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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Brands Leveraging Tomorrow’s Greatest Minds to Solve Today’s Problems

From early-stage startups to college students to grade-school prodigies, 3M, the Biomimicry Institute and Unilever continue to mine the latest, greatest minds for the next sustainability innovations.

3M, Discovery Education announce finalists in 2019 3M Young Scientist Challenge

Image credit: 3M

3M and Discovery Education have announced 10 finalists from across the US as part of its annual 3M Young Scientist Challenge. The nation’s premier middle school science competition recognizes scientific thinking, communication and curiosity in students grades 5-8 who demonstrate a passion for solving everyday problems that could ultimately improve lives around the world.

After submitting a short video communicating the science behind a possible innovation to solve an everyday problem, these young scientists rose to the top of the competition and were selected over hundreds of others for their science acumen, innovative thinking and exceptional communication skills.

“The 3M Young Scientist Challenge supports young innovators who have demonstrated a passion for science, the perseverance to see their creative discoveries unfold, and a desire to improve the world around us,” said Denise Rutherford, SVP of corporate affairs at 3M. “We are excited to recognize this new generation of scientists as part of 3M’s ongoing commitment to STEM-equity and science advocacy for all students. We are really energized to play a part in shaping the next generation of change makers who will lead and mold our future.”

The top 10 finalists — five boys and five girls, ranging in ages from 9-14 — are from public and private schools across the nation. Each finalist will have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a 3M scientist during a mentorship program, where they will be challenged to bring their innovative concept to life. Students will meet virtually with their mentors, who will provide guidance to help them move their innovation from concept to prototype — allowing for a complete experience in the scientific process.

All 10 finalists will receive $1,000 and a trip to 3M’s Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn., where they will participate in the final competition on October 28-29. They will be evaluated on a series of challenges, including a presentation of their completed innovation. Each challenge will be scored independently by a panel of judges. The grand prize winner will receive $25,000, a unique destination trip and the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist.”

Of the 10 finalists, four conceived impressive projects that could help solve sustainability challenges around the world:

  • 13-year old Caroline Crouchley developed a sustainable method of public transportation that eliminates the need for a diesel engine or electric motor in trains. 

  • 12-year-old Camellia Sharma developed a water leakage detection system to identify underground water leakage and reduce the estimated 48.6 billion cubic meters of water lost annually through current distribution systems worldwide.

  • 14-year-old Nishant Lahiri developed iCART — an innovative carbon-reduction technology that provides a new approach to carbon capture to help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from the home.

  • 12-year-old Jordan Prawira developed a wind turbine inspired by hurricane formation concepts, which utilize the logarithmic spiral and Coriolis effect.

Learn more about all 10 finalists, as well as the top 20 State Merit winners, here.

3M has sponsored the 3M Young Scientist Challenge for more than a decade, and the program has produced 11 brilliant winners and more than 100 finalists, some of whom have gone on to give TED Talks, file patents, found nonprofits, make the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and exhibit at the White House Science Fair. These young innovators have been featured in Good Morning America, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The New York Times Magazine, Forbes, Business Insider and more.

“3M’s leadership in applying science and innovation to make a real impact in the lives of communities across the globe is inspiring, and Discovery Education is proud to partner with the 3M Young Scientist Challenge to ignite a spark of STEM curiosity and wonder in kids,” said Lori McFarling, SVP and chief marketing officer at Discovery Education. “Together, we hope to demonstrate for students that STEM can change the world.”

Biomimicry Design Challenge finalists turn to nature for radical solutions to climate change problems

Image credit: Tomato's Home

City-scale water management systems inspired by bryophytes, human small intestines, and a giraffe’s rete mirabilia (a complex network of blood vessels that can absorb surge flows); along with a post-harvest packing system for tomatoes that takes inspiration from cacti and quiver trees; and an ocean-plastics collection system inspired by basking sharks and manta rays are among the winning innovations in this year’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge — a global design competition that seeks solutions to climate-related challenges.

Almost 100 teams from 17 countries entered this year’s Challenge, submitting nature-inspired inventions to reverse, mitigate or adapt to climate change. The ten finalist teams receive an invitation to the 2019-20 Biomimicry Launchpad — a program that supports prototyping and eventually a path to commercialization and the potential to win the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

Cash prizes were also awarded to the top three student teams, all of whom were among the finalists.

  • First prize and $3,000 went to Bryosoil, a team from Bogotá, Colombia, which took inspiration from the Páramo — an alpine tundra ecosystem located in the Northern Andes of South America, aka the “water factory” — to design a city-scale water management system.

  • The $1,500 second prize went to Rice Age, a team from California State University Long Beach, for their design addressing plastic usage, water loss and methane emissions in Japanese rice production. By emulating the hexagonal shape of honeycomb and the circulatory system of termite mounds in a closed-loop system, Rice Age is able to maximize land use, oxygenate the soil, and preserve water in rice production.

  • Tomato’s Home, a team from Pratt University in New York City, will receive the $750 third-place prize for their design of a tomato packaging system that reduces post-harvest losses (which are about 50 percent) in Nigeria and beyond. The team took inspiration from six biological strategies, including the shelf-shading structure of some cacti and the respiratory system of crickets.

Honorable mentions were also given to five teams, several of which tackled specific design prompts about addressing plastic in oceans and rivers.

Read more about the finalists and honorable mentions, and their innovations here.

“Using nature’s blueprints as a starting point can lead to unique insights and the potential for radically innovative designs.” said Megan Schuknecht, Director of Design Challenges at the Biomimicry Institute. “New thinking and new approaches are exactly what we need to tackle climate change and design solutions that are sustainable for all life. Being open to nature’s lessons can help us get there.”

Each year, the Global Design Challenge invites innovators to learn how to use biomimicry — the process of looking to nature for design inspiration — to develop solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is a proven method for creating breakthrough sustainable solutions, and nature offers us time-tested strategies that can be applied to climate change design issues in areas like energy, water, transportation, buildings and infrastructure, food systems, health and more. The Challenge provides an opportunity to learn biomimicry by applying it in action to pressing environmental issues, and the chance to bring solutions closer to market in the Biomimicry Launchpad.

The Ray C. Anderson Foundation has been the primary supporter of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge since 2014. Interface founder Ray C. 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 next round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge will open in January 2020, providing a new opportunity for teams to learn about biomimicry, develop solutions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and compete for a spot in the Launchpad.

Unilever Foundry crowns joint winners for innovations in retail

Image credit: Kora

Meanwhile, on Monday, Unilever FoundryUnilever’s global corporate innovation pillar focused on partnering and accelerating innovations across Unilever’s 400+ brands and functions — announced Asian startups Kora and Rytle as the joint winners of Unilever Foundry Startups Battle 2019.

Held at Innovfest Unbound — Southeast Asia’s largest innovation festival — from June 27-28, this year’s battle rounded up some of Asia’s most promising startups that are pushing the envelope of retail innovation.

“The variety of startups that competed in this year’s battle under the banner of Smart Retail demonstrated that we need to look at innovation through the lens of an ecosystem of technologies that goes beyond buying and selling,” said Unilever Foundry Asia director Barbara Guerpillon. “At Unilever Foundry, we are looking at the integration of latest technologies in the retail industry and how they are transforming the rules of consumer engagement as well as opening up new opportunities.”

Kora is an Indonesia-based startup that distributes over 500 different consumer products through a community buying platform of 2,800 individuals called Poskora. Kora empowers individuals in Indonesia by creating opportunities for all to start their own businesses.

Sharing the winner’s podium with Kora, Rytle is a Germany- and Singapore-based startup that combines state-of-the-art technology and environmental protection for maximum flexibility in city logistics.

Since the launch of Unilever Foundry Startup Battle in 2015, over 500 startups from across Southeast Asia have applied to take part in pitching their innovations. This year, the battle focused on smart retail, with startups covering various categories such as smart vending, supply chain, retail experience, product loyalty and shopper analysis.