Environmental Innovation Challenge Rewards Student Ventures

Judges awarded nearly $45,000 in prizes in the 14th annual Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge at the Univ. of Washington.At the heart of innovation lies the desire to make something better than it currently is. The finalist teams in the 2022 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) embraced that ideal in a big way. Judges awarded nearly $45,000 in prizes in the 14th year of the competition hosted by the UW Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. The $15,000 Alaska Airlines Grand Prize went to team Catalytic Carbon for its unique take on solving the “scam” of plastic recycling.

The $15,000 Alaska Airlines Grand Prize went to team Catalytic Carbon at the 2022 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeThe team of aeronautics and astronomy, Master of Science in Entrepreneurship, and informatics students from the University of Washington utilizes a new recycling process that can quickly transform waste into carbon nanotubes and reusable hydrogen gas. They believe this solves an issue with current methods where only 9% of plastic is recycled correctly and over 75% ends up in landfills (according to the EPA). Catalytic Carbon also took home the $5,000 Clean Energy Prize sponsored by the UW Clean Energy Institute. The prize rewards student innovations that can reduce carbon emissions through things like conversion and distribution, energy efficiency, and more.

The $10,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation Second Place Prize went to team Just Right Bite from UW in the 2022 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeThe $10,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation Second Place Prize went to team Just Right Bite from UW. Led by Master of Science in Entrepreneurship students, the team is developing a suite of pet food products that use insects as a sustainable protein base. Just Right Bite and the other finalist teams pitched and showcased their innovations at tradeshow-style booths to nearly 100 judges—representing the cleantech, environmental, investor, and entrepreneurial communities across the Pacific Northwest.

Judges awarded the $5,000 Starbucks Third Place Prize to team Arctic Biotech Oath from the University of Alaska-Anchorage in the 2022 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeJudges awarded the $5,000 Starbucks Third Place Prize to team Arctic Biotech Oath from the University of Alaska-Anchorage. The team of chemistry, nursing, and microbiology students is developing a “bio-mining” process that aims to sustainably extract rare earth elements using microorganisms.

This year’s competition also featured several additional prizes. The $5,000 UW EarthLab Community Impact Prize went to team GardenPro from UW. The team of social sciences, electric and computer engineering, and business students is developing a platform focused on making home gardening and hydroponics more affordable and accessible.

The $5,000 UW EarthLab Community Impact Prize went to team GardenPro from UW in the 2022 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeThe Community Impact Prize recognizes environmental innovations that make communities more resilient in the face of climate change while prioritizing equity and justice.

Team Ultropia from UW won the $2,500 Best Idea for Climate Impact 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.

Team Ultropia from UW won the $2,500 Best Idea for Climate Impact Prize sponsored by E8 board member Eric Carlson, in the 2022 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeJudges awarded team Ultropia the prize for its compact, all-in-one machine that aims to make it easier for people to do their laundry in low-resource settings.

The team of Master of Science in Entrepreneurship, and electrical and computer engineering students also won a $1,000 Connie Bourassa-Shaw Spark Award. The prize recognizes the work of one or two teams that just miss out on one of the top three prizes.

Judges also awarded a $1,000 Connie Bourassa-Shaw Spark Award to team PlantSeal from UW. The team of bioresource science and engineering, and Foster MBA students is developing a cost-effective, plant-based and compostable food packaging product. The goal is to reduce the packing industry’s dependance on current products that use PFA toxic chemicals.

Judges awarded $1,000 Connie Bourassa-Shaw Spark Awards to team PlantSeal and team Ultropia from UW at the 2022 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeEnvironmental Innovation Challenge finalist teams represented regional colleges and universities from across the Pacific Northwest, including UW Seattle, the UW Global Innovation Exchange, Washington State University, the University of Oregon, the University of Idaho, and the University of Alaska-Anchorage. All teams who participated in the EIC (including those in the Screening Round) received detailed feedback from judges on how to move their innovations forward.

Competition season continues with the Dempsey Startup Competition, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Following the application deadline on Monday, April 4 at 11:59 pm PT and Screening Round, the Dempsey Startup Investment Round will be held on Thursday, May 5. The multi-stage event culminates with the Sweet 16 Round and Final Rounds on Thursday, May 26. An awards presentation and dinner will follow that evening. For more details, please visit startup.uw.edu.