Students Impress at 2019 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge

Students emotional after winning awards at the 2019 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge An idea to make battery technology more sustainable electrified the judges at the 2019 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC). The MOtiF Materials team leapt into the air when their name was called for the $15,000 grand prize, presented by Alaska Airlines, at the event hosted by the UW Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. The team of mechanical engineering students aim to solve a battery manufacturing problem that “doesn’t involve killing our planet with toxic waste.” It involves a highly technical solution that the student founders were able to communicate clearly and with passion.

Atomo Coffee wins the second place prize at the 2019 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeThe $10,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation second place prize went to Atomo Coffee—a spinout tied to the Master of Science in Entrepreneurship program in the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington. Atomo created a way to make coffee through a molecular process that requires no coffee beans. It stops water from being wasted in the coffee-making process and reduces the amount of rainforest land destroyed each year due to coffee farming.

Chibage Chip won two awards at the 2019 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeThe $5,000 third place prize, presented by the Port of Seattle, went to Chibage Chip (pronounced Chee-baj-ee) and left the team leader stunned. Biochemistry PhD student Tamuka Chidyausiku developed the Chibage Chip to help farmers detect drought conditions. It acts as a sort of “pregnancy stick” by detecting a hormone that signals when plants are “thirsty.” It’s a very personal mission for Tamuka, who is from Zimbabwe, and hopes to make an impact in developing nations. Moments earlier, he was awarded the brand new $5,000 UW EarthLab Community Impact Prize and his reaction left some in the room on the verge of tears.

It marked a fitting beginning to the new award created this year in partnership with UW EarthLab. The award recognizes “innovation in developing an environmental product, solution, or demonstrated business model that supports a more equitable and just society.”

ElectroSolar Oxygen won the Clean Energy Prize at the 2019 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeThe $5,000 Clean Energy Prize sponsored by UW’s Clean Energy Institute went to ElectroSolar Oxygen. The team of chemical engineering and business students built a solar-powered concentrator for oxygen therapy patients in communities that lack access to primary care services. The Clean Energy Prize has always been a standout award at the EIC because it recognizes “student innovations that can reduce carbon emissions through solar energy production, electrical energy storage, conversion and distribution, and energy efficiency.”

Two “Judges Also Really Liked” (JARL) awards were also handed out by judges to support any of the twenty teams in attendance that didn’t quite make the top three. The first $1,000 JARL award went to AeroSpec. The team of chemistry, chemical, electrical, and mechanical engineering students developed a system to measure and monitor air pollution at an unprecedented scale. The second $1,000 JARL award went to NanoPrint. The team of mechanical engineering, business, and bioresource and engineering students created a 3D printing filament using a zero-waste manufacturing process.

Teams that did not receive prizes were given in-person feedback by the more than 130 judges representing cleantech entrepreneurship, investment, and advocacy from across the region.

The Buerk Center would like to thank all of the 2019 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge sponsors including: Alaska Airlines, the Foster School of Business, the UW College of Engineering, the Herbert B. Jones Foundation, the UW Clean Energy Institute, the Port of Seattle, UW EarthLab, the UW Department of Biology, the Perkins Coie Foundation, WRF Capital, Puget Sound Energy, Christensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness, McKinstry, BakerHostetler, and E8. Special thanks also go to Alexandria Nicole Cellars, Der Blokken Brewery, Madres Kitchen, and Urban Sprouts for their hospitality and services.

Competition season reaches its peak this year beginning on Wednesday, May 1 with the Investment Round of the Dempsey Startup Competition (formerly the UW Business Plan Competition.)  The multi-stage event continues with the Sweet 16 and Final Round on Thursday, May 23. For more details, please visit

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