Apr 18, 2022 - Business

Startups battle for funding at Heartland Challenge

A golden trophy with a dollar sign engraved in its side.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Startup KLAW Industries of New York left a visit to Northwest Arkansas over the weekend with $107,000 in prize money to help grow its business.

  • KLAW, led by three Binghamton University students, converts recyclable-grade glass into a concrete ingredient, making finished concrete cheaper and stronger while reducing CO2 emissions.

What happened: KLAW won the third-annual Heartland Challenge, which was held in person for the first time this weekend, drawing 12 student startups from across North America.

Why it matters: The Heartland Challenge gives students experience that mimics real-world capital fundraising as well as networking opportunities with academics, entrepreneurs and investors.

  • Hosting a national-level competition helps establish Northwest Arkansas as a hub for entrepreneurs and draws investor attention.

Details: This year's cash prize pool started out at nearly $110,000, with the overall winner set to collect $50,000. The second-place team received $25,000; third place, $10,000; and fourth place, $5,000.

  • Yes, but: In a fireside chat Friday evening, Jim Goetz of Sequoia Capital — which was an early investor in companies like Apple, Google and Zoom — doubled the top prize to $100,000.
  • Plus: Teams had the opportunity to win smaller awards from sponsors and shorter competitions throughout the weekend.

How it works: 12 teams were chosen to attend out of dozens of applicants. Judges whittled down those semi-finalists on Friday to four teams that competed on Saturday afternoon. A panel of six judges heard 15-minute presentations and had 20 minutes to ask detailed questions.

  • Awards were announced Saturday night.
  • Teams came from as far away as the University of Waterloo in Ontario and Stanford University in California. Three of the teams were from the University of Arkansas.

The bottom line: KLAW took the top prize of $100,000 along with a second-place prize of $2,000 for a 60-second elevator pitch competition and two awards from sponsors valued at $5,000.

  • Allergy detection company EpiSLS, of the University of Michigan, took second place.
  • E-commerce company Beam Commerce, of the University of Waterloo, took third place.
  • CipherX Biotechnologies of the University of Arkansas, which is working on a brain cancer diagnosis system, took fourth place.
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