Global Design Challenge 2019

Phase 2

September 2018
  Registration open
May 8, 2019
  Submissions due 
May - June 2019
  Judging period 
June 2019
  Winners announced
September 2019
  Launchpad begins
Think you have what it takes to create a winning biomimetic design? Well then you’ve found yourself in the right place. By entering the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge you will be able to hone your biomimicry skills while developing solutions to real-life problems facing our world today. To do so, you will need to familiarize yourself with the design brief, rules, and submission requirements in addition to the other details of the Challenge. We’ll also offer you support along the way, in the form of tools, free trainings, and reminders along the way.

Design Brief and Scoped Challenges

"You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet."  - CARL SAGAN

Earth has always been a changing planet, but the climate and ecological changes humans have set in motion in the last century are like nothing our species has experienced before. Hungry for energy, food, and other resources, our growing populations are pushing Earth’s systems toward a frightening and well-documented tipping point. The science is clear, and so is our imperative. To reverse course, we need a new generation of innovators, who know how to create human materials, products, and systems that are regenerative, circular, and generous to all species. Are you ready to learn how to design generously through the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge?

Our challenge is this: Create a nature-inspired innovation (a product, service, or system) that combats climate change by either:

  • Helping communities adapt to or mitigate climate change impacts (i.e. those forecasted or already in motion), and/or
  • Reversing or slowing climate change itself (e.g. by removing excess greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere).

Why nature-inspired?

Nature is the best model we have for a sustainable, regenerative way of life. In order for humans to persist and thrive on a healthy planet, our systems must work in concert with nature’s systems. Biomimicry provides a pathway to the solutions we need to accomplish this. Consider how plants effortlessly turn CO2 into energy and materials every hour that the sun shines. What if we learned to do the same? What if CO2 were not the poison of our era, but instead the feedstock of a global carbon-sequestering economy? Nature offers incredible inspiration and time-tested strategies that can be emulated and applied to climate change issues in realms as diverse as energy, water, transportation, buildings and infrastructure, food systems, health, behavior change, and more.

What are we looking for?

The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge calls for design concepts addressing any aspect of climate change adaptation, mitigation, and reversal in any sector of the economy. We know that climate change is a complex problem; a hairy knot made up of hundreds, or even thousands, of other problems all woven together. But this diversity means there are also just as many solutions out there waiting to be discovered. Successful teams will define a concrete, well researched area of focus for their design efforts and apply the core concepts and methods of biomimicry in developing a solution. We are especially interested in projects that go beyond familiar approaches to the climate problem by identifying unique leverage points for change, removing barriers to the adoption and spread of existing solutions, and/or clearly demonstrating how biomimicry can lead to new, novel, or more effective solutions.

What are we NOT looking for?
  • Biomimicry after the fact: If you already have a design solution, please do not retroactively argue that it is biomimetic or “like nature” just to apply to this challenge. Often it is quite obvious to our judges when this is the case. If you are working with an existing design, we’d rather see how you applied biomimicry to improve it. How can learning from nature lead you to a stronger, more sustainable outcome?
  • Common characters: As news stories and information about biomimicry has spread, many case studies and biological strategies have become common (e.g. the water capturing abilities of the Namib Desert beetle). While this is great for public awareness, creativity and innovation are limited when designers don’t look beyond the common cast of characters. For this reason, designs that rely on biological strategies, design concepts, or biomimetic technologies that have already been well documented should offer significant comparative advantages or greater depth of emulation.

Scoped challenges

Climate change is a vast topic and narrowing the scope of the challenge to a manageable scale can seem overwhelming. To help guide the process of selecting a meaningful focus area, we have created two pre-scoped challenges for participants to use as a starting place.

Plastic pollution in oceans

Our society is deeply dependent on plastic, which is having unprecedented effects on our oceans. Recent studies indicate that at least 51 trillion pieces of microplastic now float in the world’s oceans (UN Clean Seas Campaign). With 300 million tons of plastic being produced annually, some researchers estimate that by 2050, the oceans will have more plastic than fish. If plastic begins to outnumber fish, another natural carbon sequestration cycle will be permanently disrupted. Certain marine species like lanternfish and copepods migrate to the ocean surface to consume carbon-rich plankton and return to the depths of the ocean where the carbon is distributed in fecal or dead matter. This migratory ritual is central to reducing human-caused CO2 emissions in the atmosphere by an estimated 20-35%. Additionally, research at the University of Hawaii has demonstrated that many plastics give off greenhouse gases as they break down, contributing to climate change (Link). Of particular concern is low-density polyethylene (LDPE), which releases greenhouse gases at the highest rate. LDPE is the most prevalent discarded plastic in the ocean today. Roughly 90% of plastics in the ocean originate in ten of the world’s rivers—each with hundreds of millions of people living along its banks (Link).

Our challenges are these (choose one to work on):

  • How might we decrease the amount of plastic entering the oceans by intervening at the source in highly polluted rivers?
  • How might we begin removing the 250,000 tons of plastics already circulating in the oceans?

Reducing food waste

More than 800 million people worldwide live in hunger, while over one-third of all food raised is wasted. In lower-income countries, food loss is typically unintended and largely based on a lack of infrastructure needed to keep food fresh, while in higher-income countries food is often wasted or thrown away. Food waste contributes to 4.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere each year. That’s roughly 8% of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions (Project Drawdown). The problem is so large that Project Drawdown ranks food waste as the third largest area where humans can intervene to reverse climate change (after refrigerant management and (onshore) wind turbines). The United Nations’ has included halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030 in its Sustainable Development Goals.

Our challenge is this:

  • How might we reduce food waste in lower-income countries by improving infrastructure for storage, processing, and transportation?

Getting Started

Anyone has the ability to participate in this challenge, whether you’ve been trained in biomimicry or not. All it takes is a willingness to make a difference when it comes to climate change and some patience. Here are six steps to take to submit successfully to the Challenge:


Sign up on the Challenge website, or log in if you already have an account. All team members will need to create an account to sign up for the platform. By signing up for the 2019 Challenge you will be the first to receive helpful tips and new content developed to assist you through all parts of your submission. You will also gain access to our mentor pool, where you can work first-hand with subject matter experts around the world.


Once you’ve formed a team, read through the Challenge brief and the Rules & FAQs, including the submission requirements.


Use our resources, including the Biomimicry Toolbox, to determine a specific climate change-related challenge to work on and to work through the various steps in the Biomimicry Design Spiral.


Work with your team to put together your submission according to the submission requirements. As a participant in the Challenge, you are able to access our network of experts and mentors who volunteer their time to help teams with their Challenge projects. You can find a gallery of mentors in the Resources section.


When you're ready to submit, have ONE team member (the “team leader”) log in and pay the Challenge entry fee. The team leader must complete the submission form and upload all of the required documents.


Once judging concludes, the team leader will be able to review comments by the judges by logging in and going to his or her “My Activities” page.


Contact us at - we're here to help!

That’s it! We’ll be here to help along the way and answer any questions you have. Happy designing!

Rules and FAQs

The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is a team competition. You must be part of a team of 2-8 individuals in order to enter. Each member of the team must register for the Challenge individually, but only one team member needs to submit an entry. Eligibility: University students and independent professionals are eligible to enter. Judging and prizes are category-specific. Note: We also have a Youth Design Challenge for middle and high school students. To learn more about the Youth Challenge, please click here

Submission fees:
  • Early bird rate (pay by 31 March 2019): Student-only teams $40; professionals or mixed teams of students and professionals  $100
  • Standard rate: Student-only teams $50; professionals or mixed teams of students and professionals $120

Submission deadline: 8 May 2019 at 11:59:59 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (GMT-7)


Registering on this website is the first step in joining the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge in any role (participant, team leader, mentor, etc). You must be registered in order to form a team, submit a mentor application, or access community tools, such as the team directory and mentor directory. When you register, you will create a challenge platform profile that other users and mentors can view. Begin the registration process here. All team members should register for the Challenge individually.

Team Formation

The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is a team competition. In order to submit an entry, you must be part of a team with two-eight members. Each member of the team should register for the platform and create an account, in order to access tools, receive updates, and learn about free training opportunities. However, one team member (“team leader”) will create and complete a team’s submission.

Please note: Unlike in past years, teams will not be required to create a team profile and link individual member profiles to the team. Rather, the team leader will be required to list all team member names and email addresses on the submission form.

Is there a fee to register?

No, there is no fee to register on the challenge website. However, if you decide to submit an entry to the challenge and compete for any of the awards, you must pay a submission fee. (See Submission Requirements)

Do I have to register to begin working on the challenge?

You do not have to register to begin working on the challenge. However, by registering for the challenge, you will have the opportunity to connect with others in our design challenge community, including mentors, and receive updates. Ultimately, you will have to register for the challenge in order to submit a design and compete for awards.

What is the required team size?

Teams that choose to submit a design must include two to eight team members.

Can I register for the challenge as an individual?

Yes, you can register for the challenge and access our resources as an individual. However, in order to submit you will have to either join an existing team or recruit additional team members to work with you.

Can I submit to the challenge as an individual?

No, you may not submit to the challenge as an individual. 

Can I participate on more than one team?

No, you can only participate on one team for the challenge.


The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is open to teams of independent professionals and college and university students anywhere in the world. Entries from individuals will not be considered. All entries must involve a technology, product, service, or process that addresses a challenge related to the current theme. The entry must show a clear connection between a biological mechanism, process, pattern, or system, and the technological solution submitted; i.e., the solution must emulate a natural model(s). Entries must describe an entirely new solution and represent a given team's unique work and intellectual property.

Any team with a parent organization or entity that has generated more than $1 million in revenue during the past calendar year is not eligible to participate. Individuals who are associated with or employed by such entities are eligible to participate, provided the parent entity or its subsidiaries will not have ownership over any intellectual property being developed by the team.

For middle- and high-school students, we also offer a Youth Design Challenge. Learn more about the Youth Design Challenge here.


We are looking for entrepreneurial teams that have an interest in taking their ideas beyond the concept phase, with our support, as well as for teams of university students who want to participate in the Challenge as a learning opportunity. 

Up to 10 finalist teams will be invited to participate in the Biomimicry Launchpad program, which begins in summer 2019 with online training courses and an all-expenses paid Biomimicry & Business Bootcamp. Launchpad participants will receive business training and/or incubation support, mentorship support, access to software tools, pro bono legal support, and coaching and technical consultations valued in excess of $12,000. 

Student teams are eligible for the Launchpad program, as well as the following cash prizes:

  • First prize - $3,000
  • Second prize - $1,500
  • Third prize - $750

Student Details

College and university students under the age of 35, including associate degree students, undergraduates, MBAs, MD candidates, JD candidates, other masters degree candidates, and PhD candidates, are eligible to pay at the student-rate. Students must be enrolled at the time of submission or have graduated within 6 months of the submission deadline. Any team consisting of a combination of students and professionals must pay the professional rate. However, faculty and mentors can work with student teams in advisory roles without jeopardizing a student team's submission fee.

Will my team's intellectual property be protected?

Entrants retain ownership of all ideas and materials/images submitted to the challenge and only the BGDC program staff and the judging panelists will have access to complete entry materials. However, the Biomimicry Institute retains the right to reproduce and distribute materials submitted for public view (e.g. images, overview text, and video). With your permission, we may also share all or portions of your presentation PDF for educational purposes. Entering teams must recognize that any information submitted as part of the Challenge is at risk of inadvertent public disclosure. The organizers, judges, and other affiliates of the Challenge will NOT enter into nondisclosure agreements with entering teams. If you have a question that is not addressed above, please contact us at

Submission Requirements

Submission Method

Submissions are accepted electronically via the Challenge platform only. We do not accept submissions by post mail or any other method.

Submission Form

All entries must be submitted via the online entry form. In order to gain access to the submission form, a team must be created. Once a team is created on the Challenge platform, and if the submission period is open, the team leader can access the submission form via his/her team profile, from the Challenge page, or under his/her “My Activities" menu. (My Activities is accessed by clicking on the user icon at the top of the site after logging in). Note: Only the team leader can begin the submission process.

Fees and Payment Method

Entry fees are due at the beginning of the submission process. The team leader will be prompted to pay the fee when s/he begins a submission draft. Payment is accepted by credit card (Visa or MasterCard) or via PayPal. An early bird discount is offered to teams that initiate the submission process and pay the fee in advance. Regardless of when you pay, your team will have until the submission deadline to finalize your entry and formally submit it.

  • Early bird rate (pay by 31 March 2019): Student-only teams $40; professionals or mixed teams of students and professionals  $100
  • Standard rate: Student-only teams $50; professionals or mixed teams of students and professionals $120. Submission deadline is May 8, 2019.
Submission Requirements

Submissions will be required to contain all of the following:

All materials submitted must be in English. Visit the Rules and FAQs page for details about the submission process and eligibility requirements.

In order to enter the Challenge, your team must provide the following:

  1. Team Information: Names and email addresses for all team members, location, and school and advisor/mentor name, if relevant, one-paragraph team bio.

  2. Project title (70 character limit)

  3. Design concept overview (300 words maximum): A brief overview of your design concept. This text will be used to describe your project in our public online submissions gallery.

  4. Design concept image (JPG format): A photograph, rendering, or illustration representing your design concept . This will be the primary image used to identify your project on our website or in related media.

  5. Team photo (JPG format): The team photo will be used in our gallery of submissions and/or in related media. The photo should depict all team members.

  6. Video pitch (3 minutes maximum): The video should provide an overview of your design, highlight your design process, convey key discoveries or insights, and ultimately convince the judges that your idea has merit. The video must be uploaded to and publicly available for view. For advice on creating your video, download this guide:  "Tips for Your Video Pitch"

  7. Project presentation document (PDF format, 15 pages or less, no larger than A4 size): A presentation in the form of PowerPoint or Keynote slides (or similar text and image layout). This document will not be made public. See below for details on the content that this presentation must include.

    • An overview of your scoping process
    • A description or depiction of your biological inspiration process
    • A discussion or depiction of how nature's unifying patterns were considered and applied to the design, including evidence of how this solution represents significant environmental or social wins.
    • The business case for your proposed solution. A discussion of value proposition and target customer segments is required; a Business Model Canvas is optional.
    • A discussion of the current limitations of your design and a description of next steps, obstacles to be overcome for the design to be implemented, and unknown factors to be considered (e.g. materials needed, engineering tests required, etc.)
    • An indication of your team dynamics and the team's ability to succeed.
    • A list of all references and sources, including experts consulted.

Presentation document to be one file in a PDF format, 15 pages or less, no larger than A4 size.

Incomplete submissions will not be considered. We strongly recommend that you review the judging criteria carefully before submitting your entry.

Will late entries be considered?

The submission platform will not accept late entries. We recommend submitting your materials at least a day in advance of the deadline in order to avoid last minute issues with bandwidth or other technical glitches.

Can a team submit more than one entry?

No, teams may submit only one entry per team.

Judging Criteria

All entries will be evaluated according to the following seven criteria. 

Biomimicry Process25%
Context and Relevance15%
Social and Environmental Benefits15%
Communication and Presentation10%

Detailed Criteria

Biomimicry Process
  • How well do you demonstrate and document an understanding of function and biological strategies?
  • Did you effectively identify relevant biological strategies applicable to your design challenge?
  • Did you identify multiple biological strategies before identifying the most relevant strategies for emulation? How did you determine and prioritize the strategies most relevant to your design?
  • Did you identify any deep/overarching patterns among the strategies you identified?
  • How well do you show a clear connection between a biological mechanism, process, pattern, or system, and how the design concept submitted emulate that natural model or models?
Context and Relevance
  • How well do you define your specific challenge/problem?
  • How well do you understand the context, design criteria, and constraints of the challenge you decided to work on?
  • What are the benefits/impacts that your design concept has on your specific challenge/problem?
  • Does your design concept represent a promising technology and/or solution? (i.e. show evidence of preliminary market understanding or research)
  • Have you talked to appropriate stakeholders (customers, end users, strategic partners, etc.) or in any way assessed or documented the likely feasibility and impact of your design concept?
Social and Environmental Benefits
  • Will adoption of your design lead to significant social, cultural, and/or environmental wins? E.g., does your design concept improve accessibility for a percentage of the population; help low income populations meet basic needs; address product lifecycle effects on the environment; address issues of toxicity, reduced material usage, and waste reduction; etc.
  • How well do you understand and address the underlying sustainability problems you aim to solve?
  • Have you articulated and defined any sustainability problems?
  • Have you provided more than shallow evidence of how your design concept will address sustainability concerns?
  • How have you applied nature's unifying patterns in your design?
  • How novel is the innovation and/or biological inspiration?
  • If something like your design concept has already been proposed, does your solution offer significant comparative advantages or greater depth to the emulation?
Communication and Presentation
  • Do your submission materials (e.g. presentation document, video, etc.) provide a clear overall description of the biomimicry process you followed?
  • Do your submission materials describe/communicate well your proposed design concept?
  • Is the value proposition clear?
  • Do you support your design arguments with relevant, properly attributed data/information to enhance your credibility?
  • Are your visual materials (e.g. design concept sketch rendering and video) informative, and clear in how they describe your design concept?
  • Have you sought out experts and mentors as needed?
  • Is your team interdisciplinary and does it have the right skills to address the specific challenge selected?
  • Is your team clearly motivated to continue working on this solution beyond the design concept stage?
  • Do you have the key people (team members, advisors) and core capabilities (interdisciplinary backgrounds/expertise) you need to move on to the next phase of the competition? If not, are you seeking outside assistance to fill those gaps?


You can find more information about the 2018-2019 Judges here.

The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is an annual competition that asks teams of students and professionals to address critical global issues with nature-inspired solutions. The challenge is hosted by the Biomimicry Institute, in partnership with the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

Focus Areas

#Nature-inspired #Design #Global #Sustainability #Entrepreneurship#Biomimicry