Pictured: Paul Garner talks with entrepreneurs at the 2016 Environmental Innovation Challenge
The energy and excitement was palpable upon entering the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall. After months of toil, trials, and undoubtedly, some all-nighters, twenty-three student teams from eight colleges and universities across Washington State took the stage for the eighth annual Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge on March 31st. Members and fellows of Element 8 volunteered alongside other investors, technologists, and entrepreneurs as judges for the event, which encourages multidisciplinary and entrepreneurial student teams to develop working clean tech solutions to pressing environmental problems. Element 8 also supported the event as a sponsor.
Innovative solutions proposed by students ranged from a more sustainable method to de-caffeinate beverages by the cup, to a device that converts waste heat to electricity to improve the efficiency of tug boat engines. Judges studied teams’ 1-page summaries, absorbed their 2-minute pitches, peppered students with questions and comments on their demos and prototypes, and weighed the potential impact of each innovation. Having completed their evaluations, judges then each faced their own challenge of selecting the top contenders among the talented field for cash awards totaling $38,000.
Element 8 co-chair and Challenge judge, Bill Lemon, who has also judged the event in past years said, “The sophistication of students’ innovations was impressive, but what has improved most dramatically since the event’s inception is students’ ability to communicate the problem, the solution, and the market opportunity through concise and compelling pitches. The Challenge gives students a chance to showcase the vital technological, marketing, and operational skills they’re developing that boost their potential as successful entrepreneurs.”
Teams that scored highest were awarded prize money from sponsors Wells Fargo, the Herbert B. Jones Foundation, UW Clean Energy Institute, Starbucks, and Puget Sound Energy. The results of the challenge are outlined on the UW Foster School of Business blog, as is the full list of teams who were selected to participate.
The prize money is valued capital intended to catalyze further business development and growth. Environmental Innovation Challenge winners from 2015, Jiko Power and Hook, described their progress with moving their products from prototype toward the market during the past year.
Element 8 Executive Director, Kristi Growdon, offered praise for the event: “Element 8 is proud to support the Environmental Innovation Challenge because the event sparks new product designs that capitalize on emerging markets and have the potential for impact,” she said. “Members also reported having a lot of fun meeting student teams who are motivated, dynamic, and passionate about their ideas.”