Innovative New Prizes Add to Competition Experience

The Buerk Center announces new $5k and $2,500 prizes for both the upcoming Health and Environmental Innovation Challenges focused on relevant 2021 topics.The student competition platforms may be virtual this year, but the new prizes are very much real. The Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship will offer additional $5,000 and $2,500 special awards for both the upcoming Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge and the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge at the University of Washington. The new prizes reflect an innovative approach to topics and industries that are relevant in 2021 including the pandemic, health access and disparities, and carbon footprints.

“These unprecedented times should be a call to action for student entrepreneurs,” said Buerk Center director Amy Sallin. “And we believe these awards will allow their ideas and innovations the space for even more focused growth that can make an impact for years to come. On top of that, they represent a dedication to innovating with equity top of mind.”

Here are the Best Idea Prizes for the all-virtual 2021 Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge (HIC):

  • $2,500 Best Idea for Pandemic Preparedness Prize
    Recognizes an innovation that seeks to improve the ability of the healthcare system to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as future infectious disease outbreaks.
  • $2,500 Best Idea for Addressing Health Access and Disparities Prize
    Recognizes a student innovation or intervention that seeks to close the gap in health disparities for low-income and disadvantaged groups by increasing access to point-of-care healthcare services and/or addressing systemic biases within the current healthcare system.

Those new prizes will be awarded alongside the following Best Idea Prizes returning this year:

  • $2,500 Best Idea for a Medical Device
    Recognizes the medical device concept (for a physical product) with the most promising opportunity to significantly improve the lives of patients or providers.
  • $2,500 Best Idea in Digital Health Prize
    Recognizes an innovative digital health application that has a high likelihood of being implemented in practical healthcare situations and is expected to have a meaningful impact.

Including the Grand, Second Place, and Third Place Prizes—the HIC will award more than $40,000 this year to student entrepreneurs in the virtual competition on Wednesday, March 3. Awards will be announced in a video the following day after the competition.

The all-virtual 2021 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) takes place a month later on Thursday, April 1. Here are the Big Picture Prizes that will be awarded this year:

  • $5,000 Climate Challenge Prize sponsored by Eric Carlson, Board Member of E8
    Rewards a team that has thoughtfully incorporated and quantified carbon footprint into the development and communication of their innovation.

Returning this year after making its debut in 2019:

  • $5,000 Community Impact Prize sponsored by UW EarthLab
    Recognizes innovation in developing a product, solution, or demonstrated business model that mitigates or makes communities more resilient in the face of climate change while prioritizing equity and justice.

As well as the incredible:

  • $5,000 Clean Energy Prize sponsored by the UW Clean Energy Institute
    Rewards student innovations that can reduce carbon emissions through solar energy production, electrical energy storage, conversion and distribution, and energy efficiency. This can include software and/or hardware.

Including the Grand, Second Place, and Third Place Prizes—the EIC will award more than $45,000 this year to student entrepreneurs. Awards will be announced in a video the following day after the competition.

Building on Success

In recent years, student teams that participated in the HIC and EIC have presented a broad array of ideas that go beyond mere technical prototypes. Sustainable and health-focused consumer products, food innovations, and mobile and software applications have all made splashes with judges. In some cases, they took home prizes while others built on the feedback they received and launched with the help of the Jones + Foster Accelerator.

For example, from the HIC:

  • Respiratory disease screening mobile app Spira (2020)
  • Universal eyedropper adaptor maker Nanodropper (2019)
  • Web and mobile fitness company FitTraction (2016)

And the following examples from the EIC:

“We expect that this year we will see the most diverse set of business and innovation ideas yet,” said Erin Nieuwenhuis, interim manager of the Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge. “It’s about how students want to solve health and/or environmental problems, “It’s about how students want to solve health and/or environmental problems, not just creating a highly technical device or prototype.”

The competitions are open to undergrads and grad students in good standing at accredited colleges and universities across the Cascadia Corridor – Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia, as well as Alaska. This year marks the first time the HIC will be held virtually. The EIC will be virtual for the second year in a row.

“We are tailoring the Zoom experience to match up with feedback we received from student participants during our virtual competition events last year,” said Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge manager Lauren Brohawn. “This year’s competitions won’t be like any conference call or virtual class our judges and competitors have recently logged into.”

Competition season continues with an all-virtual Dempsey Startup Competition (formerly the UW Business Plan Competition). Following the application deadline and Online Screening Round, the Dempsey Startup Investment Round will be held on Wednesday, May 5. The multi-stage event culminates with the Sweet 16 on May 26 and Final Round on Thursday, May 27. A video awards presentation will follow the next day on the Buerk Center’s YouTube page.

For more details on these competitions and other programs and classes offered by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, please visit

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