I just returned from Houston and the Rice Business Plan Competition (LINK) at Rice University.
I was a judge (along with 174 others!) of the teams, winnowing the field of 36 down to 7 finalists and one winner over two days.
I was struck by how many of the presentations were really stellar. The rules are that the team can't have revenues or investment by the end of the previous academic year (August 1, 2007). Only students can present. While those defined as students run the gamut from undergrads to 55 year-old MBAs, with lots of doctors and neuroscientists in between, few of these folks are accomplished entrepreneurs. Few have raised money before. Few have created businesses. And yet, somehow the majority of the teams pulled off presentations that by their excellence would embarrass many seasoned entrepreneurs. Certainly we were seeing some of the top nascent business teams in the country (though I saw no teams from California, so perhaps not absolutely cream of the crop). But what I think is also at work is the general collective unconscious. It's now generally understood what makes up both the elements of a good business plan and the elements of a good pitch. It's with the young people steeped in this culture that America's economic future will rise or fall.
Update: additional information at Fortune magazine: LINK