Heartland Summer 2023

Join the Idea Accelerator Cohort

Applications are closed

Heartland Summer 2023

Register for an informational webinar
April 25, 2023
May 10, 2023

The Summer 2023 Heartland Idea Accelerator is underway! This rapid-pace, 90-day, virtual program gets your idea off the sidelines and into action. All are fueled by up to $5,000 in non-dilutive Pebble Funds and powered by our partners at Heartland Forward.

April 3, 2023

Applications Open

May 22, 2023

Aplications Close

June 15, 2023

Cohort Kickoff

September 7, 2023

Cohort Finishes


Heartland Summer 2023

The Summer 2023 Idea Accelerator program includes more than 130 Builders and is brought to seven regions in the middle of the country by Heartland Forward

At Builders + Backers, we believe great ideas exist in every corner of the country.

As Winston Churchill once said, “There are plenty of good ideas, if only they can be backed with the power of action.

With the Idea Accelerator, we’re doing just that. We help you put your idea into action in a no-cost, no-risk way. Our Builders learn and then apply world-class entrepreneurial methods to run short, high-impact tests of their ideas.

No entity, business plan or traction required to apply. Bring your biggest and boldest ideas and let’s get started!We’ve helped to turn over 100 ideas into ventures in just under two years. Why not let your idea be the next one?

The Idea Accelerator is a proud component of Heartland Forward’s Community Growth Program.

Eligible Regions for

Heartland Summer 2023

From Detroit to Alabama and lots of places in between, we are unearthing promising ideas that otherwise might not be discovered or acted on. Thanks to Heartland Forward and our local sponsors, cities across the Heartland have reserved spots for their residents in the Summer 2023 cohort. Don’t miss the chance to join a virtual, world-class accelerator program and kickstart your entrepreneurial journey.

Eligible Regions

Durant, OK
Fort Worth, TX
Joplin, MO

NE Tennessee
North Dakota
Oklahoma City, OK
Oxford, MS
Pine Bluff, AR

Rapid City, SD
Duluth, MN

Alumni Cities

Eastern Shawnee Tribe
Montgomery, Alabama
Northwest Arkansas
The Delta Region
Tulsa, Oklahoma
West Tennessee
Detroit, Michigan

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Idea Accelerator?

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The Idea Accelerator is a program designed to be your onramp to entrepreneurship. It equips participants with world-class entrepreneurial tools to test their idea, fueled by up to $5,000 no-strings-attached funding.

Why Do We Need The Idea Accelerator?

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Ideas are just that until we have evidence that they work. But we often mistakenly think that we need to build the solution we’re imagining as the first step. That can feel overwhelming or too expensive for most people. When we do get started, too often it is in expensive and time consuming ways. So ideas end up staying on the sidelines or not being built for success.

The Idea Accelerator teaches you how to run small tests of your idea to see if it holds promise. You'll see how no and low cost digital tools make it easier, faster and cheaper to build things than ever. You'll learn how to evaluate the results of your test and decide on the best next steps. There is no cost and the expenses of the tests are covered up to $5,000. We meet aspiring entrepreneurs where they are so we can get more ideas up and running.

Can I take more than one cohort at once?

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Each cohort will take five to ten hours of your time each week to complete the live classes and homework.

How will I meet my classmates?

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In your orientation package, you'll receive access to a class chat in slack where you can talk to all of your classmates and teachers.

How many students in a cohort?

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Each cohort will have a group of 15 students per class. This allows our teachers to give you the attention you need to learn best.

If you are applying to participate in a community cohort, then you must be a resident of the city in which you are applying for.

To apply for this opportunity, you do not need a certain job title, role or affiliation. You do not need to have an existing legal entity (e.g. a business or nonprofit organization). You don’t even need to be planning to start a venture. You simply need a problem you care about, an idea for addressing that problem, some early-stage thoughts on how you would experiment with that idea, and a willingness to learn.

What Types of Problems Should Applicants be Tackling?

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We are problem agnostic. In other words, we are not looking for specific types of problems to be addressed. Rather we are looking for people who care deeply about a problem and want to learn the tools to best solving it or turn it into a business venture.

Builders from our prior cohorts have worked on problems such as lack of access to fresh foods, small businesses not participating in the digital economy, lack of non-college career paths for high school students, absence of community for young Black professionals, mental health challenges specific to men, limited exposure to science as a career for minority students, and more.

What Types of Ideas Qualify?

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We are looking for bold, compelling, novel, and innovative ideas. They can be ideas in any industry or sector. We are problem-agnostic. In other words, your idea does not need to address a problem in a specific topic area.—The idea should be well defined and articulated in an easily understandable way.—Ideally the problem the applicant is trying to solve and the proposed idea are ones that could scale either as a business or as a solution implemented in other communities. Often an idea may not appear that way on its face but we are experts at recognizing scalable ideas that others might overlook.

What Do We Mean by Testing an Idea?

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When we say we help you test your idea, we don’t mean drawing up an exam. We test ideas through experimentation. Experiments to test an idea are ones that put something in front of potential users or customers and then gauge what actions those people do or don’t take (not what they SAY but what they DO). We run them to prove (or disprove) a hypothesis. They are specific. They are measurable. They help us figure out quickly (and inexpensively) whether our idea works (or not). And they prevent us from diving head first into an expensive, time-consuming and risky venture before we’ve validated that our ideas hold merit. —To learn more about our approach to experimentation, check out this article with a deeper dive.

How is the Program Structured?

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The program is virtual with the possibility for optional in-person events. Builders join both all-cohort and small group live sessions weekly. These sessions range from 1–2 hours.  The events are pre-scheduled at the beginning of the program so Builders can block off the times on their calendars.

Each week, Builders are assigned self-paced learning modules. During the first 45 days of the program, Builders are preparing to run their experiments and these modules are mandatory. During the second 45 days, Builders are actively experimenting and all learning modules are optional but intended to provide additional insights and resources.

How are the Pebble Funds Used?

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Each Builder, who goes through the program, has the opportunity to access up to $5,000 in Pebble Funds to cover the cost of their experiment. Builders are required to complete the prerequisite training and coaching sessions in the first 45 days of the program before funds may be accessed to begin their experiments.

The Builders + Backers team helps each participant create and refine a Builder’s Blueprint, which includes a proposed experiment, an action plan and timeline, and a budget. Once this Blueprint is approved, the Builder receives a controlled credit card which they may use to make pre-approved purchases, and they are responsible for submitting receipts for all expenses.

What Happens After the Program?

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Nobody leaves the program empty handed. Each Builder who completes the program leaves with a completely new perspective on how to take their ideas into the world and a new set of tools for experimenting that will help them refine their current or next idea. That outcome is a key part of the program that we believe will provide significant value to participating communities.

In terms of their experiments, some builders will learn that their ideas are not feasible in their current form. Following the program, they may choose to run further experiments, pivot or even begin thinking about an entirely new idea.

Everyone who completes the program is invited to join the Builders + Backers Alumni community, where they can continue to engage with the Builders + Backers team, their cohort and hundreds of Builders from around the country. Additionally, we invite all of our Builders to events and opportunities to engage live with one another and our Backer community.

What If I Still Have Questions?

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We’ll be hosting two informational sessions where you can hear from us live and have a chance to ask questions. Dates and times to be announced.

That creative, compelling idea you’ve been wanting to turn into something real....Take the leap.