The 2015 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge (BGDC) attracted hundreds of ideas inspired by nature from nearly 2000 designers, architects, biologists, engineers, students, nature-lovers, and food enthusiasts from over 70 countries to rethink our food system. This week, the first-round finalist teams were announced and invited to attend a biomimicry celebration and awards event in Austin, Texas on October 4.
The design challenge, hosted by the Biomimicry Institute and the Ray C. Anderson Foundation asked participants to tackle any aspect of the food system that could be improved by looking to nature for design guidance. Entrants could focus on any food and agriculture-related issue, such as waste, packaging, agricultural pest management, food distribution, or others. Biomimicry Institute engaged 60 judges, themselves biologists, business leaders, venture capitalists, and agriculture, to select eight finalist teams from the first round of submissions. The second round for the food system theme — the 2016 BGDC — will open on October 5 (You can register on the competition website to submit your own innovative idea).
“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’s 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 eight finalists will pitch at SXSW Eco in Austin this weekend in competition for three prizes. As top 8 finalists, these teams have already won spots in the first-ever food system-focused biomimicry accelerator, where they will have incubation support and mentorship to help prototype their designs over nine months. A $100,000 Ray C. Anderson “Ray of Hope” Prize will be awarded in 2016 to the most viable prototype from the program.
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“Seeding and accelerating nature inspired solutions to global challenges and then mentoring them as they seek marketability is an idea that my grandfather [Ray C. Anderson] would say is ‘so right and so smart’,” said John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. Anderson, founder of sustainable flooring company Interface, funded the Foundation upon his passing in 2011.
The eight first-round finalists are:
- The Living Filtration System — Oregon, USA: An alternative drainage tiling system that keeps nutrients in the soil rather than leaving the field in runoff, decreasing the amount of fertilizer and increasing soil health. It is biomimetic to the earthworm’s digestive system and the human small intestine.
- BioNurse — Valparaiso, Chile: A biodegradable device that helps restore degraded soils and improves conditions for seedlings by exposing them to a mix of nutrients, microbiology, and hygroscopic components. The team was inspired by the way that hardy “nurse” plants establish themselves in degraded soils and pave the way for new plant species to grow.
- Jube — Thailand: A chamber for capturing edible insects based on the Genlisea violacea “lobster-pot trap.”
- Balcony Cultivator — Technical University in Zvolen, Slovakia: A self-sustaining system to help city dwellers and those in drought-prone areas grow their own organic food on their balconies. Inspired by the way lizard species living in arid areas collect water and moisture with their skin, the Balcony Cultivator draws moisture from a composting feature at its base, develops condensation in the “cupola” at the top of the design, and channels the water to plant roots.
- Hexagro — Milan, Italy: A “groundless” modular growing system, with a shape based on geometric patterns from nature, and made of recyclable, biodegradable materials. Hexagro is four times more efficient than traditional ground-farming techniques, with an automatic irrigation system and a modular tree-like structure.
- Mangrove Still — Italy: A desalinating solar still that costs five times less than traditional solar stills, inspired by mangrove trees and salt marshes.
- Holonic Integrated Produce Swarm (HIPS) — South Africa: A peer-to-peer networking app for food producers, with an algorithm that mimics the way large collectives in nature, such as a flock of birds or a school of fish, function. Food producers can connect at local and regional levels to establish local exchanges and facilitate optimized distribution and logistics.
- The Oasis Aquaponic Food Production System — Michigan, USA: An affordable, solar-powered aquaponics system designed for subsistence farmers in developing nations that allows them to use less space, less water, and no chemicals, improve their level of nutrition, and generate income. Aquaponics is the co-culture of fish and vegetables in a recirculating biofilter-based system.
It’s been a week of awarding entrepreneurs with potentially game-changing ideas for sustainable innovations: Earlier this week, Forbes named six social entrepreneurs finalists in its ‘Under 30 $1M Change the World competition; and Unilever Foundry announced the winners of the first three sustainability challenges posed through its idea-crowdsourcing platform: a modular water and sanitation infrastructure for urban slums, an anemia education program in Nigeria, and a water-saving shower.