Emerging Venture Capitalists Lead Keynote Events at Heartland Challenge 2023


Anna Mason and Earnest Sweat are seated for


Anna Mason and Earnest Sweat will have “fireside chats” with local founders as part of the keynote ceremonies at Heartland Challenge 2023.

A venture capitalist focused on women entrepreneurs and an Arkansas-based investor intent on revolutionizing the world’s largest industries will highlight two keynote events at the fourth annual Heartland Challenge Student Startup Competition.

Anna Mason will open the Heartland Challenge on April 14 in a keynote event at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Mason is currently Managing Partner of Ingeborg Investments, a venture fund and platform founded by Olivia Walton that focuses on investing in women.

Before joining Ingeborg in 2022, Mason was Managing Partner at Revolutions’ Rise of the Rest Seed Fund. She helped grow the initiative from a startup community bus tour to a fund with $300 million in assets under management and early-stage investments in more than 75 cities across the United States.

“Demographics such as geography and gender should not prevent anyone from seeing themselves as entrepreneurs. A comprehensive and collaborative ecosystem approach can help bridge this gap,” Mason said.

“The Heartland Challenge is a valuable platform that can help drive systemic change and is the culmination of years of conscious and thoughtful leadership to put the Heartland on the map.”

Mason’s will have a “fireside chat” with Carter Malloy, Founder and CEO of AcreTrader. At Rise of the Rest, Mason invested in the online platform that provides direct, streamlined access to farmland investments.

Earnest Sweat, who grew up in Little Rock and is focused on investing in founders accelerating the world’s greatest industries, will be the keynote speaker for the April 15 awards banquet at The Ledger.

Sweat is currently a Venture Partner at GreatPoint Ventures, where he targets what he has termed “Value Chain Tech” – startups that improve value for end users in fundamental verticals such as real estate, retail/e-commerce, logistics and manufacturing.

“I’m honored to be a part of this year’s Heartland Challenge, which has quickly become a major entrepreneurial competition in the United States,” said Sweat.

“It’s exciting to see that my home state is showcasing some of the best entrepreneurial talent at our universities across the country.”

Sweat’s keynote will also be a fireside chat with Charu Thomas, Founder and CEO of Ox, which offers human-centric automation for warehouse and retail operations.

Designed to simulate the process of raising venture capital for a high growth company, the Heartland Challenge has awarded over $350,000 since it was first held virtually in Spring 2020.

Student entrepreneurs from across North America will descend on Northwest Arkansas this spring when the Heartland Challenge returns for an in-person event with a $100,000 prize pool.

This year’s competition is again hosted by the Sam M. Walton College of Business and overseen by the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation with the generous support of the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.

“University of Arkansas student teams have leveraged the international student startup competition for many years, leveraging the connections made and award wins to start and grow their businesses,” said Sarah Goforth, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“The Heartland Challenge is a celebration of our own region’s entrepreneurial history and ecosystem, and I am so grateful to Anna and Earnest for helping us welcome exceptional founders from around the world to Northwest Arkansas.”

Twelve semi-finalists will be selected for the final rounds of the competition, which will be held in downtown Bentonville.

The overall winner will receive $50,000. The second-place team will receive $25,000; third place, $10,000; and fourth place, $5,000. The first and second place winners in the Elevator Pitch Contest, determined by audience voting, will win $3,000 and $2,000, respectively.

The final round of the competition and the Startup Expo are live events open to the public. The finals will feature the presentations of the top four startup teams, and the Startup Expo will feature a public presentation of all participants.

These free events in Bentonville include appetizers and drinks and end with an audience vote for their favorite startup. The winner will receive $5,000. If you are interested in participating, please register here.

Previous Heartland Challenge winners have included tech startups focused on the music industry and improving cancer detection, and a recycling-based building materials company.

Past sponsors for the 2023 Heartland Challenge include:

  • Present sponsors — ArcBest and Whyte Spyder

  • Premier Sponsors — New Road Capital Sponsors and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield in partnership with ECHO Innovation Alliance

  • Event sponsors— Cadron Capital Partners, SymBiosis, Natural Capital and Affirma Consulting

For more information on sponsorships for the 2023 Heartland Challenge Startup Competition, contact Deb Williams at the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at dswillia@uark.edu.

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation:The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students of all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio, Startup Village and the Greenhouse at the Bentonville Collaborative, OEI offers free workshops and programs – including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. A division of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development, OEI also provides on-demand support for students who will be innovators in existing organizations and entrepreneurs starting something new.

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