Global Design Challenge 2020

Judging Phase 2

January 8, 2020
  Registration Opens
June 1, 2020
  Submissions Due 
June - July 2020
  Judging Period 
August 19, 2020
  Finalists Selected
September 2020
  Launchpad Begins
Think you have what it takes to create a winning biomimetic design? We’re looking for nature-based solutions to solve some of the grandest challenges of our time. By entering the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, you will be able to hone your biomimicry skills and use creative problem solving inspired by nature’s genius. Rally your team and register today to gain access to tools, free trainings and mentor support.

Design Brief

Earth has always been a changing planet, but the rapid climate and ecological changes humans have set in motion in the last century are like nothing any 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 aligns with one or more of the following Sustainable Development Goals, outlined by the United Nations:

End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Ensure sustainable food production systems
  • Implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production and also help maintain ecosystems, strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change and other disasters, and progressively improve land and soil quality.
  • Read more about this goal here.
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
  • Improve water quality by reducing pollution and untreated wastewater and  increasing recycling and safe reuse 
  • Increase water-use efficiency across all sectors
  • Expand international cooperation and capacity-building in water and sanitation-related activities including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling, and reuse technologies.
  • Read more about this goal here.
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Substantially increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, including clean cooking fuels for billions of people
  • Provide access to clean and efficient energy for the 13 percent of the global population that still lacks modern electricity
  • Read more about this goal here.
Build resilient infrastructure and promote inclusive sustainable industrialization
  • Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all
  • Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, significantly raise industry's share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, and double its share in least developed countries
  • Upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable and environmentally sound
  • Read more about this goal here. 
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Ensure access for all to adequate, safe, and affordable housing, transportation and basic services
  • Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world's cultural and natural heritage
  • Significantly reduce the number of people affected by disasters, including water-related disasters
  • Reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
  • Read more about this goal here.
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources
  • Prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, particularly from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
  • Minimize and address impacts of ocean acidification
  • Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans.
  • Read more about this goal here.
Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss
  • Ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services
  • Promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types: Combat desertification and deforestation and restore degraded land and soil
  • Take urgent and significant action to reduce degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity, and prevent extinction of threatened species
  • Read more about this goal here.

By combining human ingenuity with nature’s genius, the possibilities are infinite! Every single person can make a difference, even by 1°. How many #degreesofchange can you make with nature as your guide and mentor?‬

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 the SDGs 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 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.

Getting Started

Any university students and new biomimicry learners have the ability to participate in this challenge — regardless of whether you’ve been trained in biomimicry or not. All it takes is a partner or a team. Here you get to use your creativity and critical thinking, all while finding inspiration from nature.

Here are five steps for a successful Challenge submission:


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 2020 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.


Tap into our resources, including the Biomimicry Toolbox, to determine a specific challenge to work on and to familiarize yourself with 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. Final submissions are due June 1.


Contact us at - we're here to help!

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: The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is open to teams of independent professionals and college and university students anywhere in the world. Note: We also have a Youth Design Challenge for middle and high school studentsLearn more about the Youth Design Challenge here.

We will be extending our early-bird rate deadline for the submission fee by one month to April 30, 2020.

  • Early-bird rate: 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: June 1, 2020 at 11:59:59 pm Pacific Daylight Time (GMT-7)


Registering on this website is the first step in joining the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. You must be registered in order to receive support emails, access the mentor directory, and submit to the Challenge. Begin the registration process here. All team members should register for the Challenge individually, however only one team member will submit on behalf of each team.

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.

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, a program that provides early-stage biomimicry design teams the knowledge, skills, and connections needed to turn their project into a startup. The Launchpad begins in late summer/early fall 2020 and includes a 10-week digital program that provides business training and startup coaching, access to prototyping funds, pro bono IP legal assistance, mentorship support, access to software tools, and coaching and technical consultations valued in excess of $12,000. Additionally, the Biomimicry Institute covers all costs for two (2) people per team to attend an immersive, in-person Biomimicry & Business Bootcamp.

Student Details

College and university students, 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). 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.

We will be extending our early-bird rate deadline for the submission fee by one month to April 30, 2020.

  • Early-bird rate: 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

Please contact us at for financial aid opportunities if these rates are unachievable for you or your team. 

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 questions (300 word maximum for each question):

    • What is the problem you are trying to solve and how is it related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?
    • What organisms/natural systems did you learn from and how did what you learned inform your design?
    • What does your design do? How does it address the problem or opportunity you selected?
  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 or life's principles were considered and applied to the design, including evidence of how this solution represents significant environmental or social wins.
    • 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.
    • Image(s) or renderings of a prototype of your innovation. Your prototype is not required to be functional at this stage. Your prototype should be testing for both desirability (do people actually want what you are creating?) and feasibility (is it technically possible to build your solution?).*
    • A discussion on the interviews you and your team conducted with the stakeholders and potential users of your innovation. Please interview at least ten stakeholders.

*People sometimes confuse prototypes with Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). The main difference is that your MVP is a "live" product that is providing value to someone. Prototypes are more like tests that will help you validate various assumptions.

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 criteriacarefully 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.


Introduction to the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge

Welcome to the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge (BGDC). This syllabus was created to help guide you and your team and/or students through the biomimicry process. It is broken down into 8 weeks with suggested readings, videos, activities, and milestones.

Week 1: Why biomimicry? What is biomimicry? What is design?


Additional Resources



Week 2: Systems, Earth’s Operating System, Nature’s Unifying Patterns, Intro to the Design Spiral




Week 3: Design Process, Creating a Design Question, Defining the Challenge


Additional Resources


Week 4: Discover & Abstract

In order to find the BEST strategies or models, you need to have a lot of models to look at. Depending on the complexity of your biologized question, and the amount of scientific literature related to that question, you might identify anywhere from 20 to 100 strategies to look at more closely. Try to identify at least 40 biological strategies, if possible.


Additional Resources


Week 5: Emulate


Additional Resources

  • At this stage, you may want to refer back to the biology/biologists as needed to deepen your understanding of how a strategy works


Weeks 6-7: Evaluate

Now you’re going to evaluate your design. Make changes to your design and work your way back through the design spiral.



  • Nature’s Unifying Patterns Checklist PDF: Go through this checklist to see where your design aligns with or could align with Earth’s operating conditions.
  • Make prototypes 
  • Share your prototype(s) with at least 10 users and stakeholders to solicit feedback from the groups you are designing for. Make changes accordingly and revisit prior steps in the design spiral when needed.

Week 8: Compile your BGDC Materials

You should have been working on your BGDC materials throughout the entirety of the biomimicry process. Now is the time to compile your information and materials. See the submission requirements for more information.

Judging Criteria

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

Biomimicry Process25%
Context and Relevance20%
Social and Environmental Benefits20%
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?
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? Has your team developed a prototype? Has your team taken your prototype to ten or more stakeholders and potential users?
  • 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 2020 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.