Diana Lynn Boyle

Win or lose, life scientists can profit from entering business plan competitions, according to participants in the events that are spring rites on many campuses. Some competitors find money to get businesses off the ground, others find investors for the future, some find jobs, and still others find that they are not cut out to be entrepreneurs. Each year at least 25 contests in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom offer an education in commercial survival that no classroom experience can emulate. Life science-based businesses often have an edge over other industries in open competitions, which are more common than science- only contests.

The timid need not apply. "I have never entered a business plan contest," says Robert Curtis, founder and CEO of Histometrix, a New Haven, Conn.-based tissue proteomics company spun out of Yale University. "I'm afraid," says Curtis, who has judged Massachusetts Institute...

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