Sumita Jonak founded NurLabs, which won the Heartland Challenge. Credit: NurLabs

Welcome to The Hub, your spot for ecosystem and accelerator news. In this news roundup, we provide you with the latest on organizations working to support, educate and fund innovators and their ideas. We’ll highlight cohort applications, people to know in the incubator world and programs working to give resources to those who typically don’t have access elsewhere. As always, we’re focused on underrepresented entrepreneurs — such as women, people of color, and those geographically outside power centers — and organizations supporting these demographics. 

If you have a piece of news or a job listing you think will fit into this roundup, email it to Skyler Rossi at

This Lifelong Questioner Led Her Team To Win At The Heartland Challenge

Sumita Jonak, founder of NurLabs, didn’t become an “entrepreneur” until after she turned 40, but she’s always had the knack for problem solving and going against the grain. She was one to question processes when they are more difficult than they had to be, even when that got her in trouble during her military days.

This mindset motivated her to go back to school. “I’ve always had people tell me, oh, well, you’re not really a business person, so you shouldn’t really have a seat at the table to make decisions,” she said. “And so I was like, F this, I’m getting an MBA.”

She was an information security officer in the U.S. Navy and in counterterrorism operations at the National Security Agency.

To pursue her business dreams, she chose the University of California, Los Angeles, for its bio design entrepreneur track. It was there she heard the idea that inspired the cancer-screening startup: what if the key to early cancer detection is in material science? 

She learned it’s an area often overlooked in research, since the focus tends to be on biology and chemistry. She saw potential.

“I thought, okay, well, let’s go tackle one of the hardest problems that exists: cancer,” she said. “I mean, you got to try, right? If you don’t try, then you’re basically self eliminating.”

As Jonak grows the startup, which launched at the start of 2020 out of UCLA’s program, she’s been looking at university competitions across the country. One, which was listed in a UCLA Anderson School of Management newsletter, caught her eye: The Heartland Challenge at the University of Arkansas. So she called Deb Williams, Arkansas’ entrepreneurship office director of student programs, to make sure NurLabs qualified. It did, and Jonak sent in a business plan to be considered.

NurLabs took home the $50,000 first place prize at the second annual Heartland Challenge last month. It was a win even more exciting considering her team, which includes Dr. Deepa Nagar, a neonatologist, and Alan Schiaffino, a U.S. Navy officer, have been building the startup virtually over video conferencing since the pandemic hit.

The Heartland Challenge launched last year at the University of Arkansas. Inspired by the global competitions its students have attended, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation wanted to host its own to bring people to Fayetteville, Williams said. The prizes are funded by the Walton Family Foundation [Disclaimer: The Walton Family Foundation has been a sponsor of Times of E].

The judges of the challenge– this year’s included Bobby Franklin, the president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association, Angela Grayson, the principal member and founder of consultancy PRECIPICE IP PLLC, and Clete Brewer, co-founder of Northwest Arkansas-based New Road Capital– provide feedback to each selected startup. Jonak said the most valuable lesson she learned was to ask for more money, especially in med tech, which is very capital intensive. “The feedback we got was, you need to make sure that you get the right investor from the very beginning, which is someone who’s not going to be afraid that eventually they’re gonna have to cut a check for $100 million.”

The prize money from the Heartland Challenge is going straight into NurLab’s research, Jonak said. Currently, the team is focused on lung cancer detection. It’s received some small grants, and is hoping for some Small Business Innovation Research funding, too. 

Pre-Teen Entrepreneurs

More than 200 middle schoolers in York County, Virginia are getting a lesson in entrepreneurship. The York County School Division recently launched a new elective, called “Make It Your Business,” which teaches students some business and entrepreneurship fundamentals, the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports. 

The class is set up as a faux accelerator: students work in teams to create original prototypes, such as pencil cases made of books or jewelry from recycled materials — representative of this year’s course theme of “reduce, reuse, recycle” — according to the article. They also come up with a budget, meet with a mentor and receive feedback from their peers. 

The division plans to offer the course again next school year, and hopes to create a similar one for high schoolers, according to the article.

More schools worldwide are adapting entrepreneurship to their curriculum. Read more: A Girl From A Groundbreaking School In Cambodia Visited Google HQ – This Is The Question She Asked

Names to Know

Louisa Macdonell is the newest addition to the Board of Directors at Social Investment Scotland, a funder of social enterprises in the country,  the Scottish Business Insider reports. Macdonell is also the chief executive at Development Trusts Association Scotland, a membership group for community-led enterprises, and an entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Edinburgh, according to the article. She was also previously the head of economic development at the Scotland Office, where she delivered Scotland’s first rural regional growth deal, according to the article.

Paqui Casanueva is the new president of the Board of Directors of Endeavor Mexico, a business accelerator with locations across the world, Entrepreneur reports. He took over in December for Sergio Rosengaus, who left the position after five years. Casanueva has been the president of Mexico City-based insurance agency INTERprotección since 2015, and previously was its CEO for 26 years, according to his Linkedin.

Chris Jones is stepping down from his position as executive director at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock, Arkansas Business reports. Errin Stanger, who has worked at the Innovation Hub since 2014 and is currently its “chief decision maker”, will be the acting executive director. The Innovation Hub is a program of Winrock International in Little Rock, a nonprofit working to combat social, agricultural and environmental challenges, according to its website.  

Open Applications

MIT Seeks African Entrepreneur Fellows

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Legatum Center for Entrepreneurship and Development is launching a new fellowship program for Africa-based founders called the Foundry Fellowship, according to an email announcement. The center is looking to accept 15 entrepreneurs who have founded and scaled for-profit companies on the continent. Preference will be given to those operating in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, and Uganda, or those who plan to move to one of those countries. The six-month program will include a three-week, in-person component.  Applications are due June 10.

Tulsa Launches Program To Help Underrepresented Entrepreneurs Start Businesses

Minority business owners in Tulsa, Oklahoma can now apply for the MORTAR program, a Cincinnati-based initiative that aims to create more brick and mortar businesses by providing more accessible information, according to The Tulsa Economic Development Corporation website. Up to 15 aspiring entrepreneurs and new business owners will be selected for each of the city’s two cohorts. Applications for the first cohort, which starts in July, are due May 25. The program costs $295, but scholarships are available. 

$50k for Facebook Community Leaders

Facebook is partnering with DC-based GlobalGiving to offer up to $50,000 to Facebook community leaders to help drive their ideas, according to its website. Specifically, the Community Accelerator is looking for communities that have “a presence in Facebook groups” that have existed for over a year and have more than 1,000 members, it outlines on its website. Communities also must be in one of the following countries: Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Brazil, United States, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco or India. The program is offered in Spanish, Portuguese, English and German. Selected leaders will also receive training to learn how to organize and strengthen their community. Applications are due May 31.

T-Mobile Seeks 5G Innovators For Fall Accelerator

Applications are open for the T-Mobile Accelerator Wellness Technology Program, an accelerator for entrepreneurs innovating 5G technology, according to a news release. Selected entrepreneurs will work with T-Mobile leaders to build and test their products and services. The program, which starts August 9 and ends in November, will conclude with a Demo Day. Applications are due June 25.

Outside U.S.

F10 Seeks Tech Startups For Three Programs

F10, an accelerator with programs in Zurich, Singapore and Madrid, has opened applications for its next cohorts, according to its website. It’s seeking post-revenue tech startups in different categories based on location. For Madrid, the program is looking for wealthtech and regtech startups. In Zurich, it’s seeking startups focused on sustainable finance and SME services. And in Singapore, the program is looking for wealthtech and deeptech startups. Each program runs from September until November and offers networking and connections. Applications for the programs are due May 28.

Monetary Authority of Singapore Opens Applications for Green Finance Hackathon

The Monetary Authority of Singapore is seeking up to 15 innovators for its sixth Global Fintech Hackcelerator, according to an announcement published by Finextra Research. This year’s theme is green finance. Each selected innovator will receive a stipend of a little more than $15,000 (S$20,000) and be fast-tracked to be considered for the Authority’s Innovation Scheme Proof-of-Concept Grant of up to a little more than $151,000 (S$200,000), according to the article. The virtual program will end with a Demo Day at Singapore’s FinTech Festival, where three winners will receive about $38,000 (S$50,000). Applications for the hackcelerator are due June 11.

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit and connect with and