Global Challenge Accelerator – Biomimicry Institute

Global Challenge Accelerator

Each year the most promising teams in the open category of the Global Biomimicry Design Challenge (BGDC) are invited to participate in the Accelerator program.

Designed to help biomimetic solutions advance beyond the concept stage, the BGDC Accelerator is an intensive 6-9 month program during which the teams continue to develop their design concepts and market strategy utilizing business training, mentorship, and legal support provided by the Institute and its partners. At the end of the Accelerator one team will be awarded the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize™, endowed by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

Meet the 2015 Accelerator Teams







Oasis Aquaponics

Michigan, USA



Program Sponsors and Partners

Living Filtration System

Eugene, OR, USA | Design concept First Prize winner
Casey Howard, Matthew Jorgensen, Wade Hanson, Krisztian Megyeri, Alison Lewis

The earthworm’s digestive system and the human small intestine inspired this team from University of Oregon to develop a biomimetic drainage system that keeps nutrients in the soil rather than leaving the field in runoff. After farmers apply fertilizer, nutrients often enter the surrounding water system through surface runoff or by leaching through the soil into the ground water. This process leads to nutrient accumulation in nearby lakes and streams which then concentrates in rivers like the Mississippi, and is deposited in the Gulf of Mexico and other estuaries. The Living Filtration System is an alternative drainage tiling system that was designed to serve as a catalyst for changing current farming techniques. The team’s design captures nitrogen, phosphorous, and other nutrients at the source of application in farm fields, using an overlapping series of four tubes. The first layer is a wood-plastic composite that mimics the curves of the human small intestine to slow water flow, and the second, carbon-based, layer uses farm waste like corn husks and wood debris to filter out nutrients from runoff, just like the way earthworms filter nutrients from the soil. The next two layers capture nutrients and enable beneficial relationships to develop between soil microbes and plant roots. By keeping the nutrients from leaching out of the soil, the LFS system not only cleans the water leaving the fields, but also decreases the amount of fertilizer needed and improves soil health over time.


Bangkok, Thailand | Design concept Second Prize winner
Pat Pataranutaporn, Ratchaphak Tantisanghirun, Purichaya Kuptajit, Tavita Kulsupakarn, Alfredo Raphael

Edible insects may be one of the answers to our global food crisis. They are high in protein and rich in essential micronutrients, such as iron and zinc. They also don’t need as much space as livestock, emit lower levels of greenhouse gases, and have an extremely high feed conversion rate. The BioX team from Thailand developed Jube, a bio-inspired chamber for capturing edible insects, the food of the future. After studying a range of carnivorous plants, the team decided to base their design on the Genlisea violacea “lobster-pot trap.” This is a Y-shaped modified leaf chamber that is easy to enter, but not to exit due to its inward-pointing hair, which force the prey to move in a particular direction. To use Jube, the user puts insect food into the bottom part of the device to lure the insects. Once the insects follow the odor and step into Jube, they can’t turn back. This device promotes a more sustainable way to incorporate protein and nutrients into the world’s diet by offering an insect-capturing device that is unique and beautifully crafted.


Quillota, Chile | Design concept Third Prize winner
Camila Hernández, Camila Gratacos, Nicolas Orellana, Victor Vicencio, Jean François Casal, Carlo Sabaini, Eduardo Gratacos

A team from the Ceres Regional Center for Fruit and Vegetable Innovation in Chile has created a new way to not only help new seedlings grow, but restore degraded soils back to health. The BioNurse returns vitality to the soil by improving conditions for seedlings and exposing them to a mix of nutrients, microbiology and hygroscopic components. It is fabricated with natural fibers and biodegrades after one season. The plants growing from it will be capable of reproducing the same conditions in a natural way and, after two or three seasons, the soil will be productive again. For the BioNurse, the team was inspired by the way that hardy “nurse” plants establish themselves in degraded soils and pave the way for new plant species to grow. With 25% of the world’s soils degraded, this innovation provides a way to grow and protect new plants and ensure that the soil can be regenerated to feed our growing population.


Zvolen, Slovakia | Design concept People’s Choice Award winner
Zuzana Tončíková, Miroslav Chovan, David Jurik, Frantisek Toth, David Lopusek

A team from Zvolen, Slovakia devised a self-sustaining system to help city-dwellers grow their own organic food, right on their balconies. In many Central European cities, organic food is expensive and hard to find and most residents don’t have access to yards or gardens to grow their own produce. Team B4D developed the BIOcultivator to enable anyone to grow healthy food, without being a gardening expert. The BIOcultivator design was inspired by the ability of some lizard species living in arid areas to collect water and moisture with their skin. The BIOcultivator draws moisture from a composting feature at the bottom of the device, where it develops into condensation in the top “cupola” of the design. The water then is directed to the plants’ roots via channels (or microstructures) on the inside of the cupola that are designed to mimic a lizard’s scales. Not only does this device provide a way to grow food for those without access to green space, but it offers an alternative growing solution for drought-prone areas.

Mangrove Still

Brescia, Italy
Alessandro Bianciardi, Alessandro Zecca, Alessandro Villa, Giulia Villa, Edoardo Pini, Tiziana Tomasello

This Italian team looked to mangroves and salt marshes for inspiration to address land degradation and water scarcity in coastal areas. Their design is a desalinating solar still that is optimized to produce fresh water for irrigation and costs five times less than traditional solar stills. The team’s goal was to develop a more sustainable, lower-cost way to produce fresh water in arid/semi-arid coastal areas, since current technologies for desalinating seawater are expensive, especially to generate enough water to irrigate coastal farmlands. To inform their design, the team looked at mangroves and salt marshes to learn about how these pioneering species establish themselves in coastal areas, then pave the way for other species to appear. They envision that a network of Mangrove Stills installed in a degraded, arid area could produce enough water revitalize the land and kick off a self-perpetuating microclimate. The Mangrove Still’s design optimizes light capture, surface to volume ratio, and thermoregulation to create a lower-cost and efficient method of desalinating seawater, built with recyclable, reusable materials. The still can be assembled quickly and utilized for emergency response to provide drinking water or treating polluted water.

Oasis Aquaponic Food Production System

Ann Arbor, Michigan
Michelle Leach, Jacquelyn Smith Hernandez Ortiz

This team, based in Michigan and Central America, has created a small aquaponics system that is designed for radical affordability. The Oasis Aquaponic Food Production System helps subsistence farmers grow better food sustainably (using less space, less water, and no chemicals), improve nutrition, and generate income. Aquaponics is the co-culture of fish and vegetables in a recirculating biofilter-based system. Fish waste feeds the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish. This symbiotic relationship allows more food to be grown in a smaller area and with less water than traditional aquaculture or horticulture can support. The design team previously prototyped two aquaponic systems for use in rural Central America, but wanted to find a way to dramatically reduce the cost. Applying lessons from nature, they refined their design to reduce structural mass and materials by employing an inflatable ring, The Oasis Aquaponic Food Production System is a solar-powered aquaponics system capable of producing at minimum 200 pounds of Tilapia and 200 pounds of tomatoes or other vegetables annually. With a projected retail price of $100, and a business model that provides low-interest purchasing credit, the system is radically affordable and accessible.


Milan, Italy
Felipe Hernández, Germán Hernández, Luca Rossettini, Jorge Armando Céspedes Camacho, Patricia Villa-Roel

Team Hexagro from Italy has created a “groundless” growing system that gives people the opportunity to grow healthy food on a small footprint. Hydroponic systems often use synthetic materials and tend to work as closed systems. In comparison, Hexagro is made of recyclable, biodegradable materials and has a unique, hexagonal shape that was inspired by geometric patterns found in nature. Hexagro is modular and can adapt easily to a range of urban spaces. Four times more efficient than traditional farming techniques, Hexagro’s modular tree can produce a total of 342 lettuce plants per 2 square meters in comparison to traditional ground farming, which can produce 80 lettuce plants per 2 square meters. Its automatic irrigation system provides programmed cycles that adapt to the time of the day and season, preventing plants from drying or being overfed by nutrients. A digital application will be developed in order to connect the system to smartphones.

Join us, wherever you are:

We believe that the widespread adoption of nature-inspired solutions will catalyze a new era in design and business that benefits both people and the planet. Let’s make the act of asking nature’s advice a normal part of everyday inventing. We hope you will join us.

Header photo: (c) Chris Carson Photography

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