Prizes Awarded at Landmark Environmental Innovation Challenge
Any farmer would tell you there is power in a pile of dirt, particularly what’s inside of it. The grand prize winning team at the 2023 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) understands this at its core. Team FREYR won the $15,000 Alaska Airlines Grand Prize with an innovative take on agriculture equipment and software. The UW team aims to help commercial farmers reduce fertilizer runoff, improve nutrient utilization, and lower operating costs at a time when it’s a major issue for the agriculture sector.
Judges awarded nearly $45,000 in prizes in the 15th year of the competition hosted by the UW Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. The $10,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation Second Place Prize went to PurePlast. The team of UW mechanical engineering, dentistry, and business students created affordable and renewable alternatives to single-use plastic products used by dentists.
PurePlast and the other 20 teams selected for the Final Round pitched and showcased their innovations in trade show style booths. More than 100 cleantech entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors served as judges.
The $5,000 Starbucks Third Place Prize went to team Net-Master for its software that seeks to achieve greater energy efficiency in hyper-scale data centers. The team of Master of Science in Entrepreneurship students also took home one of the three additional “Big Picture” and “Best Idea” prizes—the $5,000 UW Clean Energy Institute Clean Energy Prize. That prize rewards student innovations that can reduce carbon emissions through solar energy production, electrical energy storage, conversion and distribution, and energy efficiency.
Bionova from Walla Walla University was awarded the $5,000 UW EarthLab Community Impact Prize. The team of business, psychology, and social work students are developing a biogas production process that can be used as an alternative to wood and charcoal for cooking fuel. The community impact prize recognizes innovations that make communities more resilient in the face of climate change while prioritizing equity and justice. Of note, Bionova’s student team lead is a former UW student who placed third in the 2007 UW Business Plan Competition (now Dempsey Startup Competition).
Team Octagram from UW won the $2,500 Best Idea for Climate Impact Prize sponsored by E8 board member Eric Carlson. The team of MS in Entrepreneurship students are developing an augmented AI product to accelerate the creation of greener and sustainable buildings. The Climate Impact Prize is awarded to a team that has thoughtfully incorporated and quantified carbon footprint into the development and communication of their innovation.
Judges also awarded Octagram one of the two $1,000 Connie Bourassa-Shaw Spark Awards given out at the competition to teams who just missed out on the top-3 prizes. The second $1,000 Spark Award was given to team Green Grab from UW. The team of Technology Management MBA (TMMBA) and Bioresource and Engineering students are developing a plant-based, biodegradable replacement for plastic and PFAS-containing molded fiber products.
All teams who participated in the 2023 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (including those in the Screening Round) received detailed feedback from judges on how to move their innovations forward.
Environmental Innovation Challenge Celebrates 15th Anniversary
The 2023 Final Round teams were among the most cross-disciplinary of any EIC in recent memory. Students represented more than 27 different majors and departments. The grand prize winning team FREYR lead the way with students representing the following areas of study: Industrial Systems and Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, MS in Entrepreneurship, Computer Science, and Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering.
Including this year’s prizes, judges, and participants, the Environmental Innovation Challenge has now reached several significant milestones in its 15th year. More than $510,000 in prize money has now been awarded to the 380 teams who have taken part in the competition since 2009. In that same time period, more than 1,687 students and 2,300 judges have also participated.
Competition season continues with the Dempsey Startup Competition, which is celebrating its 26th year. Following the application deadline on Monday, April 3 at 11:59 pm PT and Screening Round, the Dempsey Startup Investment Round will be held on Thursday, May 4. The multi-stage event culminates with the Sweet 16 Round and Final Rounds on Thursday, May 25. An awards presentation and dinner will follow that evening. For more details, please visit startup.uw.edu.