Design Challenges

Our History

The Institute is committed to the philosophy that working with a multidisciplinary team to identify and apply lessons from nature is a transformational experience that can profoundly shape the lives and careers of emerging innovators. It is for this reason that design challenges are such an important part of what we do. Our current design challenge offerings are built on a long history of successful design challenges, which is highlighted here.

Affiliate Student Challenges


Our first two student design challenges were open to students at our Affiliate universities and were sponsored by a single company, which worked closely with the students over the course of a semester. For each challenge we created an interdisciplinary design team of university students and faculty and facilitated the design process from idea to prototype. Both challenges resulted in new products 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. Aligned to the academic calendar, these challenges gave thousands of emerging problem solvers the opportunity to learn a new approach to sustainable innovation, by working in a team to develop a biomimetic solution to a major sustainability problem.





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.

During the 2012 water challenge, we also 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 the accelerator model for the Global Biomimicry Design Challenge.

BSDC 2013 - Forward Motion: Life-friendly transportation solutions

Archive link coming soon!

University-Corporate Challenges

2013 – Present

In 2013, we evolved our original Affiliate challenge model into our current University-Corporate Challenges. These 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.

In fall 2013, we partnered with the University of California’s Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry to focus their interdisciplinary graduate course, Greener Solutions, on finding biomimetic solutions. The goal of the project was to identify life-friendly alternatives to the use of carcinogenic compounds in the manufacturing of wrinkle-free fabrics for Levi Strauss & Company. The leading solutions are now in the wet lab phase of development.

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Global Design Challenge and Launchpad

2015 – Present

In January 2015, the Biomimicry Institute launched its first challenge open to professionals and university students alike.  Held in partnership with the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge asks participants to design nature-inspired solutions to climate change. To help take these early-stage biomimetic solutions beyond the concept stage, the winning teams are invited to participate in the BGDC Launchpad, which awards one team the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize®.



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