The 2023 Heartland Challenge Startup Competition was hosted April 11-13 at the Ledger, the world's first bikeable building in downtown Bentonville. AtomICS, a Brown University startup revolutionizing the storage and process of digital data by harnessing small molecules captured first place and more than $50,000 in prize money. 


Main Competition

Elevator Pitch Competition

1st Place - $50,000

AtomICS, Brown University

2nd Place - $25,000

Endoshunt Medical, Vanderbilt University & Harvard University

3rd Place - $10,000

MiraHeart, Johns Hopkins University

4th Place - $5,000

CatheSure, Clemson University

1st Place - $3,000

SomnOSA, Johns Hopkins University

2nd Place - $2,000

UNCL Co., University of Arkansas


Startup Expo

Investor Roundtable

Special Awards

1st Place - $5,000

UNCL Co., University of Arkansas

Cadron Capital - $3,000

Endoshunt Medical, Vanderbilt University & Harvard University

SymBiosis - $3,000

AtomICS, Brown University

46VC - $3,000

SomnOSA, Johns Hopkins University

Delta Solar Innovation Award - $3,000

AtomICS, Brown University

HealthTech Arkansas Medical Innovation Award - $3,000

Endoshunt Medical, Vanderbilt University & Harvard University



Visit our Media Gallery to view photos, presentations, and speaker videos from the competition:  2023 Media Gallery


The 2022 Heartland Challenge was held in-person for the first time in its three-year history, with the bulk of the competition taking place at 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville. The first-place award of $50,000 grew to $100,000 when keynote speaker Jim Goetz, a partner at Sequoia Capital, surprised competitors by announcing he would match the top prize. 

KLAW Industries

Congratulations to our first place winner: KLAW Industries!

KLAW Industries processes glass from landfills into a powdered cement replacement, Pantheon, which the company then sells to ready-mix concrete plants. In November 2022, they received $500,000 from the EPA to expand their operations in Binghamton (NY) and further develop the technology.




Elevator Pitch Competition

(audience vote)

Startup Expo Award

Cadron Capital Investor Roundtable






  • 1st Place / KLAW Industries, SUNY-Binghamton / $100,000
  • 2nd Place / EpiSLS, University of Michigan / $25,000
  • 3rd Place / Beam Commerce, University of Waterloo / $10,000
  • 4th Place / CipherX Biotechnologies, University of Arkansas /  $5,000
  • 1st Place / Horizon Health Solutions, University of Arkansas / $3,000
  • 2nd Place / KLAW Industries, SUNY-Binghamton & CipherX Biotechnologies, U of A /  $2,000
  • $5,000 / Easy Flo, University of New Mexico
  • Three $3,000 awards / Beam Commerce, University of Waterloo & GammaVet, U of A & EpiSLS, University of Michigan

 *Thanks to a sponsorship from Cadron Capital Partners, we offered an optional Investor Roundtable supplement to the main competition for teams that would like to simulate an informal conversation with investors.



Natural Capital Economic Impact Award

Atento Capital Grit Award

Arkansas Community Foundation Health Impact in Arkansas Award

Woman-Run by Wright Lindsey Jennings

Delta Solar Innovation Award

$1,000 / Pareto, Stanford University

$3,000 / KLAW Industries, SUNY- Binghamton

$1,000 / Horizon Health Solutions, University of Arkansas

$1,500 / GammaVet, University of Arkansas

$2,000 / KLAW Industries, SUNY- Binghamton


2022 Heartland Challenge Competition Recap


2022 Fireside Chat with Jim Goetz & Steve Nelson

2022 Final Round


“Through the University of Arkansas’ generous support, NurLabs has accomplished our first phase feasibility study in lung cancer patients with incredibly promising results! The Heartland Challenge sent us on this incredible trajectory to make our theoretical study a reality. Because of this experience, we now have a network of mentors and potential future investors who believe in us to bring this technology to market for real-world patient benefit.” 

Sumita T. Jonak

Founder + CEO, NurLabs

2021 Heartland Challenge 1st Place Winner

Nurlabs LOGONurlabs Photo Collage


The 2021 competition was held virtually on April 15-16, 2021. 

Congratulations to our winners!

1st Place - NurLabs from University of California Los Angeles 

2nd Place - Backup from the University of Arkansas

3rd Place - Urogix from Washington University in St. Louis

4th Place - BioSealXE from Oklahoma State University


Elevator Pitch Competition Winners

1st Place - Cerobex Drug Delivery from Tufts Universtiy

2nd Place - Backup from the University of Arkansas


Delta Solar Innovation Award - $1K to Urogix from Washington University in St. Louis




Listen to Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, talk with the 2020 Heartland Challenge winner, Robert Hatcher of Aurign, on the Be EPIC podcast.  

Aurign, a music publishing startup from Georgia State University, won $50,000 in last year’s competition for their idea of using blockchain technology to securely file music-publishing documents. 

 Robert Hatcher, Aurign

“Winning the Heartland Challenge opened a lot of doors for the company and put us in incredible position to receive further funding,” said Robert Hatcher, Aurign’s CEO. 


Hatcher added that his company is currently in beta testing and working through legal aspects of implementing their platform. 

The first Heartland Challenge Startup competition was held virutally on May 28-29, 2020. 

The invited graduate student entrepreneurial teams competed for a cash prize pool of $95,000, with $50,000 going to the first place team, Aurign, a startup at Georgia State University using blockchain technology to securely file music-publishing documents. 

AlgenAir from the University of Maryland, a consumer product company focused on improving air quality, took second place and received $25,000.

CelluDot, a University of Arkansas student startup team focusing on eliminating herbicide drift, took third place overall and won the elevator pitch competition, walking away with $13,000 in prize money. 

Finishing fourth and winning $5,000 was OxyGen from Johns Hopkins University. OxyGen provides a portable oxygen concentrator to treat patients with chronic lung disease needing greater than 3 liters per minute of oxygen. 

VestaTech, a startup from the University of Missouri that aims to improve the last-mile delivery in the e-food industry, finished second in the elevator pitch and received a $2,000 prize.

The five teams taking home prize money:

  • AlgenAir from the University of Maryland, an ecommerce company in Baltimore, Maryland, that developed the aerium, the first natural air purifier that uses algae to reduce carbon dioxide and increase oxygen as effectively as 25 houseplants.

  • Aurign from Georgia State University, a decentralized music publishing company that uses data analytics in blockchain technology to securely file music publishing documents.

  • CelluDot from the University of Arkansas, which addresses the growing problem of agrochemical drift with a novel biopolymer adjuvant technology that keeps pesticides and herbicides at the site of their intended use, thus preventing farmers from incurring financial losses due to crop damage and curbing the negative implications of drift on human health and the environment.

  • OxyGen from Johns Hopkins University, which provides a portable oxygen concentrator to treat patients with chronic lung disease needing greater than 3 liters per minute of oxygen.

  • Vesta Technologies from the University of Missouri, which provides food-ordering customers with a premier temperature-controlled locker system that accepts and stores delivered perishables from the e-food and grocery delivery industry at any temperature between minus-15F and 155F. The smart locker technology will allow delivery services to access apartments, commercial businesses, and universities 24/7 and avoid the pain points of the last mile delivery drop off with the consumer.