a clear and concise manner. All appendices must fall within the 5 page limit; any pages over this limit will not be posted or otherwise provided to the judges.

Changes to Your Business Plan: Once your written business plan is submitted on February 10, 2014 it will be provided for review by the mentors who will give feedback in the practice session on Friday, February 14, 2014.  You will have a chance to modify your written business plan based on the feedback you will receive in your practice session that you may also use to modify your oral presentation for the competition.  Your revised written plan must be submitted by Tuesday February 18, 2014 before noon cst, for distribution to the competition judges.



Practice presentations will take place in the Jones Graduate School of Business, McNair Hall on February 14, 2014 between 8 am and 5 pm cst (actual presentation times will depend on number of competing teams.)

Venture presentations will take place in the Jones Graduate School of Business, McNair Hall on February 21, 2014 between 8 am and 5 pm cst (actual presentation times will depend on number of competing teams.)


Teams will have 15 minutes to present, followed by a 15 minute question-and-answer session. There will only be 5 minutes between each presentation for teams to set-up. Each team should be in position outside the room at least 15 minutes prior to their designated presentation times.

Note: A team, once it has finished its presentation, may observe both the presentation and Q&A session of the teams that follow it. (Teams may not observe other presentations until AFTER they have made their presentation.) The same observation guidelines apply to Team Faculty Advisors and Team Special Guests.

Equipment: Teams should plan to bring a laptop and a copy of their presentation on a zip drive or CD. Each presentation room is equipped with a large-screen projector and a room PC to run your presentation. You may also connect your laptop directly to the projector to present. Please visit the Jones School website to view the presentation rooms and layouts: (