A team of entrepreneurs from Georgia State University walked away with $50,000 in prize money Friday (May 29) as the winning team in the Heartland Challenge, a virtual competition for graduate students who are developing high-growth business plans.
Even though the contest was conducted online, organizers at the University of Arkansas touted the event as the first global student startup competition ever held in the state. It was planned originally to invite 12 student teams to Northwest Arkansas for a two-day competition in late April. Because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the competition pivoted to a virtual format using Zoom.
The Georgia State venture, Aurign, is a decentralized music publishing company that uses data analytics in blockchain technology to securely file music publishing documents.
Three teams competed in each of the four semifinal tracks on Thursday to earn one of four spots in the finals on Friday. Information about each team is available here.
AlgenAir, a team from the University of Maryland, earned $25,000 for second place. CelluDot, a University of Arkansas team, collected $10,000 for third place and OxyGen, a team from Johns Hopkins University, earned $5,000 for fourth place.
The final round and the awards ceremony, which also included an elevator pitch competition among all 12 semifinal teams, was live-streamed for the public. CelluDot won the pitch competition and the $3,000 prize that went with it. Vesta Technologies from the University of Missouri earned $2,000 for second place.
Speakers during the final round included:
- Steve Case, chairman and chief executive officer of the investment firm Revolution and co-founder of AOL, will present the awards
- Graham Cobb, president/CEO, Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce
- Sarah Goforth, executive director, Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, University of Arkansas
- Yee-Lin Lai, program officer for Entrepreneurial Development, Walton Family Foundation
- Carol Reeves, professor and Cupp Applied Professor of Entrepreneurship, University of Arkansas
- Ross DeVol, president and CEO, Heartland Forward
- Matt Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas
The Heartland Challenge received financial support from the Walton Family Foundation, based in Bentonville. The competition was organized by the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the UA’s Sam M. Walton College of Business in partnership with Arkansas Capital Corp., a community development finance company that is known for its annual Arkansas Governor’s Cup collegiate business plan competition.
One reason for moving ahead with the Heartland Challenge online was the success of the format for this year’s Governor’s Cup. That competition, too, was held virtually earlier this year.
“We believe that providing the opportunity to compete for prize money will be the most meaningful and memorable connection we can establish with these teams, whose members have worked hard to become competitive for investment and whose opportunities to compete have dwindled to near zero,” said Carol Reeves, professor and Cupp Applied Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Walton College. “We are extremely grateful to the Walton Family Foundation for their support of the competition and for this new online format.”
The UA said the competition moved forward online to support the hard work put in by the student teams in the hopes of building their technology-based ventures.
“Many student competitions on the circuit have been canceled,” said Deb Williams, director of student programs in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “Some have been tentatively postponed and others canceled completely.”
Williams said several options were weighed for the Heartland Challenge before deciding a virtual competition would be “most impactful.”