Aurign Wins Heartland Challenge Business Competition, UA Team Finishes Third

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Aurign, a startup at Georgia State University using blockchain technology to securely file music-publishing documents, won the Heartland Challenge on Friday, May 29. The team took top honors after two days of competition for 12 semifinalist teams from around the world.

“We are extremely proud of Team Aurign," said Jennifer Sherer, director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute at Georgia State University. "Their passion, hard work and preparation shone throughout the competition. With a mix of graduate and undergraduate students, each pursing different majors, the team’s composition showcases the nature and spirit of Entrepreneurship at Georgia State University.”

The competition, the first global student startup competition in the state of Arkansas, was held entirely online and concluded with a live streamed finals round, elevator pitch competition, and remarks from organizers and guests.

Steve Case, chair and chief executive officer of the investment firm Revolution and co-founder of AOL, presented the awards, but noted every startup involved was "a winner."

"You have gotten through a process which a lot of people were fighting to be a part of," Case said. "You had an opportunity to tell your story. You were able to improve your pitch in the process. You were able to meet with a lot of people to refine your idea." 

Case's colleague Anna Mason, a partner on Revolution's Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, will offer individual mentoring sessions to each of the four finalist teams.

"Competitions like the Heartland Challenge provide students with an opportunity to develop skills that are essential for entrepreneurs, including the confidence to respond to investor questions in the heat of the moment and the ability to communicate complex ideas quickly and persuasively," said Carol Reeves, professor and the Cecil and Gwendolyn Cupp Applied Professor in Entrepreneurship in the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

Reeves, who announced her pending retirement earlier this year, has a record of winning teams dating back more than a decade. Students in the New Venture Development program she established have won more national and international student startup competitions than teams from any other university. 

The invited graduate student entrepreneurial teams competed for a cash prize pool of $95,000, with $50,000 going to the first place team. AlgenAir from the University of Maryland, a consumer product company focused on improving air quality, took second place and received $25,000.

CelluDot, a University of Arkansas student startup team focusing on eliminating herbicide drift, took third place overall and won the elevator pitch competition, walking away with $13,000 in prize money. 

Finishing fourth and winning $5,000 was OxyGen from Johns Hopkins University. OxyGen provides a portable oxygen concentrator to treat patients with chronic lung disease needing greater than 3 liters per minute of oxygen. 

VestaTech, a startup from the University of Missouri that aims to improve the last-mile delivery in the e-food industry, finished second in the elevator pitch and received a $2,000 prize.

With primary support from the Walton Family Foundation, the Office of Entrepreneurship and the Walton College decided in April to pivot and host the competition in a completely online format.

"We're very grateful to the Walton Family Foundation for making the Heartland Challenge possible, and allowing us to introduce these talented students to Northwest Arkansas and its rich entrepreneurial ecosystem," said Sarah Goforth, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The five teams taking home prize money:

  • AlgenAir from the University of Maryland, an ecommerce company in Baltimore, Maryland, that developed the aerium, the first natural air purifier that uses algae to reduce carbon dioxide and increase oxygen as effectively as 25 houseplants.

  • Aurign from Georgia State University, a decentralized music publishing company that uses data analytics in blockchain technology to securely file music publishing documents.

  • CelluDot from the University of Arkansas, which addresses the growing problem of agrochemical drift with a novel biopolymer adjuvant technology that keeps pesticides and herbicides at the site of their intended use, thus preventing farmers from incurring financial losses due to crop damage and curbing the negative implications of drift on human health and the environment.

  • OxyGen from Johns Hopkins University, which provides a portable oxygen concentrator to treat patients with chronic lung disease needing greater than 3 liters per minute of oxygen.

  • Vesta Technologies from the University of Missouri, which provides food-ordering customers with a premier temperature-controlled locker system that accepts and stores delivered perishables from the e-food and grocery delivery industry at any temperature between minus-15F and 155F. The smart locker technology will allow delivery services to access apartments, commercial businesses, and universities 24/7 and avoid the pain points of the last mile delivery drop off with the consumer.

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio and Startup Village, OEI provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions, and startup coaching. OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 3 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.



Brandon Howard, communications and social media specialist
Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation


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