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Have a problem to solve? A new accelerator wants to give you $5,000 to put your solution to the test

The Builders and Backers Idea Accelerator is seeking 10 applicants from North Dakota for its upcoming fall cohort. Those chosen will receive $5,000 to test and experiment a problem-solving idea.

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FARGO — A new accelerator aimed at unearthing problem-solving ideas from America’s Heartland is now available in North Dakota.

The Heartland Forward’s Builders and Backers Idea Accelerator is now open to North Dakota applicants, Emerging Prairie announced Friday, Aug. 5. Ten North Dakota residents will be chosen and receive $5,000 to put their ideas to the test.

Based in Bentonville, Ark., Heartland Forward is a nonprofit economic development organization which encompasses a broad region of the United States, including the Midwest and several southern states. It was founded in 2019 by the Walton family, which founded and owns Walmart.

It was on a trip to Bentonville when Brian Carroll, director of Grand Farm, first discovered Builders and Backers. “The idea was to bring this to the community and help initiate ideas so that ideas could eventually form into startup activities,” Carroll told The Forum.

Builders and Backers is accepting applicants for its upcoming fall cohort, James Atkin said. Anyone with an idea is invited to fill out the four-question application. The application does not require a slideshow or a business plan. Rather, it’s intended for those who have ideas they need help getting off the ground.


Many people, Atkin explained, will give up on an idea after coming up with it, assuming that innovation is for other people. “We’re looking to find parts of, especially the Heartland, where there’s innovation happening but there still seems like a lot of untapped resources and untapped people,” Atkin, the head of community and public engagement for Builders and Backers, said. “There are millions of ideas out there that are just lying below the surface because most people don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs or as small business owners.”

Those selected for the cohort will receive $5,000 to further build upon their idea and put it to the test. “People aren’t leaving the program with a $5,000 check,” he said. “They’re leaving the program having run the experiments to test their idea.”

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The upcoming fall cohort will be the fourth for Builders and Backers. The cohorts have grown each time, Atkin said. Heartland Forward has set a goal of reaching 1,000 builders by 2023.

Atkin added that the Builders and Backers program connects people across a broad area who otherwise would not have met. That networking component is “absolutely critical,” Carroll said. “It compliments so much of the work that we’re doing and it connects us to a broader network,” he commented. “The ability to provide those necessary supports to get those ideas going is going to be a critical x-factor for us.”

The goal of Builders and Backers is to find “unicorns,” Atkin said, ideas that can be scaled into full-fledged start-ups and small businesses. “The data suggests there is potential,” he remarked. “The fun part about this is you get to see what’s out there that we could try and build and see what grows from there.”

The Builders and Backers accelerator brings “a track record of success” to North Dakota, Carroll said. “The beauty of the program is the simplicity. All you need to have is an idea,” he said. “There are no dumb ideas at this point. There will be world-class mentorship that can help take that idea to the next level.”

To apply for the fall cohort, visit the Builders and Backers website. Applications are open until Tuesday, Aug. 16.

Thomas Evanella is a reporter for The Forum. He's worked for The Forum for over three years, primarily reporting on business news. He's also the host of the InForum Business Beat podcast, which can be streamed at InForum.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Reach him at tevanella@forumcomm.com or by calling 701-241-5518. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella.
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