Rural Innovation Alliance

The Rural Innovation Alliance is seeking applicants for the inaugural Delta Innovator Search! 

The deadline to apply is July 30, 2024. 

The 2024 Delta Innovator Search will identify entrepreneurs, scientists, healthcare providers, agricultural leaders, and other innovators with new solutions that have the potential to transform the region’s economy and contribute to better health outcomes for Delta residents. Solutions could include new goods or products, scientific or technical innovations, services, business models, financial strategies, or projects to build the necessary infrastructure for resilient economic growth. 

The search will recognize outstanding innovations that align with three target categories:

Scientific or Technical Innovation

New approaches that address the Delta region’s unique needs and opportunities, ranging from non-traditional rural health delivery to agricultural innovations like specialty crop developments or resilient farming practices, and other industry advancements.

Economic or Financial Innovation

New business models or financial strategies designed to strengthen the region’s economic base by engaging and empowering Delta residents and communities.

Community Impact 2040

Strategies thoroughly grounded within and committed to making a long-term, positive impact on local Delta communities, including advancements in economic resiliency and improvements in rural health outcomes.

The Delta Innovator Search is an integral next step in a planning process launched in May 2023 with funding from the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program to outline a strategy that leads to the development of new businesses, innovative technologies, creative workforce development programs and inclusive wealth creation in the Delta.

Finalists could receive awards of $20,000, $10,000, and $5,000 to support their initiative, in addition to gaining access to networking support and additional funding opportunities — including a pathway to participate in the upcoming second-phase NSF Regional Innovation Engines grant application process.

The Delta Innovator Search will take place in three stages:

STAGE ONE: Online Application

The Rural Innovation Alliance will accept online applications from interested parties through Tuesday, July 30, 2024. Online applications will include a project description along with a video submission.

STAGE TWO: Incubator

Applicants selected to advance as semifinalists will be invited to participate in a virtual incubator experience in August with guidance from regional business leaders.


Finalists will present their proposals to the Rural Innovation Alliance and its partners at a showcase and awards banquet in September 2024.

Thanks to the following sponsors for supporting the 2024 Delta Innovator Search:

Eligibility & Conditions

We invite applications from individuals, nonprofits, small businesses, entrepreneurs, students, faculty, cooperatives, teams, or other groups and entities. 

Applicants must be at least 18 years of age. Applicants must be residents of Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana or Tennessee OR demonstrate authentic partnership with an organization from the area that serves residents.

Applications and participation in each Stage will be kept confidential within the Innovator Search team. Upon successful completion of each Stage, applicants may choose the details and application information shared with Search partners or that is made public.   

Frequently Asked Questions

Who should participate in the Innovator Search, and what kinds of solutions or technologies are you looking for?

Anyone with an idea that could impact the daily life of Delta residents. We’re looking for ideas at any stage of development that could increase access to food, contribute to resilient food production, increase the quality and availability of health care, or provide the infrastructure that is critical for food security and health equity of rural Americans. If you’ve got an idea that you think fits, please apply! It could be something you have only been thinking about, or something you’ve prototyped, or something you’ve patented and produced. It could be a tangible product, a gadget, a device, a material, a compound, a crop varietal, a consumable good, a service, a business model, or just about anything. 

What kinds of applicants are eligible?
  • We welcome applications from individuals, teams, nonprofits, businesses, entrepreneurs, researchers, faculty, students, and other types of entities. We are looking for creative ideas from anyone that could improve health outcomes and grow the economy of the Delta.  
  • Applicants must be 18 years or older, and should be living somewhere in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, or Tennessee or demonstrate authentic partnership with an organization from the area that serves residents. 
What kinds of applications are NOT eligible or not appropriate for the Innovator Search?

We are not looking for products that are already on the market, unless you’ve found a totally new application for it.  Applications describing technology that defies the laws of physics or nature are also not encouraged. 

How does the Innovator Search complement other innovation activities like competitions and pitch contests?

The Delta Innovator Search is the first regional initiative that is designed to reach innovations at any stage of development and engage a wide audience of potential applicants. The Delta region is home to several innovation challenges, pitch contests, accelerators, incubators, and other related programs. The Innovator Search is unique from those existing activities in its scope and structure. Many existing programs have restricted eligibility, limiting participation to college students, university faculty, high school students, or existing businesses. Some programs require applicants to propose technology that is already developed, prototyped, or validated. Others are intended to support ideas before they reach a certain stage of development. We are collaborating with the organizers of several other programs with the intent to funnel applicants to more specific opportunities based on the development stage, the applicant type, and the focus or domain application of the idea. 

When will the incubator phase take place, and how will it work?

Applicants who are selected as finalists will participate in the incubator phase to further develop their ideas and prepare their presentations before the showcase and awards ceremony. The incubator will be virtual, primarily taking place on web-based meeting platforms. The incubator is tentatively scheduled to occur August 6 – 21, with activities taking place during the day. The incubator will be led by a team of entrepreneurial support professionals and venture development specialists with experience helping finalists get their ideas across the finish line. 

When will I hear back about my application, or if I’ve been selected as a finalist?

We will respond to all applicants to notify them if they have been selected or not. The application deadline closes on July 30, and the incubator will tentatively start on August 6. 

How will presentations be judged at the Showcase?

During the showcase, finalists who participated in the incubator will deliver presentations to a live audience and panel of judges. The panel includes representatives from sponsor organizations and the core partners of the Rural Innovation Alliance. Presentations will be evaluated on several criteria, including the level of scientific innovation, the level of innovation in the business approach or economic model, impact to the Delta community, relevancy to the Delta region, and impact on health outcomes.  

The Delta Innovator Search is an official activity of an NSF-funded development award called Advancing Equitable Access to Food and Health Technologies in the Delta (AR, LA, MS), award number 2304299. This development project is led by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and a team of core partners including the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership, the Delta Health Alliance, Louisiana Public Health Institute, Southern University Agricultural Research & Extension Center, and Hope Credit Union and Enterprise Corporation. This phase of the project began in May 2023 and will end in April 2025. For more information, please visit 

The Delta Innovator Search is an initiative in coordination with NSF Engines Development Award #2304299 which aligns partners focused on transforming one of the most disenfranchised areas of the country into a thriving, diversified, and integrated economic driver. The NSF Regional Innovation Engines program catalyzes and fosters innovation ecosystems across the country to boost innovation capacity, create sustainable ecosystems, and demonstrate inclusive economic growth.