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A contest designed to help startup companies develop innovations in supply chain technology and logistics is underway in Northwest Arkansas, the Center for Advancing Innovation said Tuesday. It has support from the Walton Family Foundation.

The SCALE (Supply Chain and Logistics Enterprises) challenge pits teams from around the world to develop technologies, such as autonomous vehicles or augmented reality programs, for commercial use across supply chains, officials said.

More than 20 winners will be selected to pitch, hone and turn their ideas into products, receive investor funding and establish themselves in Northwest Arkansas, home to Fortune 500 companies Walmart, Tyson and J.B. Hunt.

Teams often come from out of state for these challenges, said Rosemarie Truman, founder and chief executive officer of the Center for Advancing Innovation, a nonprofit founded in Bethesda, Md., in 2012. It has been called the "Tinder for Startups" and "Shark Tank on Steroids" by the research journal Nature and BIO, a biotech trade association.

Through global challenges such as Supply Chain and Logistics Enterprises, Truman said the nonprofit acts like an accelerator for young businesses and has kick-started 280 companies in the past three years.

About 70% of the contestants come from outside the participating state.

But "we expect a lot of people to engage in Arkansas," she said.

For the challenge, the Center for Advancing Innovation offered 21 invention blueprints for competitors to adopt, if they so choose. They then take their idea and craft a business around it for judges to consider. Contestants may also enter the challenge with their own inventions or ideas for supply chains, transportation or logistics.

They are expected to take ideas related to autonomous vehicles, machine learning, virtual reality, 3-D printing and others, from proof-of-concept to commercial application. Some of the available ideas prevent food spoilage using nanoparticles, track smartphones when location services are turned off and prevent package fraud by tracking isotope activity, according to blueprints on the center's website.

Teams that enter have the chance to participate in the nonprofit's accelerator training, learn from mentors, win prize money and "create the next breakthrough supply chain company," a news release said. As part of the challenge, the winners will be introduced to entrepreneurs and business leaders in Northwest Arkansas, including potential partners such as J.B. Hunt, Tyson and Walmart.

"Walmart is excited to see what the SCALE challenge will offer to help us serve our customers with even greater quality and precision, allowing us to better sense and predict in dynamic marketplaces," said Cameron Geiger, senior vice president of Walmart, in prepared remarks.

The challenge is meant for everybody: startup companies, engineers, entrepreneurs, software developers and designers, even artists.

With guidance from the Walton Family Foundation, Truman said this is the first time artists, such as musicians or sculptors, have been required to participate in a challenge coordinated by the nonprofit.

"I think it will be a good experiment to illustrate how artists can help entrepreneurs" with their ideas, she said.

The deadline for registration is August. After that, teams will go through an "elevator speech" phase, then a business plan phase, where they create a financial model and pitch their idea to a panel of judges, Truman said. A forum drawing outside investors to the region is scheduled for March and an award ceremony for the winners in April.

Registration is available at scalechallenge.org.

Business on 06/12/2019

Print Headline: Contest casts net for ideas in tech

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