Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions
customized design challenges
Bring a new way of thinking and new solutions to your innovation efforts.
The Institute works with a variety of entities, including universities, non-profits, and for-profit corporations, to apply the biomimicry design framework to problems that need solving—whether the problem is motivating students, fostering solutions for a circular economy, or reducing material, water, waste, or energy use within your company or industry.
Each of our partnered challenges is customized, but there are three primary ways we collaborate.
“The truth is, natural organisms have managed to do everything we want to do without guzzling fossil fuels, polluting the planet or mortgaging the future.”
— Janine Benyus
Open Innovation Challenges
Open Innovation challenges leverage the power of the Institute’s Global Network of biomimicry enthusiasts and practitioners to solve a core sustainability problem. Under this model, we work with one or more companies or organizations to identify a challenge around a stubborn sustainability problem facing industry (e.g. toxicity of adhesives or pigments) or society at large (e.g. preserving ocean health). With sponsorship from our partners, the Institute curates biological content relevant to the challenge on AskNature, and hosts a global open innovation challenge offering substantial prizes.
In the case of industry challenges, multi-company consortia are highly encouraged. By collaborating to solve these problems together, participating companies not only establish themselves within the vanguard of sustainability, but they are also freed to focus R&D resources on other ways to innovate and differentiate their technology in the marketplace. As a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Economy 100, the Institute has relationships with many leading companies that have expressed interest in joining problem-solving consortia.
Biomimicry design challenges provide university students with hands-on learning opportunities, give partner corporations access to innovative student design concepts, and offer students an opportunity for career advancement post-graduation. We call that a win-win-win!
We work with corporations and industry coalitions to identify design or material problems and match them with one or more of our academic partners. With guidance from the Institute and a customized collection of biological strategies on AskNature, faculty lead students through a semester or year-long course to explore biomimetic solutions to the challenge. Corporate participation throughout the course varies, depending on the design brief and the level of engagement desired.
Under this challenge model, corporations gain new, actionable insights into how to solve a challenge and help train the innovative work force of the future. Faculty and students get to work on real-world problems and develop valuable new skills, and are reinvigorated as they find new ways to engage with their subject matter. Some of the Institute’s university past and prospective partners include: the University of California Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry, The University of Akron Integrated Biosciences program, the Center for Biologically Inspired Design at Georgia Institute of Technology, Arizona State University, and Rhode Island School of Design.
Corporate Employee Challenges
Biomimicry offers a transformative perspective on design that is best experienced by doing. Our employee challenges can help you nurture biomimetic innovation in-house. We work with your company to develop a design brief for a constrained challenge, often with a rapid turnaround time, and then facilitate an intra-company design challenge blending competition and collaboration. With guidance and biological information provided by the Institute, teams of employees tackle a specific problem and vie for a company-sponsored prize. This type of challenge creates the opportunity to provide professional development to employees, while nurturing new solutions to a company-specific challenge in-house.