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Rising Venture Capitalists to Headline Keynote Events at 2023 Heartland Challenge

A venture capitalist focused on female entrepreneurs and an investor from Arkansas looking to disrupt the largest industries in the world will highlight two keynote events at the fourth annual Heartland Challenge Student Startup Competition. Anna Mason will kick off the Heartland Challenge on April 14 in a keynote event at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Mason is currently the managing partner for Ingeborg Investments, a venture fund and platform founded by Olivia Walton that focuses on investing in women.

Before joining Ingeborg in 2022, Mason was a managing partner at Revolutions’ Rise of the Rest Seed Fund. She helped grow the initiative from a startup-community bus tour into a fund with $300 million in assets-under-management and early-stage investments in more than 75 cities across the United States. “Demographics like geography and gender should never prevent anyone from seeing themselves as entrepreneurs. A full-scale and collaborative ecosystem-approach can help close this gap,” Mason said. “The Heartland Challenge is a valuable platform that can help drive systemic change and is the result of years of intentional and thoughtful leadership to help put the Heartland on the map.” Mason’s will sit for a “fireside chat” with Carter Malloy, founder and CEO at AcreTrader. At Rise of the Rest, Mason invested in the online platform, which provides direct, streamlined access to investing in farmland.

Earnest Sweat, who grew up in Little Rock and focuses on investing in founders accelerating the world’s largest industries, will be the keynote speaker for the awards banquet on April 15 at the Ledger. Sweat is currently a Venture Partner at GreatPoint Ventures, where he targets what he has coined “value chain tech” — startups improving the value to end users within foundational industries such as real estate, retail ecommerce, logistics and manufacturing. “I’m honored to be featured in this year’s Heartland Challenge, which has quickly become a prominent entrepreneurship competition in the U.S.,” Sweat said. “It’s exciting to see that my home state is showcasing some of the best entrepreneurial talents within our universities across this country.”

Sweat’s keynote will be also be a fireside chat with Charu Thomas, founder and CEO of Ox, which provides human-centered automation for warehouse and retail operations. Designed to simulate the process of raising venture capital for a high-growth enterprise, 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, as the Heartland Challenge returns for an in-person event with a $100,000 prize pool. The competition is hosted again this year by the Sam M. Walton College of Business and overseen by the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, with generous support from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.

“University of Arkansas student teams have taken advantage of the international student startup competition circuit for many years, using the connections made and prize winnings to launch 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’m so grateful to Anna and Earnest for helping us welcome exceptional founders from around the world to Northwest Arkansas.”Twelve semifinalists will be selected for the final rounds of competition, which will be held in downtown Bentonville.


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