In early June, a number of companies from across Latin America will square off in a competition unlike any other. The annual New Ventures Investor Forum in Lima, Peru will pit ten environmentally savvy companies against each other in the hopes that several of them may attract interest from one of the investors attending the event.

A company selling bamboo products for furniture and construction will be competing against a business that produces aloe extracts for cosmetics and medicines, and an outfit that sells freshwater aquarium fish sustainably harvested from the Amazon, among others.

"We've got a number of great companies working to sell sustainable, environmentally friendly products, but first we've got to help them make their businesses sustainable and profitable," said Sergio Nuñez de Arco, a former venture capitalist who is now overseeing the forum. Each of the ten competitors, selected from 150 entrants, receives free mentoring to help them strengthen their business strategies for expanding sales of their biodiversity-friendly products.

At the forum, the companies will present business plans to a jury of venture-capital and investment experts, who will select those with the most promising strategy as winners. Past winners have gone on to receive millions of dollars in investment, and have received additional consulting services from the consulting powerhouse, Booz Allen Hamilton.

"This is a new model," said Luiz Ros, head of the New Ventures project at the World Resources Institute. "With the investors forum we are working to demonstrate that companies can be successful financially as well as provide environmental and social benefits."

Finalists this year include Bolivia-based Naturalcos, which is developing dietary supplements and natural medicines based on native medicinal plants of the Andes. "The four partners in this venture are well positioned to compete in the booming natural medicine market," said Marcos Guevara, a business consultant who is working with the New Ventures finalists. Naturalcos is developing the Andean version of ginseng, which is called maca. But they are hoping to attract investors to help them with capital investment to get things scaled up and running smoothly once demand increases in the United States and Canada.

Many of the finalists have incredible ideas, said Guevara, but in some cases they have little prior business experience. That's where Guevara and Nuñez de Arco step in, showing the finalists where they might run into problems, and where their business plans might need additional help.

"When an investor looks into a company, they want to make sure that everything is in place," said Guevara. "Nobody wants to invest in the jockey and not the horse, so to speak, so we work with these companies to identify potential 'deal killers.'

Another finalist this year is BioCentinela, an Ecuadorian company that has developed a process for growing and selling certified organic shrimp grown in ponds. Because shrimp farming has evolved into a highly destructive industry -- destroying important coastal habitats and polluting coastlines with wastes -- there is now a premium on wild and organically grown shrimp.

"The organic market for seafood is ready to explode because there has been so little available," said Nuñez de Arco. BioCentinela has developed a system in which algae and a bacteria mix naturally digest the polluting wastes that tend to accumulate in the pens of farmed shrimp grown near coastlines. "Right now they are selling to Europe, and if they break into the U.S. market, they should be quite well-positioned to ride the ongoing growth of the organic market," said Nuñez de Arco.

Another potential winner at the forum is the Bolivian company Coronilla, which is now producing non-wheat pastas made from organic grains like quinoa and rice, which are grown by local farmers. The company has been producing traditional pasta for years, but decided to shift after it began losing market share to imported pasta products.

"Watching the growth of the organic market, they decided to go for it," said Nuñez de Arco. "They've started selling pastas in Europe, but they are looking to grow and find additional capital that will allow them to expand into U.S. markets."

Several venture capitalists will be attending the event to check out the innovative business models the companies have developed. There are a number of investors that are interested in backing solid businesses that also promote economic development, conservation, and sustainable development in their regions. "More and more investors are incorporating environmental standards into their prerequisites," said Guevara. "However, it is still 80 percent money to them, because a business can't be sustainable if there isn't any money in it."

The New Ventures forum is helping to build capacity by working with entrepreneurs and investors who are committed to their communities and the environment. "By bridging the gaps between these companies and investors, we are helping to demonstrate that the so-called triple bottom line of profits, the environment, and social benefits can be a reality," said Ros.