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College Entrepreneurs to Compete for Big Money Prizes at Rice University One of the largest -- and richest -- business plan competitions in the country kicks off today.

By Dinah Wisenberg Brin

Rice University's annual Business Plan Competition may cater to student entrepreneurs, but this contest is anything but child's play.

Owlet Baby Monitors -- which is associated with Brigham Young University -- has developed a smartphone-compatible baby monitor that helps parents track their infant's blood-oxygen levels and heart rate. Akiba Cooking Solutions, developed by Colorado State University students, aims to sell low-emissions, affordable, semi-gasifier cookstoves to be used in Kenyan schools. Then there's AGcerez, from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. The company hopes to commercialize "prebiotic" syrup derived from longan berries to be used as a food ingredient for improved intestinal health.

The three companies are among 42 teams of young entrepreneurs from universities around the world who will meet in Houston this week to compete for more than $1.3 million in prizes -- including a jaw-dropping $450,000 grand prize -- in the annual Rice Business Plan Competition.

Rice University calls the three-day contest, which starts Thursday, the world's largest and richest business-plan competition, though some competitions without direct-university backing do offer more generous purses. Teams working in the life sciences, information technology, energy and clean technology, green technology, social and other categories will have 15 minutes to present their plans.

Related: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Business-Plan Competitions

The judges, who come primarily from the investment industry, will rate entries based on the business they'd be most likely to back financially.

"We are pleased to do our part to support these young entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks to commercialize technologies that not only drive economic growth, but also lead to advances in health care, energy and other improvements in the lives of all people," said Brad Burke, managing director of the university's Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship.

More than 130 previous competitors remain in business, have raised more than $569 million and added more than 1,000 jobs, according to a Rice press release. Last year, the competition awarded more than $1.5 million in prizes, and all teams won at least one cash award.

The teams this year were selected from 400 entries, based on their executive summaries. At the event, founders will network with venture capitalists and other investors, as well as receive advice from investors and successful entrepreneurs, according to Rice.

Related: The Business of Helping Less-Fortunate Entrepreneurs Start Up

In addition to Owlet Baby Monitors, Akiba and AGcerez, other competitors are coming from Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Purdue, Harvard, King's College London, the University of British Columbia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Rice and the University of Texas, among others.

Besides the grand prize, other financial trophies this year include at least two awards of $150,000 each, at least four $100,000 prizes and several smaller awards. The grand prize winner will have a chance to ring the closing bell at NASDAQ OMX in the fall.

What would you do with $450,000? Let us know in the comments section below.

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has covered business, politics, healthcare and general news for wire services, newspapers, blogs and other publications.

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