History and Impact

In 2008, the Biomimicry Institute launched the first iteration of our design challenges. The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge has been growing and evolving ever since.

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 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 conducting pilot projects in several countries.

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
Biomimicry Global Design Challenge

Our current Challenge format is open to both professionals and students. The theme for the 2015 and 2016 challenges was "Food Systems," and we tasked teams with developing biomimetic designs that solve an important food system challenge while supporting the health of our planet.

At the end of 2015, eight teams were selected to participate in the first Biomimicry Accelerator, a business training program designed for biomimicry entrepreneurs who are prepared to assess and validate the feasibility of their business concept, build a business model, and find beta customers. Six more teams were accepted to the Accelerator program in 2016. In 2018, the Accelerator expanded, and was renamed the Biomimicry Launchpad. 

Read more about the Launchpad and participating teams.

In 2018, the Institute also began pilot-testing a Youth Design Challenge for middle and high school students. Learn more about the Youth Design Challenge here.