Using Nature’s Design Principles to Feed Nine Billion

Finalists announced for the world’s first food system focused biomimicry innovation accelerator

Earlier this year, hundreds of people from around the world took on a challenge to fix our global food system by looking to nature for design solutions. Now, eight finalist teams have been invited to prototype their solutions in an accelerator program that will award $100,000 to the top contender in an effort to increase speed to market for biomimetic solutions to global problems. 

The Biomimicry Institute ’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, sponsored by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, asks participants to tackle any aspect of the food system that could be improved by looking to nature for design guidance. In the first year of this Challenge, the focus is on key food and agriculture issues like waste, packaging, agricultural pest management, food distribution, energy use, and other solutions.

Biomimicry Institute engaged 60 judges, themselves biologists, business leaders, venture capitalists, and agriculture, to select eight finalist teams. These teams have designed a range of solutions using biomimicry, such as desalination by looking to mangrove forests, soil remediation by emulating the digestive tract of earthworms, and a peer to peer networking app whose algorithm mimics the communication function found in a flock of birds . A full list of the finalists’ submissions and links to their pitch videos can be found here.

“Entrepreneurs don’t have the same R&D budgets as big companies, but those who are patient enough to understand and employ nature’s designs have a distinct advantage: they are leveraging millions of years of evolution,” said Beth Rattner, Biomimicry Institute executive director. “That’s what we’re seeing with these amazing submissions. They aren’t just good ideas; they’re proof points that radically sustainable products are possible.”

The finalist teams will travel to Austin, TX on October 4, 2015, to present their ideas at SXSW Eco, pitch to judges on the marketability of their ideas, and participate in an awards event. The teams will then spend the next eight months prototyping and testing their innovations, and will compete for the $100,000 Ray C. Anderson “Ray of Hope” Prize, to be awarded in 2016.

“Seeding and accelerating nature inspired solutions to global challenges and then mentoring them as they seek marketability is an idea that my grandfather would say is ‘so right and so smart’,” said John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. Interface Founder Ray Anderson, who funded the Foundation upon his passing in 2011, was famously inspired by radical new approaches to centuries old design and manufacturing techniques, and sought them out when rethinking his $1 billion, global carpet tile company’s products and processes.

The Ray C. Anderson Foundation has pledged $1.5 million over four years to support the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, a multiyear effort to crowdsource, support, and seed promising innovations inspired by nature. Each year beginning in 2016, the Institute and Foundation together will award the $100,000 “Ray of Hope” Prize to the most viable prototype that embodies the radical sustainability principles of biomimicry. The first two years are focused on food systems, while subsequent years will change to other sustainability issues.

A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge opens October 5, which will be another opportunity for teams to join and compete for the $100,000 “Ray of Hope” Prize. Individuals and teams can learn more about the firstround finalists and register for the next round here.