By Anne VanderMey, reporter
FORTUNE — Hundreds of students, business leaders, and investors crammed into the Shell Auditorium at Rice University on Thursday evening to watch the Rice Business Plan Competition elevator pitch contest, arguably the most dramatic event at the university’s three-day business plan extravaganza. For competing teams, the stakes are high. Each competitor gets 60 seconds to talk up their venture. If it goes well, they can win more than $1,000 for the elevator pitch alone. If it goes poorly, they face public humiliation in front of a standing-room-only crowd in a 460-seat auditorium.
The premise: Each contestant just walked into an elevator with Warren Buffett and has one minute to convince him to schedule a second meeting — and possibly invest in their business. Here’s what a few of the competitors had to say to the Oracle of Omaha. The judges will dole out the prize money, but Fortune has picked a few of its own winners this year.
Most clever invocation of Warren Buffett
The plan: The team has a new wastewater treatment process that it says will significantly lower the cost of eliminating nitrogen from water.
The pitch: “We take that nitrogen pollution and we convert it into nitrous oxide … So, we’re turbo-charging sewage treatment. … Whether or not you give us the money Mr. Buffett, you know what, by the end of the night I guarantee you’re going to be making a contribution to our industry regardless.”
Best adaptation of Occupy Wall Street lingo for an audience of Texas business types
The plan: The team has plans to develop a process to separate and recover heavy metals from water.
The pitch: “Are you a one percenter? The fact is, we’re all one percenters. We all share 1% of the world’s fresh water supply. Heavy metals are a major contaminant to our water supply and the remediation market is growing exponentially.”
Most likely to catch our attention in an elevator
The plan: They offer easy-to-use data analysis for homeowners who want to “green” their house. For example, it could generate data on how quickly solar panels on a roof pay for themselves.
The pitch: “[We’re a] profitable company, a green tech company, and a socially responsible company. Now, Mr. Buffett, I know you already have more money than you know what to do with, but we’re times 22 cash-on-cash in four years, so think about it.”
Our best hope for eating French fries without self-hate
The plan: The group processes food products to produce a low glycemic response.
The pitch: “Up in Idaho, we love our potatoes, however the number one problem in the potato industry is that when you eat potato products, your blood sugar spikes. We’ve solved that.… If you’d like to lean more about the healthier French fry, come see one of our Solanux members tonight.”
Most likely to improve your marriage (runner up)
The plan: They promise to develop a paperless pen that transmits handwritten data wirelessly to computers or mobile devices.
The pitch: “Imagine you’re in the middle of a meeting and you want to let your wife you that you’re going to be late. So you take out your special pen, write on a piece of paper, press a button, and voila, she knows.”
Most likely to improve your marriage (winner)
The plan: They are a medical device company using specialized lasers for elective procedures.
The pitch: “I’m here today to talk to you about a problem that affects 85% of women and 20% of men … a $6 billion U.S. market. That problem is cellulite, and the lack of effective treatment for it. All current treatments are painful, they require multiple treatments, and they simply don’t work. Athena Laboratories is presenting a patented laser technology.”
Best use of the words “sperm whale vomit”
The plan: To develop a new platform for creating fragrance and perfume components.
The pitch: “The global fragrance market is currently valued at $23 billion, and predicted to exceed $30 billion per annum by 2015. At the heart of the industry are high-value components used by expert fragrance blenders to create the scents that you and I love. One of these, ambergris, is the most valuable. Originally extracted from sperm whale vomit, today it’s chemically synthesized, thankfully. … At MetaChem Solutions we’ve developed a unique patent-protected yeast platform technology … with savings of over 50% on the current chemical processes.”
See videos of these and other pitches.
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