Applications Open for Fourth Annual Heartland Challenge Startup Competition

Applications Open for Fourth Annual Heartland Challenge Startup Competition
Cari Humphry

Student entrepreneurs from across North America will descend on Northwest Arkansas this spring, as the Heartland Challenge Startup Competition returns for an in-person event with a $100,000 prize pool.

Designed to simulate the process of raising venture capital for a high-growth enterprise, the Heartland Challenge has awarded over $350,000 since it was first held virtually in Spring 2020.

Applications are open through Feb. 10 at 11:59 p.m. Twelve semifinalists will be selected for the final round of competition, which will be held April 13-15 in downtown Bentonville. 

The overall winner will collect $50,000. The second place team will receive $25,000; third place, $10,000; and fourth place, $5,000.

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

"We are incredibly excited to host the Heartland Challenge in Bentonville again this year," said Deb Williams, senior director of operations and student programs at the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

"This competition exposes founders from across the globe to the burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northwest Arkansas and helps them gain valuable connections and experience as they develop and build their ventures."

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. Early sponsorships secured for the 2023 competition include WhyteSpyder, ArcBest, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, ECHO Innovation Alliance and NewRoad Capital Partners. 

The Startup Expo, returning for its second year, will feature a public showcase of the competitors. The free event in Bentonville will include appetizers and drinks, concluding with an audience vote for their favorite startup. The winner will receive $5,000.

Past winners have included technology startups focused on the music industry and improving cancer detection, as well as a recycling-based building materials company.

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.

Last year's winner, KLAW Industries, used its prize money to purchase a tractor trailer to transport its product. Founded by students at Binghamton University, KLAW processes glass from landfills into a powdered cement replacement, dubbed Pantheon, which the company sells to ready-mix concrete plants. The new mixture results in concrete with more compressive strength and a lower carbon footprint.

Jacob Kumpon, KLAW's co-founder and chief operating officer, said the Heartland Challenge was a memorable and transformative experience for his company.

"Winning the Heartland Challenge took KLAW Industries to the next level by giving us the connections, experience and funding to acquire our first customers," Kumpon said.

He added that visiting Bentonville "was fantastic" and praised the competition's overall experience.

"I'd say this is probably one of the competitions that does it the best, encouraging teams to get out there and build relationships that will last a lifetime."

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.



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