U of A Heartland Challenge Will Feature Student Startups From Across U.S.

U of A Heartland Challenge Will Feature Student Startups From Across U.S.
Cari Humphry

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Twelve teams representing eight universities and seven states will descend on Northwest Arkansas next month to compete for a $100,000 prize pool in the fourth annual Heartland Challenge Startup Competition

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

This year's competition will be held April 13-15 in downtown Bentonville. There were a record 90 applicants in this year's field, which was narrowed down to 12 semi-finalists. 

The teams

  • ARISE — Johns Hopkins University 

    • ARISE — Accelerated, Realistic, Intelligent, Simulation for Surgical Education —  is a modular simulation training platform for laparoscopic surgical education created with iterative feedback from a multidisciplinary team of surgeons, designers, engineers, and surgical educators. The training platform delivers competency-based surgical education through scalable simulation training paired with expert-trained AI mentorship. 

  • AtomICs — Brown University 

    • AtomICs is revolutionizing the storage and processing of digital data by using small molecule mixtures, which offer a more compact, energy-efficient, and robust solution than conventional technology and is without the synthesis and cost constraints of DNA-based technology. 

  • CatheSure — Clemson University 

    • CatheSure wirelessly detects a shunt malfunction in hydrocephalus patients in under five minutes to streamline the diagnostic process and prevent unnecessary exploratory brain surgeries, prolonged hospital stays, and repeated radiation exposure. 

  • Cursive Technology, Inc. — University of Maryland 

    • Cursive Technology seeks to provide faculty and teachers with better tools for assessing student writing and ensuring academic integrity. The company utilizes machine learning to identify unique writers in a secure online text box to protect academic integrity from the risk of copy/pasting from generative artificial intelligence programs (such as ChatGPT) or contract cheating threats. 

  • EndoShunt Medical Inc. — Vanderbilt University 

    • EndoShunt is a length adjustable shunt for the targeted control of non-compressible hemorrhage. To address the critical need for time during repair of bleeding, this device allows for occlusion of hemorrhaging vessels or organs while maintaining blood flow to the rest of the body. This will reduce peri- and post-operative complications, while providing trauma surgeons the time they need to perform definitive repairs. 

  • MiDoc — Washington University in St. Louis 

    • MiDoc addresses the untapped third dimension of telehealth: the physical exam. Their patent-pending product is an at-home, wearable device with sensors to conduct a remote but still medical-grade heart and lung exam. 

  • MiraHeart — Johns Hopkins University 

    • MiraHeart is a novel, noninvasive monitoring technology for central venous pressure (CVP), which is critical for adjusting heart failure medications and treatments. MiraHeart can be implemented at home, removing required trips to a clinical setting for monitoring CVP in children. 

  • ModernVivo — University of Michigan 

    • ModernVivo puts the power of natural language processing and machine learning in the hands of pharmaceutical scientists to unlock evidence-based, data-driven protocol design. The team helps pharmaceutical companies design optimized preclinical in-vivo models to improve drug translation, clinical success, and reduce development costs. 

  • Pediatrica Therapeutics — University of Arkansas 

    • Pediatrica Therapeutics is addressing a growing problem of infants born physically dependent on opioids due to maternal opioid use disorder. The company is harnessing a novel drug based on a proprietary technology that has shown promise to protect fetal development against prenatal opioid exposure. 

  • SomnOSA — John Hopkins University 

    • SomnOSA is a novel, minimally invasive, effective, and affordable neurostimulation device that prevents airway collapse during sleep and restores restful sleep, one breath at a time. 

  • UNCL Co. — University of Arkansas 

    • UNCL Co., short for Universal Network Controlled Lock, is an app-enabled security device that easily attaches to existing bike racks, allowing riders to secure and monitor their device without the need to carry a personal lock.  

  • Vitruvian Matrix — University of Arkansas 

    • Breakthroughs in fighting cancer, autoimmune diseases, and Covid-19 have all been made possible by growing cells to study, but not every cell has had an FDA-approved environment where they can both grow and behave as expected. Vitruvian Matrix's first product, Eden, meets all three of these 'must haves' of cell manufacturers, allowing for more cells, more therapies, and more life-saving. 

The competition is hosted by the Sam M Walton College of Business and overseen by the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (OEI), with generous support from our title sponsor, the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.   

Additional sponsors for this year's competition include presenting sponsors ArcBest and WhyteSpyder and premier sponsors New Road Capital Partners and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield in collaboration with ECHO Innovation Alliance.  

"This competition would not be possible without support from out generous sponsors and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northwest Arkansas and across the state," said Deb Williams, OEI's senior director of operations and student programs. 

"It brings me great pride to showcase Bentonville as an attraction and destination for student founders from across the country. The opportunities are endless for founders looking for an attractive place to build their businesses with support from investors, mentors, and a highly interconnected entrepreneurial community." 

The overall winner of the competition 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, sponsored by Natural Capitaland decided by an audience vote — win $3,000 and $2,000, respectively. 

The Startup Expo, sponsored by Affirma Consulting, is returning for its second year and 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. 

The Investor Roundtable event, introduced last year, will provide $3,000 awards to the winners of each of three roundtable events. This event, sponsored by Cadron Capital Partners and SymBiosis, will be held alongside the main competition. Student founders will engage in 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. 

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

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." 

Keynote speakers: 

  • Anna Mason, managing partner, Ingeborg Investments, interviewed in a fireside chat style keynote by Carter Malloy, founder and CEO of AcreTrader 

  • Earnest Sweat, venture partner, GreatPoint Ventures, interviewed in a fireside chat style keynote by Charu Thomas, founder and CEO of OX 

Semi-finalist judges: 

  • Albert Behr, president & CEO, Behr & Associates Inc. 

  • April Seggebruch, managing partner, Good Gravy Group 

  • Brad Henry, managing partner, Natural Capital 

  • Brett Amerine, co-founder & general partner, Cadron Capital Partners 

  • Brian Henley, managing partner, Recurring Capital Partners 

  • Cade Collister, vice president of user interface & design, Metova Inc. 

  • Canem Arkan, managing director, Endeavor 

  • Chad Brown, vice president-private investments, Circumference Group 

  • Doughlas Hutchings, co-founder & chairman, Delta Solar 

  • Drew McKinnon, market president, Main Street Health 

  • Eric Howerton, founder & chief growth officer, WhyteSpyder 

  • Fareena Contractor, vice president-strategy and commercialization, DEKA 

  • J.S. Bull, CEO, SKU Ninja + WhyteSpyder 

  • John Lammers, chief investment officer, Circumference Group 

  • Lisa Barrentine, CEO, First Preston HT 

  • Liz Slape, chief marketing officer, AcreTrader 

  • Maf Sonko, senior vice president & head of product strategy and operations, Victor Fi 

  • Michael Paladino, co-founder & CEO, RevUnit 

  • Permjot Valia, co-founder & finance director, Flight and Partners 

  • Ramsay Ball, principal, Focus Commercial Real Estate 

  • Robyn Goforth, chief scientific officer, BiologicsMD Inc. 

  • Spencer Jones, chief technology officer & vice president of sales, Lapovations LLC 

  • Stan Zylowski, co-founder & chairman, Movista 

  • Sterling Smith, early stage investor, Atento Capital 

Finalist judges: 

  • Anoop Prasanna, senior director of autonomous systems & software engineering practice lead, Walmart Global Tech 

  • Bobby W. Sandage Jr., managing director, Paula and Rodger Riney Foundation 

  • Clete Brewer, managing partner, NewRoad Capital Partners 

  • Jahanara Ali, vice president, SymBiosis 

  • Michael Basch, managing partner, Atento Capital 

  • M.K. Marsden, managing director, Avasta Incorporated  

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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