Using Nature’s Design Principles to Create a Radically Sustainable Food System

Winners announced for food system focused biomimicry innovation challenge.

Hundreds of students and professionals answered the call to help fix our broken food system by looking to nature to create design solutions. Now, after receiving 86 submissions from 18 countries, the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge judges have chosen ten winning teams to receive cash prizes and, for some, the chance to bring their biomimetic solution to market and compete for the $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize.

A team of high school girls from Ontario, Canada, has captured first prize in the student category by looking to organisms that can survive in water-scarce regions for inspiration for their design, a water-capture device. In the open category, seven winning teams have been chosen to receive a cash prize and an invitation to enter the 2016-17 Biomimicry Accelerator, which culminates in the $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize. Their innovations include a photosynthetic membrane to extract more nutrients from compost by mimicking bacteria, an app that emulates how ants communicate to help reduce food waste, and a device that makes it possible for city dwellers to capture, store, and distribute rainwater for hyperlocal food production. A full list of the winners can be found here.

“This year’s group of finalists for the Ray of Hope Prize are incredibly diverse,” says John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. “Each team’s design focuses on a different challenge in our broader food system, emphasizing two realities. First, opportunities for innovation are abundant throughout that system. Second, biomimicry is the right design tool to bring these innovations to life.”

The Biomimicry Institute’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge asks participants to tackle any aspect of the food system that could be improved by looking to nature for design guidance. The focus of the first two years of the challenge has been on key food and agriculture issues like waste, packaging, agricultural pest management, food distribution, energy use, and other solutions. The Biomimicry Institute engaged 50 judges, themselves biologists, business leaders, venture capitalists, biomimics, and agricultural specialists, to select the winning teams in the 2016 Challenge.

The upcoming accelerator program will be the second one the Biomimicry Institute has run as part of the annual competition. Currently, the first accelerator teams are finalizing their prototypes and business plans in preparation for the Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize award event, to be held at the Bioneers conference in San Rafael, CA on October 22, 2016. "This is our first cohort of finalists to produce working prototypes, which makes them trailblazers” says Beth Rattner, executive director of the Biomimicry Institute. “Doing biomimicry is hard, submitting practical and inspired design concepts is far harder, and making them actually work and solve the problem is extraordinary. We are immensely proud of these teams and I believe we will being seeing at least a few of them make it all the way to market."

The Ray of Hope Prize honors the legacy of Interface Founder Ray Anderson, who funded the Foundation upon his passing in 2011. Anderson 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.

A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge will open in October and will focus on climate change. This 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 previous finalists and winners and register for the next round of the challenge at challenge.biomimicry.org.

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