Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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May 12, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Wildcard team captures this year’s “Heartland Challenge”

A record 126 teams submitted applications for this year's event held April 11-13 in downtown Bentonville.

After reaching the final round as a wildcard team, a student start-up from the University of Minnesota captured first place in the “2024 Heartland Challenge,” earning $50,000 for its venture to revolutionize assistive walking devices. Telo, which is developing walking devices with integrated technology to better facilitate physical therapy, is tackling three core areas of innovation: safety, stigma, and strengthening, according to Co-Founder Morgan Kerfeld.

“At Telo, we give our users a device that allows them to get out and live their active, independent lifestyles like the bad asses we know they are,” she said. The company uses a patent-pending reverse frame rollator walker that offers back support for more stability while opening the user up to the world. It also measures speed, distance, and reliance, while providing quantified metrics through a mobile application that allows users to track their activities, set goals, monitor progress and enhance physical therapy.

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

A record 126 teams submitted applications for this year’s event held April 11-13 in downtown Bentonville at the Ledger and included a kickoff event at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Other top winners included start-ups focused on medical devices, creative alternative fuels, and improving shipping logistics to aid small businesses on Instagram.

  • RHM Innovations, representing the University of Rochester, finished second and won $25,000 for its Aide-ing Arm, a hands-free assistive shower device that ensures a dignified bathing experience for patients while reducing the strain on staff. RHM Innovations also won $3,000 in the Investor Roundtable track sponsored by SymBiosis.
  • Thryft Ship, from the University of Georgia, finished third, taking home $10,000. 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.
  • ProPika, the only University of Arkansas team to win any prize money, finished fourth, earning $5,000. ProPika also finished first in the elevator pitch competition, winning $3,000, and won the audience vote at the Startup Expo, worth $5,000. ProPika is using patented technology to process cellulose so fuel producers can transform billions of tons of agricultural waste into sustainable alternative fuels and chemicals.
  • CurveAssure, which is pioneering remote monitoring for spinal care patients, finished fifth and won $1,000. The team earned an additional $3,000 in winning the Delta Solar Innovation Award and another $2,000 by finishing second in the elevator pitch competition.

Other teams taking home a prize:

  • Hipond, from Tufts University, 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. The team won $3,000 in the Investor Roundtable track sponsored by the Walton College Master of Science in Finance program.
  • YieldEASE, one of two teams representing Johns Hopkins University, 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. The team won $3,000 in the Investor Roundtable track sponsored by Cadron Capital Partners.

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