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Dot-com, Dot-gone

Where have all the dot-com dreams gone? Last year, about 40% of the submissions to the Wharton School's annual student business plan competition involved the Internet, and seven out of the eight finalists were pitching e-commerce or Web-related concepts.

What a difference a year makes. Among the entries for the 2001 contest, a little more than 20% of the 189 biz plans were for dot-com ventures, reports Wharton in its latest newsletter. As for the finalists, not one was pitching a pure e-commerce idea.

So what's the latest hot thing? Growing numbers of Wharton MBA candidates are betting on ventures in biotech/life sciences, which inspired business plans that grabbed two out of three prizes this year.

GENES AND PROTEINS. The top prize -- $25,000 -- went to ProtoCell, a biotech company that is developing something called the Protein eXpression Chip, a tool the company says will determine the function of thousands of proteins encoded in the human genes and lead to new drug discoveries. ProtoCell says it is about one year away from introducing its product into what is now a $14 billion market.

Biotech didn't grab all the action. Second prize of $15,000 went to Designware, which proposes to provide companies with software tools and support services to improve their product-development processes. The third prize of $10,000 went to Genoma, a company with proprietary software that uses a blood sample to analyze a patient's genetic risk factors and determine how they will age. Genoma plans to provide its services through a network of licensed medical clinics.

Wharton's six-judge panel was comprised of investors, entrepreneurs, and bankers. The annual competition, now in its third year, was established by Wharton's Georgen Entrepreneurial Management Program, one of the world's largest for entrepreneurial studies. By Robin D. Schatz in New York

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