Alice Walton, Jim Goetz to Kick Off 2022 Heartland Challenge

Alice Walton, Jim Goetz to Kick Off 2022 Heartland Challenge
Cari Humphry

Northwest Arkansas philanthropist Alice Walton and famed Sequoia Capital investor Jim Goetz headline an all-star list of speakers and judges at the third annual Heartland Challenge, a competition designed to simulate the process of raising venture capital for a high-growth enterprise. 

Walton, the founder of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, will kick off the competition on Friday, April 15, in a keynote event at Crystal Bridges' Great Hall.

The competition, which runs from April 14-16, 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 daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, Alice Walton is also the catalyst behind the Whole Health Institute and the founder of the Whole Health School of Medicine, which will be located in Bentonville.

Goetz has been with Sequoia for 25 years, where he and his partners made early investments into technology titans like Apple, Cisco, Google, Nvidia, Oracle and PayPal. He will be joined by Steve Nelson, an entrepreneur and executive, with two decades of experience in the technology, software and business sectors.

Nelson is a co-founder of Carbon Inc., a pioneering company in additive manufacturing and 3D printing. Goetz was a first round investor in Carbon, and the company secured $260 million funding in 2020, making the company worth about $2.4 billion, according to Forbes.

This year's Heartland Challenge features 12 graduate startup teams from across North America. The teams are solving a vast array of community problems, from advancing brain cancer diagnostics with same-day genetic sequencing to improving the environment with an eco-friendly baby bottle.

The 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.

The final round of competition will be Saturday, April 16, at 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville. Register to watch the live stream here.

The Startup Expo, a public showcase of the competitors, will be held after the final round at the Scott Family Amazeum. The free event will include appetizers and drinks, concluding with an audience vote for their favorite startup. The winner will receive $5,000.

There are several other cash prizes available alongside the overall competition. An elevator pitch competition, decided by audience vote, will award $3,000 and $2,000 to first and second place, respectively.

The Investor Roundtable, sponsored by Cadron Capital, will award three $3,000 prizes. This optional event is a supplement to the main competition for teams that would like to simulate an informal conversation with investors.

Additional cash awards will be offered by the following sponsors:

  • Natural Capital Economic Impact Award: $1,000

  • Atento Capital Grit Award: $3,000

  • Arkansas Community Foundation Health Impact in Arkansas Award: $1,000

  • Woman-Run by Wright Lindsey Jennings: $1,500

  • Delta Solar Innovation Award: $2,000

Other sponsors include WeFunder and Cannon Capital.

Guest speakers:

  • Alice Walton, philanthropist

  • Jim Goetz, partner, Sequoia Capital

  • Steve Nelson, co-founder, Carbon and re-inc

  • Naccaman Williams, special projects director, Walton Family Foundation

  • Phil Libin, CEO and co-founder, All Turtles, mmhmm and Evernote

  • Robert Burns, director, Home Region Program, Walton Family Foundation

Semi-Finalist Judges:

  • Jeff Amerine, founder and managing director, Startup Junkie
  • Canem Arkan, executive director, Endeavor Northwest Arkansas
  • Ramsay Ball, principal broker, Cignus Real Estate
  • Fareena Contractor, director of International Emerging Tech Team, Walmart
  • Bobby Franklin, president and CEO, National Venture Capital Association (NVCA)
  • Robyn Goforth, co-founder and chief scientific officer, BiologicsMD
  • Rosa Hathaway, senior investment associate, Atento Capital
  • Brad Henry, managing partner, Natural Capital
  • Douglas Hutchings, CEO, Delta Solar
  • Spencer Jones, chief technology officer, Lineus Medical
  • John Lammers, chief investment officer, Circumference Group
  • Steve Nicolle, partner, Island Capital Partners
  • Anoop Prasanna, senior director of digital transformation, Walmart Global Technology
  • Bobby Sandage, managing director, Paula and Rodger Riney Foundation
  • April Seggebruch, chief strategy officer and co-founder, Movista
  • Liz Slape, chief marketing pfficer, AcreTrader
  • Maf Sanko, head of strategy and operations, VictorFi
  • Chau Thomas, founder and CEO, Ox
  • Lawrence Watkins, investor, Atento Capital
  • Stan Zylowski, CEO and co-founder, Movista

Finalist Judges:

  • Michael Basch, managing partner, Atento Capital
  • Candice Matthews Brackeen, general partner, Lightship Capital
  • Clete Brewer, partner, New Road Capital Partners
  • Angela Grayson, principal member, Precipice IP, PLLC
  • MK Marsden, managing partner, Touchpoint Strategies
  • Chidozie Ugwumba, managing partner, SymBiosis Capital Management

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.


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


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