First the contestants.

On April 30, eight finalists in Wharton’s third annual Business Plan Competition gathered in a Philadelphia Hotel to convince a panel of judges that their idea for a new company deserved the $25,000 first prize. Each team had about 12 minutes to make their case, followed by 8 to 10 minutes of questions from the judges.

The contestants, in alphabetical order, were:

Biometric Secure Phone: The assumption behind this company is that advances in technology have created a need for increased security for users of cell phones and other mobile devices. Accordingly, the company offers a technology platform that will identify and authenticate the user of the handset/device, and allow the device to release data in a fast and secure manner.

The company plans to focus on the growing market of people interested in conducting personal and commercial transactions using a secure technology in a mobile environment. Initial distribution channels would be created by agreements with cellular service providers that would integrate the new technology into existing infrastructure. While they anticipate competition from niche players in the handset manufacturing market, the presenters feel their core strengths in combining authentication and data handling technology give the company a headstart.

Designware: The context for Designware lies in the efforts of high-tech manufacturers to outsource an increasing proportion of their design operations as a way to decrease their time-to-market. Designware plans to provide software tools and support services that help companies streamline and automate their product development processes within this new business framework.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), the team explains, have traditionally turned to engineering manufacturing and services (EMS) providers to outsource production, but are now attempting to outsource design and development operations as well. To facilitate that task, Designware makes web-enabled design wizards” that bridge the gap between the application expertise of the OEM and the design expertise of the EMS provider. The result will allow both OEMs and EMS providers to lower development costs, speed time-to-market and produce more robust and easier-to-manufacture designs.

Genoma: Genomic Antiaging Clinic: Today’s genomic advances, by which the determinants of aging and disease can now be addressed directly, form the basis for Genoma. Patients will not have to wait to find out what aging has in store for their health nor will they have to passively remain at risk from the susceptibilities to which their genes subject them. Genoma plans to provide the predictive power of genomic technology directly to the paying public through a network of licensed medical clinics.

The centerpiece of Genoma is a proprietary software-based analysis of the patient’s unique genetic architecture. The genetic testing technology is already commercially available and involves only a blood sample. Genoma’s software can make specific health and wellness recommendations by processing the data with pattern recognition techniques.

Kirpan, Inc: Kirpan is a software company providing web-enabled back-office solutions for small to mid-size companies. Specifically it will create a web-based, wireless financial suite and offer centralized IT outsourcing services. It will be the first generation to use a wholly Internet-based user interface for financial transactions.

Presenters say the company is positioned for the future trend of distributed networking and “thin PCs” and is suitable for today’s standard of client server computing. A proprietary Internet browser provides a secure wireless platform.

OrangeMarketing: The company is a rich media email marketing company whose core product is OrangeMail, an interactive TV-style commercial that streams into users’ email inboxes without the need for special plug-ins or players. OrangeMarketing is an early mover in the fast growth area of email advertising, a market that, according to the presenters, is expected to grow to more than $2 billion by 2005.

The rich media email industry is still in its infancy and there has yet to emerge a clear market leader, the presenters add. The company has already launched two successful campaigns for a prominent Sony PlayStation2 video game publisher, thereby demonstrating that its creative approach will attract advertisers.

ProtoCell: ProtoCell is a biotechnology company that is developing a drug discovery tool, the Protein eXpression Chip, that can determine the function of thousands of proteins simultaneously. The chip has been demonstrated to work, and the final product is about one year away from entering a $14 billion market.

Understanding the function of each protein encoded by each gene represents the next bottleneck in the search for new drugs, the presenters note. Current DNA and protein chips cannot determine function, only the presence or absence of a sequence. The Protein eXpression Chip combines these capabilities into one tool that can screen an entire genome for specific function within days. Company revenues will come from chip sales, diagnostic applications and intellectual property ownership over the function of human proteins.

TOSearch: The company is an Internet search service provider (SSP) intended to address coverage, freshness, relevance and efficiency problems that have plagued the Internet community for years. It will help web site owners in their marketing and customer service efforts, will license high quality search service to Internet portals, and will improve navigation and usability.

It is built on a patent-pending two-level search system and has its own unique input procedure and indexing methods. Its data structure includes both a searchable database and browsable multi-directory system. According to the presenters, its interactive search process can understand users’ needs better than existing systems and can match them with web site owners’ expectations and business purposes.

ViraCore: ViraCore is a biotechnology company that is creating a drug discovery platform for use by the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Its core technology uses a newly developed optical chip-based technique capable of identifying, measuring and characterizing drug interactions with “membrane-bound receptors,” a protein family targeted by 50% of the world’s drugs.

Current techniques, the presenters explain, are slow and not sensitive enough to detect many important interactions between drugs and the receptors to which they bind. Competitors have simply developed faster ways of using older techniques, whereas ViraCore has developed a novel approach that does not rely only on speeding up outdated technology. The technology will be developed by ViraCore and licensed to other companies for their own drug development efforts.

You Make the Call…

While you mull over your answer, here is a little background on the event: The eight finalists were chosen from a pool of 189 business concepts submitted last October, including 43 that were Internet-related, 35 service-related, 33 information technology-related, 16 communications/media/entertainment-related, 19 life sciences/biotech-related, 9 retail-related, 10 consumer products-related, 5 distribution/transportation-related, 3 non-profit-related, 2 manufacturing-related and 14 “other.”

A six-member panel of judges consisting of investors, entrepreneurs and bankers had received copies of the finalists’ business plans before the April 30 event. In addition to awarding $25,000 to the first place winner, the judges awarded $15,000 for second place and $10,000 for third place. Each of the other five finalists was awarded $2,000. The event was keynoted by founder Josh Kopelman.

Reflecting the shift in fortunes of dot-com companies over the past year, the 2001 group of 189 business concepts included slightly over 20% that were dot-coms as compared to 40% last year. And whereas seven of the eight finalists last year were e-commerce or Internet-based concepts, this year none of the finalists was pitching a ‘pure’ dot-com venture.

Finally, a hint for those of you still undecided: This year, the life sciences/biotech area saw the biggest increase in number of entrants.

Envelope, please.

The first prize of $25,000 went to ProtoCell; $15,000 for second place went to Designware, and $10,000 for third place went to Genoma.

Ben Doranz, ProtoCell’s team leader, thinks the company won first place for “two basic reasons. The technology works and the chemistry of our team is outstanding in that it includes people with complementary abilities.”

On the technology side, “we are already beyond the risk stage of the project,” Doranz says. “We are a year away from entering a $14 billion market. It will take about six months of optimization and then another six months to manufacture the chips” which are one-inch by three-inch glass slides.

As for the team, Doranz, who will graduate this month with an MBA from Wharton, already works at the Port of Technology, a biotech and IT incubator in Philadelphia that houses ProtoCell’s offices. He has a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in cell and molecular biology, and has spent the last 10 years doing biomedical research at Cornell and Penn.

His core teammates include Scott Stevens and Mark Page, who are also getting their MBAs from Wharton. The two have more than 10 years of experience in life sciences and banking.

The team is rounded out with four other members – two law school students with a background in intellectual property law, a health care MBA student at Wharton and a PhD student at Thomas Jefferson University.

The most “surprising” question the judges asked them, Doranz says, “is what we would actually do with the $25,000 if we won. The honest answer is it doesn’t go far when you are starting a business but it certainly helps you raise more money.” The team is seeking outside funds for the project.

Doranz was asked which of the other eight finalists he considered his biggest competitor. The answer? ViraCore. The team leader for ViraCore? Ben Doranz. “I thought that one would win,” Doranz says, noting that biotechs and pharmaceuticals had already expressed interest in buying the company’s technology. “I will continue to be involved in ViraCore as well as in ProtoCell, but I will be phasing out my responsibilities in ViraCore as we bring in a new management team,” he says.

One final note: Last year’s first place winner,, a global B2B marketplace focused on technology transfer in the life sciences industry, has raised additional seed money since the competition. However, according to one of the team members, it is still looking for formal Stage 1 funding.