Student Teams Engage in Virtual Environmental Innovation Challenge

Judges awarded Aquagga the $15,000 Grand Prize at the all-virtual 2020 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge at the Univ. of Washington.Student teams redefined the term “showcase” at the all-virtual 2020 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC). The event, hosted by the UW Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, utilized virtual meeting rooms to connect nearly 200 students and judges. After several hours of “engaging conversation” one team rose above the rest. Judges awarded Aquagga the $15,000 Alaska Airlines Grand Prize for its bolt-on water treatment platforms that destroy toxic water contaminants. The team featured engineering students from both UW and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

The $10,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation second place prize went ElectroSolar Oxygen at the 2020 all-virtual Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeThe $10,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation second place prize went to ElectroSolar Oxygen. The UW team of chemical engineering and business students built a sustainable oxygen concentrator that can be deployed in underdeveloped nations or places affected by natural disasters. ElectroSolar Oxygen previously won the $5,000 UW Clean Energy Prize at the 2019 EIC.

The $5,000 Port of Seattle Third Place Prize was awarded to Kokanee Systems—a startup tied to the Master of Science in Entrepreneurship program in the Foster School of Business. The $5,000 Port of Seattle Third Place Prize was awarded to Kokanee Systems at the 2020 all-virtual Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeKokanee developed a water quality monitoring system that uses cloud-connected devices and analytics to help protect both human health and wildlife.

This year’s challenge featured three “best idea” prizes including a brand-new prize from the UW Grand Challenges Impact Lab. To emphasize action, not just excellent ideas, the Grand Challenges Action Prizes reward student innovation that is developing self-sustaining, scalable solutions for low-income or disadvantaged communities. Judges awarded two GCIL prizes, one for a domestic-based idea and one for a global-based idea. Team Aquagga (detailed above) received the domestic prize. Team Arogya received the global prize for its electricity-free, modular washing machine and dryer technology. The UW team of bioengineering and psychology students hopes to use the technology to reduce the transmission of pathogens. Both teams receive $1,000 prizes as well as additional funding for expenses related to implementing, piloting, or prototyping the idea beyond the EIC.

The $5,000 Clean Energy Prize sponsored by UW’s Clean Energy Institute went to Moment. The team of engineering students from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia is developing sustainable energy storage from used electric vehicle batteries. The Clean Energy Prize has long 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.”

The $5,000 Clean Energy Prize sponsored by UW’s Clean Energy Institute went to Moment at the all-virtual 2020 Environmental Innovation ChallengeMoment also received a $1,000 Connie Bourassa-Shaw Spark Prize. The prize was formerly known as the “Judges Also Really Liked” (JARL) award and is designed to recognized additional interesting innovative ideas the judges felt had potential, but didn’t quite make the top three prizes.

A second $1,000 Connie Bourassa-Shaw Spark Prize was awarded to ChocoLED. The UW team of MBA and materials science and engineering students is developing a low-cost, eco-friendly solution to lighting and displays by using cocoa beans.

The 2020 awards were revealed to teams in a special video presentation on the Buerk Center’s YouTube page following the event. Not all of the 23 teams that competed scored high enough to receive prizes, but each team received feedback by the judges representing cleantech entrepreneurship, investment, and advocacy from across the region.

The Buerk Center offers its deepest appreciation to all of the 2020 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge sponsors including: Alaska Airlines, the UW Clean Energy Institute, the UW College of Engineering, the Herbert B. Jones Foundation, the Port of Seattle, UW EarthLab, E2C2, Starbucks, the UW Grand Challenges Impact Lab, the Foster School of Business, the UW Science and Engineering Business Association (SEBA), the UW Department of Biology, the Perkins Coie Foundation, WRF Capital, Puget Sound Energy, Christensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness, McKinstry, BakerHostetler, and James & Paige Spee.

Competition season continues with an all-virtual Dempsey Startup Competition (formerly the UW Business Plan Competition). Following the application deadline and Screening Round, the Dempsey Startup Investment Round will be held on Wednesday, April 29. The multi-stage event culminates with the Sweet 16 and Final Round on Thursday, May 21. For more details, please visit


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