Heartland ChallengeHeartland Challenge Startup Competition


The Heartland Challenge is designed to simulate the process of raising venture capital for a high-growth venture. The competition allows students to gain valuable experience and networking opportunities, while developing new ventures that may be based on their own ideas/technologies or those developed by others.


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

The Heartland Challenge is made possible by generous support from the Walton Family Foundation. The Heartland Challenge is the first global student startup competition held in the state of Arkansas.


2020-21 timeline

Jan 4, 2021 - Applications open

Feb 12, 2021 - Applications close

March 1, 2021 - Notify semifinalist teams of selection

March 7, 2021 - Semifinalists submit intent to compete

March 8, 2021 - Semifinalists announced

April 7, 2021 - Full business plan due

April 15-16, 2021 - Competition dates


Application Link



The Heartland Challenge is designed to mimic the real-world process of raising capital for a high-growth venture. The competition allows students to gain valuable experience and networking opportunities, while developing and building new ventures and technologies or those developed by others.  The spirit of the competition is to allow only ventures conceived and developed during the graduate school experience to participate, but teams including undergraduates (including exceptional teams composed only of undergraduates) may apply and will be considered. Competition directors and faculty advisers are responsible for ensuring and attesting that their teams meet these requirements. The teams are also responsible for ensuring their own eligibility.




The competition is for student-created, managed, and owned ventures. Students must play a major role in conceiving the venture by having key management roles and owning significant equity in the venture (50 percent or more of the equity allocated to the management team and key advisers). The objective of this rule is to exclude ventures formed and managed by non-students who have token student representation to compete. Read the official competition rules and policies HERE.




This is a competition for graduate students; however, teams with a minority of undergraduate students can also compete. Exceptional undergraduate teams may also be considered. Students from any graduate program (not just MBAs) are eligible to participate, including executive and evening format programs. Non-students may be members of the venture's management team and may participate in planning the venture. However, only students may participate in the competition. Any team participating in an undergraduate competition, regardless of team re-configuration, is disqualified from the competition.  To sign up for updates on competition rules and requirements, please email Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Director of Student Programs, Deb Williams, at startup@uark.edu

The competition is overseen by the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas in partnership with the Arkansas Capital Corporation, a community development finance company that is known for the success of its annual Arkansas Governor's Cup Collegiate Business Plan Competition.

Read the official competition rules and policies HERE.



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


“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: