Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge

2016 EIC winner AgriC

2016 grand prize winning team AgriC displays their biodegradable plastic, made out of chitin – an organic material derived from crustacean shells – which decomposes into a fertilizer after use.

Innovative and entrepreneurial students are our best hope for solving some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems. The Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge at the University of Washington taps into the passion, smarts, and motivation that university students have for solving environmental/cleantech problems. Learn more about the challenge in the tabs below.

2017 EIC: Thursday, March 30

Read about the 2016 winning teams on the blog.

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AboutTimelineRulesPreparationPracticumJudging CriteriaSponsors + PrizesSuccess Stories + Winners


In the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, interdisciplinary student teams define an environmental problem, develop a solution, design and build a prototype, create a business plan that proves their solution has market potential, and pitch to 250+ judges at a demo-day event.

Since its outset, the EIC has attracted 752 students (140 teams) from Pacific Northwest colleges and universities. We’ve awarded $416,000 in prototype funding, over $170,000 in prize money, and 750+ judges, mentors, and coaches have worked with the teams and/or chosen the winners. This is where the innovations of tomorrow begin.

What Is Cleantech / Environmental Innovation?

We define cleantech innovation as any product, process or service that reduces waste, minimizes energy consumption, and contributes to a healthier planet. Re-use, recycling, water usage, energy generation, green consumer products, nanotechnology – all are ripe for innovation.

Timeline 2016-2017

Additional dates will be added for Office Hour appointments and additional networking opportunities.

Team Formation Nights

Wednesday, October 19, 5:30-7 p.m.
Wednesday, November 2, 5:30-7 p.m.
Wednesday, November 9, 5:30-7 p.m.
Thursday, December 1, 5:30-7 p.m.

Prototype Application

Opens Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2016, and closes Sunday midnight on Dec. 18, 2016. Teams will be notified if they have received funding by Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017.

Winter Quarter Resource Nights

Happens every Thursday night, 6-7:50 p.m. (recommended for EIC teams)
Networking Night, January, TBD, 7-8:30 p.m.
“Take Your Innovation to the Next Step” workshop with Connie Bourassa-Shaw
Thursday, January TBD 4:30-5:30 p.m. (preceding Resource Night session)

Team Registration – Open your account and provide basic team info only.

January 20 to Sunday, Feb. 1 at midnight

Official Team Entry: Screening Round

Monday, Febuary 20 at midnight: 5-7-page Business Summary due
Monday, February 27: Teams will hear if they have been selected to compete in the Challenge on March 30, 2017

Office Hours: January, February and March

Check back in January for office hour appointments for the Health Innovation Challenge, the Alaska Airlines Environmental Challenge, and the Business Plan Competition.

March 8, Wednesday, 6-8 p.m.: Pitch Workshop

(mandatory to send at least one member if you are in the Seattle area)

March 26, Sunday at midnight

One-page Business Summary due

Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge competition day, Thursday, March 30, 2017

Team setup in the morning, afternoon judging, followed by reception and awards.


Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge Rules

Teams that enter the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge must comply with the following criteria:

  • Teams entering the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge must have at least one full-time student on the team who is enrolled in a degree seeking program at an accredited college or university. If you graduated in Summer quarter 2015 or later, you are considered a current student in the competition.
  • All submissions to the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge must live up to the higher ideals of the University of Washington. Your idea must be appropriate for a university-sponsored event. The Buerk Center reserves the right to disqualify any entry that in its judgment violates the letter or the spirit of the competition or exceeds the bounds of social convention.
  • If the team or company entering the competition is revenue positive, actual annual revenue cannot exceed $500k. (Please note this is different than the company’s projected revenue. This rule does not apply to projected revenue.)
  • Eligible students can form a team with non-students, but for the sake of this competition, they will be considered as advisors. Students must have an ownership stake in the business or the potential for equity or employment.
  • Only student team members are eligible to earn prize money. No payments will be made to non-students.

Note: The Director of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship reserves the right to make the final determination of the eligibility of submitted business ventures.


The Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge considers all submitted prototypes and business plans as confidential and treats all team matters accordingly. However, we cannot guarantee complete confidentiality for proprietary matters.

Therefore, we strongly encourage any team with concerns regarding intellectual property, copyright, or patent confidentiality to either contact their University’s intellectual property office (for University-developed discoveries) or competent legal counsel (for non-University related discoveries). The University of Washington, the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, the Foster School of Business, and the organizers of the competition are not responsible for any proprietary information and/or intellectual property included in a submitted business plan.

Ultimately, protection of sensitive materials is the sole responsibility of the individual or team participating in the competition.


Thinking of entering the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge? Here’s what you should know:

What Is Cleantech / Environmental Innovation?

We define cleantech innovation as any product, process or service that reduces waste, minimizes energy consumption, and contributes to a healthier planet. Re-use/recycling, water usage, energy generation, green consumer products, nanotechnology – all are ripe for innovation.

Who Can Participate?

Any student from a Pacific Northwest college or university who is enrolled in a degree-seeking program can participate in the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge. Teams must be student led. Cross-disciplinary teams are highly encouraged. The most successful teams have members with various skill sets from various departments, including built environments, law, engineering, business, policy, etc. Non-students can be members of a team, but they can’t present at the UW EIC, nor can they receive prize money.

Looking For a Team?

Looking to join a team, or need another team member to join yours? Check out the Team Formation website.

How is the EIC Judged?

Teams are judged on the problem they’re solving, their 1-minute pitch to the judges, the prototype they demo, and their ability to articulate the potential for impact. Will their idea conserve resources, have a positive impact on the environment, improve sustainability, and compete in the marketplace? That’s what the judges are looking for. Peruse the judging criteria tab for more information.

Prototype Funding

Resource Nights (recommended for all EIC teams)

Every Thursday night during winter quarter, the Buerk Center offers Resource Nights to help teams prepare for both the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge and the Business Plan Competition. All teams are encouraged to attend. Resource Nights are located in 104 Dempsey Hall. Learn more about taking the Resource Nights (ENTRE 440/540) for credit.

Environmental Innovation Practicum

The Environmental Innovation Practicum is a seminar-based class. Each week you’ll hear from and engage with industry experts and thought leaders on a range of current environmental issues. The practicum is recommended for juniors, seniors, and grad students. See the practicum tab for more information.

Mentor Connect

Industry experts are available to mentor and coach students in business planning, identifying potential customers, and getting a product to market. Email Lauren Brohawn for more information.

Other Resources

  • Visit the Startup Resources webpages.
  • Visit the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge on Facebook
  • View 5-7 page business summaries from previous years.
    • Omnioff (2012 EIC Fenwick & West Honorable Mention)
    • C6 Systems (2011 EIC Starbucks Honorable Mention)
    • Idyll Energy Solutions (2010 EIC Siemens Honorable Mention)
    • To view more business summaries contact Lauren Brohawn.

Environmental Innovation Practicum

Practicum Fall Quarter 2016 | 2 credits | Tuesdays, 4-5:50 p.m. | PACCAR Hall 292
Cross-listed: ENTRE 443/543, ENGR 498, ENVIR 495

The goal of this Practicum is to help students discover how cleantech solutions are addressing pressing environmental issues, and learn how they can be part of those solutions. In this class you will:

  • Gain awareness of the challenges and how businesses are tackling them.
  • Learn from subject matter experts about solutions emerging in various industries.
  • Evaluate business opportunities in cleantech as outlined by guest speakers, required readings and world news.
  • Gain hands-on experience in developing business solution concepts addressing environmental challenges.

How the Team Projects Work
The team projects are a significant part of the Environmental Innovation Practicum contributing 40% of each student’s total course points. Project ideas come from the students in the class. A portion of each class on Oct. 11-25, when teams are formed, will be “open microphone” time for students with project ideas to briefly outline their concept to the class. On Oct. 18, guest speaker Martha Campbell of the Rocky Mountain Institute will use RMI’s Collaborative Problem Solving approach to help the full class select concepts to develop during the rest of the quarter.

Class Plan
The following class plan is a work in progress with only confirmed speakers noted. Speakers, topics, required readings and assignment deadlines are subject to change. A final class syllabus will be available the week before the start of fall quarter.

Teams formed in class are encouraged (but not required) to go on to compete in the annual Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) on March 30, 2017.

Prototype Funding $$$
For those who are interested in competing in the EIC, there is funding available to build your prototype for the EIC! Applications for prototype funding are due December 18. The online application will be available here December 1. See the preparation tab for more information.

For information on the course, the prototype funding, or the EIC contact Lauren Brohawn,

Class # Date Topic Confirmed Class Speakers
#1 10/4 Doing vs. Talking. Why are you here?
#2 10/11 Rip Roaring and Ready to Go: Ideas Waiting for Commercialization
*Buerk Center Reception after class, GreenDrinks Reception following
Panel Discussion:
  • Sara Hunt, M.S., Commercialization Manager, Pacific Northwest National Labs
  • Forest Bohrer, Ph.D., Manager – Innovation Development, CoMotion at University of Washington
  • Sanjay Kumar, Ph.D., investor, farmer, thinker, Cascadia Cleantech, Equs Farms, Imagine H2O
#3 10/18 Team Formation Around Innovation Concepts
#4 10/25 The Circular Economy Panel Discussion:
  • James Connelly, Director, Living Product Challenge
  • Stacy Fynn, MBA in Sustainable Systems, CEO and Co-founder of Evrnu
  • Josh Gary, VP Operations at Vartega Carbon Fiber Recycling
#5 11/1 Product Design and the Theory of Change
  • Julian Marshall, Ph.D., UW Professor of Environmental and Civil Engineering
#6 11/8 Water Innovation
#7 11/15 Energy, Fuel and How We Use It Panel Discussion:
  • Jared Silvia, Product Manager at Doosan GridTech
  • Sephir Hamilton, MME, MBA, Officer of Engineering and Technology Innovation, Seattle City Lights
  • Rich Feldman, New Business Development Manager, Proterra, makers of zero-emission, battery-electric buses
#8 11/22 Greening the Built Environment
  • Rob Peña, M.Arch., UW Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture
#9 11/29 Land Use: Forests, Food & … Fishes?
  • Dr. Sally Brown, Research Assoc. Professor, University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
#10 12/8 Video Screening of all team pitches Judges Panel Discussion
*Reception following class for students and judges only.
  • 4:00-5:05 video screening
  • 5:05-5:50 Panel commentary
2015 Class Videos

Judging Criteria

Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge judges come from many sectors of business, industry, government, education, and policy.

Each 5-7 page Business Summary (due from teams on February 20, 2017 at midnight) will be judged on:

  • Definition of the Problem
    What is the size of the problem? How difficult a problem is this to solve? What attempts have already been made to solve this problem?
  • Team
    Who are the individuals on the team? Do they have the skills to solve the problem? Have they engaged advisors, mentors, experts from the community or industry?
  • Business Summary
    Does it define the problem?
    Does it describe the solution?
    What will the demo consist of (prototype, simulation, proof of concept, poster, video)?
    Is the solution original/a novel application of an existing product/off the shelf?
    Has the team researched and described the market opportunity, the competition?
    What is the scope of the opportunity (dollars, units produced, global impact)?
    Does the solution fit the problem? Does it demonstrate an appropriate balance between the cost of the solution and its impact on the problem?
    What would it cost to produce?

The Challenge teams that present on March 30, 2017 will be judged on their 1-page business summary, their pitch, their demo of the prototype, and the potential for impact.

  • 1-page business summary: same criteria as for the 5- to 7-page summary (above)
  • 1-2 minute pitch to the judges:
    How motivated, enthusiastic is the team?
    Have they been able to convey the essential elements of the problem, the solution, and the market opportunity?
    How well do they understand the problem/solution (from both technical and marketing perspectives)?
    Have they generated enthusiasm to see their demo?
  • The demo of the prototype:
    Does the Demo work? If it is not yet complete, could it work?
    Has the team provided test results and validation?
    Can the team describe the process and how it works?
    Can they describe how it could be improved?
    Is this solution efficient? Does it make optimal use of resources?
    How practical is this solution? What would it cost to make?
    Is this original work? Is it a novel application of an existing product? Is it off-the-shelf?
  • Potential for Impact:
    Could this team and this solution have a substantial impact in the market? In the world? In people’s lives?

2016 Prizes

$15,000 Grand Prize sponsored by Wells Fargo
$10,000 Second Place Prize sponsored by the Herbert B. Jones Foundation
$5,000 Third Place Prize sponsored by Starbucks
$5,000 Clean Energy Prize sponsored by the UW Clean Energy Institute
$1,000 (2-3) JARL Prizes (Judges Also Really Liked) sponsored by Puget Sound Energy


Thank you to the 2016 sponsors for their generosity and dedication to helping students achieve their potential.


Alaska Airlines
Wells Fargo
UW Foster School of Business
UW College of Engineering


Clean Energy Institute – University of Washington
The Herbert B. Jones Foundation


UW CoMotion
WRF Capital
Christensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness
Perkins Coie
Puget Sound Energy
UW College of the Environment


Element 8

Success Stories + Winners

View a complete history of Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge winners for each year:
2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009


Pure Blue Technologies

2nd Place Prize 2013

Pure Blue Technologies was accepted into the 2013 Jones + Foster Accelerator, a TechStars-like program that helps student-led startups get off the ground. As of February 2014, Pure Blue had negotiated lab space with Ondine biomedical and has a term sheet for up to $1.5 million in equity funding, which will give them 18 months of runway to cover additional research and development and get them to the pilot stage.



Grand Prize Winner 2013

PolyDrop was accepted into the 2013 Jones + Foster Accelerator. As of February 2014, PolyDrop had been awarded a Commercialization Gap Fund grant of $50,000 and a National Science Foundation STTR grant of $225,000, providing the funds necessary for 2014 operations and develop a prototype proving the viability of their product.


GIST: Green Innovative Safety Technologies

Grand Prize Winner 2012Ricky Holm, GIST co-founder, was recently profiled in an article by the University of Washington Foundation.


Voltaic: EcoCar

Grand Prize Winner 2011Trevor Crain and Tevor Fayer were both part of the Voltaic team in 2011. They are now engineering co-leads on the University of Washington team for EcoCAR 2: Plugging in to the Future,a three-year collegiate student engineering competition focused on alternative energy vehicles.



Grand Prize Winner 2009HydroSense won the 2009 Environmental Innovation Challenge with a water-usage monitoring technology that screws onto a single valve in a home and can detect water use down to each specific toilet, shower, and faucet. HydroSense was acquired by Belkin in 2010. Learn more about HydroSense and the acquisition.

Questions? Contact Lauren Brohawn at or 206-685-3813.

The Environmental Innovation Challenge is sponsored by Alaska Airlines.