History and Impact

In January 2015, the Biomimicry Institute launched the inaugural Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, our first challenge open to professionals and students alike. The Global Challenge builds on five years of successful student design challenges run by the Institute. Here is our story.

Affiliate Student Challenges

Our first two student design challenges were open to students at the Institute’s Affiliate universities and were sponsored by a single company, which worked closely with the students over the course of a semester each time. Both challenges resulted in new products and intellectual property for our corporate partner and provided an experiential learning opportunity for students.

Pacific Outdoor Equipment (now Hyalite Equipment), a well-known outdoor gear manufacturer in Bozeman, MT, sponsored our first Affiliate Student Challenge. Participants used biomimicry tools and principles in the design of a specialized backpacking tent. The result is shown here, in the company’s 2009 catalog.


Global Student Challenges

In 2011, we debuted our global Biomimicry Student Design Challenge (BSDC) to provide more university students the opportunity to learn biomimicry, regardless of whether their school offered a biomimicry course or content. Since then, we have used our student design challenge platform to tackle one massive sustainability problem at a time, while providing the opportunity for thousands of emerging problem solvers to learn a new approach to sustainable innovation.

Our first BSDC focused on energy efficiency. The theme for 2012 was water access and management, and transportation was the focus for the 2013 challenge. The practice of biomimicry requires interdisciplinary teamwork, so global challenge topics were purposefully broad to attract a wide range of participants.

This food storage kit, designed by a winning team from our 2012-13 Student Design Challenge, helps farmers preserve their harvest by using cooling and humidity control strategies based on lessons from honeybees and plants. The Belgian team has since won numerous social venture prizes for the design and is currently conducting field testing in West Africa.

During the 2012 water challenge, we piloted a business accelerator round for 10 finalist teams, providing them access to business mentors and supporting them in creating their first business plans. The successful pilot has informed our new accelerator model for the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge.

Sketches for SolDrip, a solar water purifier, designed by students at Minneapolis College of Art and Design during the 2012 Student Design Challenge.

By integrating several bio-inspired strategies and practicing the methods of biomimicry... I went from having an inspiration-level understanding to gaining a deep understanding of biomimicry thinking as a problem-solving framework. This led to continued ‘ah-has’ in how I might create a sustainable product innovation and a social enterprise that enriches the ecosystem with good business.

Stefanie Koehler, SolDrip team member and 2012 BSDC Accelerator Finalist