Twelve Student Startups Competing for $100,000 at Heartland Challenge

A global student startup competition hosted in Northwest Arkansas, the Heartland Challenge, has awarded nearly $500,000 in prize money since it was first held virtually in spring 2020.
Cari Humphry

A global student startup competition hosted in Northwest Arkansas, the Heartland Challenge, has awarded nearly $500,000 in prize money since it was first held virtually in spring 2020.

Medical device companies and software startups dominate the field in the fifth annual Heartland Challenge, which will welcome 12 student teams representing nine universities to Bentonville next month as they compete for a prize pool of more than $100,000.

Designed to simulate the process of raising venture capital for a high-growth enterprise, the Heartland Challenge is a global, graduate student startup competition hosted in Northwest Arkansas. The event has awarded nearly $500,000 in prize money since it was first held virtually in spring 2020.

A record 126 teams submitted applications for this year's event, which will be held April 11-13 in downtown Bentonville at the Ledger, recently highlighted by Fast Company as one of the buildings that "redefined architecture" in 2023. The final round will be live-streamed and open to the public.

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 primary support from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.

"We're excited to share that we've seen a 38% increase in applications from last year, highlighting the growing interest from around the globe in our dynamic entrepreneurial community," said Deb Williams, senior director of student programs and operations at OEI.

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.

The Startup Expo, returning for its third year, will feature a public showcase of the competitors. The free event will be held at the Ledger and includes appetizers and drinks, concluding with an audience vote for their favorite startup, with the winner receiving $5,000.

Past Heartland Challenge winners include technology startups focused on storing digital data, the music industry and improving cancer detection, as well as a recycling-based building materials company.

"Our goal is to shine a spotlight on innovation, attract top talent and create new business opportunities in Northwest Arkansas," Williams said. "A special thank you goes to the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation for their invaluable support in driving creativity and success in our region." 

Sponsors for this year include premier sponsor New Road Capital Partners and event and prize sponsors Visit Bentonville, Symbiosis, Cortado Ventures, Delta Solar, Cadron Capital, Arkansas Capital, Natural Capital and the Walton College's Master of Science in Finance Program.


  • CurveAssure — Johns Hopkins University  

    • CurveAssure is pioneering remote monitoring for spinal care patients through a three-part system combining wearable sensors, deep learning and clinical reports to provide dynamic metrics and revolutionize dynamic, patient-centered healthcare. 

  • Hidalga Technologies — U of A 

    • Using its eponymous software, Hidalga is optimizing administrative workflows in healthcare by streamlining insurance prior authorizations via algorithmic intuition to save clinics time and money.  

  • Hipond — Tufts University  

    • Hipond is an innovative online platform designed to help international students adapt in the U.S. by offering a unique combination of social networking, a marketplace for second-hand goods and tailored services. 

  • Kreative DocuVet — Iowa State University  

    • Kreative DocuVet solves the time-consuming, tedious task of medical record-keeping for vets by harnessing AI to record appointment audio and quickly ready-to-use medical records.  

  • ProPika — U of A 

    • ProPika uses its patented technology to process cellulose so fuel producers can transform billions of tons of agricultural waste into sustainable alternative fuels and chemicals. 

  • RHM Innovations Inc. — University of Rochester  

    • RHM Innovations is providing a paradigm shift in the caregiving landscape with its Aide-ing Arm, a hands-free assistive shower device that ensures a dignified bathing experience for patients while reducing the strain on staff. 

  • Sakura MedTech — University of Illinois  

    • Sakura MedTech offers a superior, patient-centric imaging device for cervical cancer screening to improve the patient experience and gynecological efficiency.  

  • Sustain-a-Plate — Washington University in St. Louis  

    • Sustain-a-Plate reduces food waste by harnessing machine learning to help grocery stores discount prices for products set to expire, thereby encouraging shoppers to buy those over longer-lasting items. 

  • Telo — University of Minnesota 

    • ​Telo is developing assistive walking devices with integrated technology to better facilitate physical therapy — the first significant innovations to assistive walking devices in over 40 years. 

  • Thryft Ship — University of Georgia  

    • Thryft Ship is a dedicated shipping platform tailored to Instagram to streamline that portion of the app's transactions, helping more than 1,750 business ship over 118,000 packages since 2021.  

  • Wanderist — U of A

    • ​Wanderist is accelerating the wine industry toward a sustainable future by facilitating a seamless transition to wine-on-tap service for local establishments while keeping bottles out of landfills. 

  • YieldEASE — Johns Hopkins University 

    • YieldEASE aims to improve the diagnosis of breast cancer in sub-Saharan Africa through its gun structure technology for fine needle aspiration, which intends to de-skill FNA and make the adequacy of samples independent of operator skill. 


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