A new wave of student environmental innovators put on a show at the all-virtual 2021 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge. In an incredible showing for the region, students from five of the eight colleges and universities represented at the event took home awards. The $15,000 Alaska Airlines Grand Prize went to team Puget Buoy for its experimental commercial fishing gear. The team of engineering and MBA students from Olympic College and the University of Washington aim to prevent whale entanglements and reduce lost fishing gear while also making the seafood industry healthier and more sustainable.
This was the 13th year of the competition hosted by the UW Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. Judges representing cleantech entrepreneurship, investment, and environmental advocacy from across the region connected with the sixteen finalists in their own virtual rooms following live, virtual 60-second pitches.
Judges awarded the $10,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation Second Place Prize to team GreenLoop from UW. The team of business, biology, and computer science students is developing a biodegradable product to address the serious plastic waste problem plaguing rural farmers in India.
The $5,000 Starbucks Third Place Prize was awarded to team Scrapless from the University of British Columbia. The team of applied science, arts, and commerce students is developing a platform that connects eco-minded consumers with local food businesses to redistribute surplus food.
This year’s competition also featured three $5,000 Big Picture Prizes including the brand-new Climate Challenge Prize sponsored by E8 board member Eric Carlson. The prize is awarded to a team that has thoughtfully incorporated and quantified carbon footprint into the development and communication of their innovation. Judges awarded team Clear Ascent the prize for its clean aerospace technology idea that tackles the aviation industries’ contribution to the climate crisis. Clear Ascent features students from both UW-Bothell and UW-Seattle campuses studying mechanical engineering.
The $5,000 Clean Energy Prize sponsored by UW’s Clean Energy Institute went to team PotentiaLi Energy. The UW team of MBA and electrical engineering students is developing a clean-energy bicycle charging system to minimize the climate impact of electrical mobility (the moving of people and goods) that currently relies on non-renewable energy sources like the electrical grid. 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.”
Judges awarded the $5,000 EarthLab Community Impact Prize to Washington State University team CP Systems. The team of chemical engineering, mechanical and materials engineering, and electrical engineering and computer science students is developing a portion, scalable technology that can be used in emerging nations to transform waste into electrical energy.
Last, but not least, team ExTerra from WSU received the $1,000 Connie Bourassa-Shaw Spark Prize. The prize was formerly known as the “Judges Also Really Liked” (JARL) award and is handed out by judges to support any of the finalist teams that didn’t quite make the top three. ExTerra is a team of mathematic and statistics, electrical engineering, and computer science students looking to become the “John Deere” of vertical farming through the innovative use of modulation and automation.
The 2021 awards were revealed to teams in a special video awards presentation on the Buerk Center’s YouTube page following the event. Teams that did not receive prizes were given feedback on how to develop their ideas further.
The Buerk Center would like to thank all of the 2021 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge sponsors including: Alaska Airlines, the UW College of Engineering, the Herbert B. Jones Foundation, the UW Clean Energy Institute, Starbucks, Eric Carlson, WRF Capital, Puget Sound Energy, Christensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness, UW EarthLab, the UW Science and Engineering Business Association (SEBA), BakerHostetler, McKinstry, the Perkins Coie Foundation, the UW Department of Biology, RyeStrategy, and James & Paige Spee.
Competition season continues with the all-virtual Dempsey Startup Competition (formerly the UW Business Plan Competition). Following the application deadline on Monday, April 5 at 11:59 pm PT and Screening Round, the Dempsey Startup Investment Round will be held on Wednesday, May 5. The multi-stage event culminates with the Sweet 16 Round on Wednesday, May 26 and the Final Round on Thursday, May 27. An awards presentation will follow on the Buerk Center’s YouTube channel the following day at Noon PT. For more details, please visit startup.uw.edu.