Competing college teams, condensed action, brackets narrowing to a single winner. It’s that time of year—for basketball and startups. The third annual Startup Madness is this Wednesday, March 27.

Startup Madness is a bracketed competition of college student startup founders from across the east coast. And instead of talking about their business plans, undergraduate and graduate students showcase their company’s prototypes.

Founded by Scott Kelly of Duke’s InCube, the event started in 2011, drawing participants from universities in the Triangle region. In 2012, eleven ACC universities participated, and this year, at NC State’s new James B. Hunt Library on Centennial Campus, over twenty startup teams representing fourteen universities will compete. Judging the teams will be entrepreneurs selected from across the east coast, including ExitEvent founder Joe Procopio. Also note that ExitEvent writer Jake Finkelstein is this year’s host.

Last year, the winner among NC universities was Neurospire (Duke), a company that helps marketers gain insight into consumer brain activity. Founder, Jake Stauch, who I met at an ExitEvent Social shortly after he won, is now taking time off from Duke to build the company.

Local university participants – UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, and NC State � each selected 2 startups to compete in Startup Madness 2013.

Triangle Startup Madness Participants

UNC-Chapel Hill is sending GoPhish, a startup that ExitEvent covered in January after Winston Howes made a spot-on presentation at the Carolina Challenge. The company will be demoing their beta browser-based software that protects against phishing attacks.

The other UNC-Chapel Hill competitor is Traade, led by John Groves. Traade’s platform enables online retailers to offer in-store credit for used product trade-ins.

Blue Devil Tatiana Birgisson, another ExitEvent Social regular, will be pitching Mati Tea, which makes organic, caffeinated tea soda.

Ameya Kulkami and Amy Vaduthalakuzhy of Duke will be showing off the Jobbertunity web platform and iPhone app, which help people find jobs and stay organized in the process.

NC State is sending Kellet Atkinson, Wahyudi Gunawan, Eko Prasetaiwan, and Ramin Shahriari of team PlasmaGro, a startup offering on-demand production of nitrogen fertilizer. The company’s prototype uses proprietary technology to extract nitrogen from the air and infuse it into water, which can then be used for irrigation.

Koyr is the other home team startup, led by CEO Mark Delgado. The company offers a radiation detection system that uses a mobile application to automate labor-intensive tasks.

Benefits to Participating Student Entrepreneurs

This is a wild guess on my part, but I don’t think James McAdoo, Ryan Kelly, or C.J. Leslie see connecting with others at the tournament or hearing commentary on their performance as the highlights of March Madness. Their entrepreneurial classmates see things differently.

This year the winner of Startup Madness will be flown to Silicon Valley to meet with firms such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Beyers and Facebook. Very nice. But it’s not the real draw.

While they’re ready to compete, the Triangle Startup Madness participants said that what they really hope to get out of the event is networking, new mentors, pitch and demoing practice, product feedback, and exposure.

Groves of Traade said that balancing a new startup and classes is no walk in the park, and it will be great to meet others who are in a similar position.

Howes of GoPhish put it well. He said, “In similar past competitions, I’ve found that the networking has actually been of more value than the prize money itself because it allows us to take GoPhish to more venues, which results in more feedback, and ultimately a better product.”