Student Startup Teams to Compete for $110,000 Cash Prize Pool in U of A's Heartland Challenge

Student Startup Teams to Compete for $110,000 Cash Prize Pool in U of A's Heartland Challenge
Cari Humphry

Twelve graduate startup teams across North America will compete this spring in the third annual Heartland Challenge, a competition designed to simulate the process of raising venture capital for a high-growth enterprise.  

The competition is hosted again this year by the Sam M. Walton College of Business and overseen by the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, with generous support from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation

"The Walton College is proud to host this outstanding international competition face to face in Bentonville this year," said Matt Waller, dean of the Walton College and Sam Walton Leadership Chair.  

"We are grateful for the generous support of the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation and other sponsors across our region, who share our commitment to bolstering entrepreneurship in the Heartland." 

This year's cash prize pool has grown to more than $110,000, with the overall winner collecting $50,000. The second place team will receive $25,000; third place, $10,000; and fourth place, $5,000. 

New for 2022 is an Investor Roundtable event, sponsored by Cadron Capital Partners, that will provide $3,000 awards to the winners of each of three roundtable events. This event, held alongside the main competition, will engage the student founders in informal discussions with active investors, simulating the experience of meeting in a restaurant or airport without the benefit of formal pitch decks or other materials. Additional special awards will be provided by sponsors Delta Solar, Atento Capital, Wright, Lindsey and Jennings, Natural Capital, John Chamberlin and Cannon Capital. 

First and second place winners in the elevator pitch competition — decided by an audience vote — win $3,000 and $2,000, respectively. 

The final round of the main competition will be livestreamed. To receive a link to view the event, please register here.  

Past winners have included technology startups focused on the music industry and improving cancer detection. Having competed during years of the competition that were held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, the founders of both companies will be in attendance this year to share their post-competition experiences and join in the Startup Expo. 

Aurign, a music publishing startup from Georgia State University, took home first place in 2020, securing $50,000 for their idea of using blockchain technology to securely file music-publishing documents.  

NurLabs, a graduate student startup team from the University of California at Los Angeles, won the 2021 Heartland Challenge. The team, which developed a patent-pending, non-traditional, non-invasive liquid biopsy platform to detect cancer earlier, used its winnings to expand the size and scope of a lung cancer study. 

NurLabs founder Sumita Jonak said, "The Heartland Challenge is a gem. I'm incredibly honored that NurLabs was recognized and validated by the no-nonsense investor panels as a viable medtech company. It gave me the confidence to push onward." 

The 12 semi-finalist teams include:  

  • Beam Commerce — University of Waterloo 

    • Beam Commerce boosts sales for independent eCommerce merchants by harnessing a suite of apps that encompass upselling and cross-selling, as well as store design and order tracking. Their eCommerce post-purchase upsell app, AfterSell, is used by more than 5,000 merchants.   

  • CiphrX Biotechnologies — University of Arkansas 

    • CiphrX is a biotechnology company that advances brain cancer diagnostics while keeping patient well-being as its primary focus. The company has developed a patent-pending test kit that enables same-day genetic sequencing to be performed within the hospital. 

  • EpiSLS — University of Michigan 

    • EpiSLS is a novel medical device enabling rapid, safe and reliable point-of-care allergy testing. By combining innovative application and sensing technologies to automate in-vivo allergy testing at the bedside, EpiSLS eliminates the risk and uncertainty of dubious allergies. 

  • GammaVet — University of Arkansas 

    • Gamma Vet is working on a clinical test for Felis catus gamma herpesvirus, a novel feline herpesvirus affecting more than 32 percent of cats worldwide. GammaVet is developing a prototype for a commercial diagnostic device. 

  • Green Design Technologies — University of Georgia 

    • As demand grows exponentially for renewable power, Green Design Technologies aims to be the leader in residential scale hydropower solutions. Through its Micro Hydro turbines, the company plans to deliver hydro power systems that are built to scale, making every system component smaller and cheaper for a competitive return on investment. 

  • Horizon Health Solutions — University of Arkansas 

    • Horizon Health Solutions empowers independent pharmacies to compete against resource-rich industry giants through proprietary, innovative SaaS solutions.

  • Ichosia Biotechnology — George Washington University 

    • Ichosia is developing a genetic engineering platform technology for mass producing laboratory-grown red blood cells for clinical transfusions. They envision lab-grown cells replacing blood donors, making transfusions safer, more reliable and less expensive.  

  • KLAW Industries — State University of New York at Binghamton 

    • KLAW industries processes glass waste and upcycles it into a partial cement replacement for concrete, which the company has dubbed Pantheon. Patheon is then used in concrete mix plants to increase the compressive strength of concrete and decrease its embodied carbon.  

  • Pareto — Stanford University 

    • Pareto is building the next legacy retail brand that creates a simpler everyday life for the whole family by making the best version of the clothing you actually wear. Using its game-changing farm-to-closet supply chain, Pareto plans to be the single go-to brand with only the true wardrobe essentials that makes getting ready in the morning the easiest part of the day.

  • Speak Information Technologies — Washington University in St. Louis 

    • A software company working to eliminate physician burnout and improve patient care, Speak Information Technologies specializes in voice-enabled assistance tools that allow healthcare providers to automate click-intensive processes with their voice.  

  • The STEAM Team — Tufts University 

    • The STEAM Team is revolutionizing at-home activities for kids through original storybooks that guide families through the iterative engineering design process and offer an assortment of materials designed to kickstart creative solutions to problems presented in their books. Through its "Have Fun, Send One" program, the Steam Team matches every kit purchase by sending one to a child from a lower-income school, so they too can develop these critical skills. 

  • EasyFlo — University of New Mexico 

    •  EasyFlo is an eco-friendly baby bottle that eliminates the hassles of making a bottle on the go, while preserving our planet. EasyFlo eliminates the waste of millions of single-use plastic water bottles and storage containers annually through its eco-friendly design. 

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: 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, Startup Village, and Greenhouse at the Bentonville Collaborative, OEI provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. A unit of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development, OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new. 


Deb Williams, director of student programs
Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Sarah Goforth, executive director
Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation


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