Earthworm-inspired soil solution captures first place in nature-inspired global challenge

Student and open challenge winners announced for the world’s first food system-focused biomimicry innovation challenge

A design created to help farmers keep nutrients in the soil won first prize in the first food system-focused Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. This innovation, created by a team of students from the University of Oregon, was based in part on the earthworm’s digestive system and decreases the amount of fertilizer needed while improving soil health over time.

The Biomimicry Institutes 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. Winners were announced at an awards ceremony held October 4, 2015 at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX.

Second prize in the open challenge (open to both students and professionals) was awarded to a team from Thailand who developed a bio-inspired chamber for capturing edible insects. A team from Chile won third prize for their innovation that protects growing seedlings in degraded soils and paves the way for new plant species to grow.

In the open challenge, eight finalists teams were invited to travel to Austin, TX, to present their ideas at SXSW Eco, pitch their innovation to a panel of judges, and participate in an awards event. The judges, including biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus, chose three teams to receive initial cash prizes.

In the student-only competition, three additional teams were awarded cash prizes. First prize in the student competition went to WindChill, a team from the University of Calgary in Canada. Polli Snak, a team from the University of California, Long Beach, captured second prize, and CLEAR System, from Wageningen University in the Netherlands won third prize.

“I am incredibly proud of these finalist teams, and I congratulate the winners of this design phase,” said Ray C. Anderson Foundation Executive Director John Lanier. “They have brought much more than just biomimetic thinking to the table; it is their passion and enthusiasm that stands out. I am anxious and excited to see the next steps these teams will take.”

In the open challenge, these cash prizes are just the first step. All 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. A full list of the finalists’ submissions can be found here. To watch the finalists’ pitch videos, click here.

“We are thrilled to be supporting these eight teams from around the world as they continue to develop and prototype their concepts,” said Megan Schuknecht, director of design challenges at the Biomimicry Institute. “Over the next year, we will be providing them with access to business training, resources and mentors, with the ultimate goal of helping to bring these biomimetic innovations to market.”

A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge opens today, which is another opportunity for teams to join and compete for the $100,000 “Ray of Hope” Prize. Individuals and teams can learn more about the first-round finalists and register for the next round at

The Ray C. Anderson Foundation has pledged $1.5 million over four years to support the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, a multi-year 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.  

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.