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Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge

WATCH the Awards Presentation for the 2020 all-virtual Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge
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.

Prizes Awarded at All-Virtual 2020 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.

2020 Awards and Honors

Judges awarded Aquagga the $15,000 Alaska Airlines Grand Prize for its bolt-on water treatment platforms that destroy toxic water contaminants at the 2020 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.Read more about 2020 winners

The $10,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation second place prize went to ElectroSolar Oxygen.Read more about 2020 winners

The $5,000 third place prize, presented by the Port of Seattle, went to Kokanee Systems.Read more about 2020 winners

Aquagga won the domestic Grand Challenges Action Prize from the UW Grand Challenges Impact Lab.Read more about 2020 winners

Arogya won the global Grand Challenges Action Prize from the UW Grand Challenges Impact Lab.Read more about 2020 winners

Moment won the $5,000 Clean Energy Prize presented by UW’s Clean Energy Institute.Read more about 2020 winners

Moment won a $1,000 Connie Bourassa-Shaw Spark Prize.Read more about 2020 winners

ChocoLED won a $1,000 Connie Bourassa-Shaw Spark Prize.Read more about 2020 winners

The 2020-2021 competition will be virtual. Official dates and timelines will be shared by mid-October. Sign up here to receive the details as soon as they are available.
See last year’s dates below for a general idea of the timeline and requirements.

1. Generate Your Idea & Form a Team

Team Formation
Innovative? Have an idea? How do you find the right people to join your team? Ideation, figuring out your customers, scoping the competition, and pulling the pieces together are all parts of the process. Check out events hosted by the Buerk Center. Pitch your idea, pitch your skills, meet students from disciplines across campus at these fun and casual meetup events.

Upcoming events
Check out the Entrepreneurship Events page for upcoming events including Team Formation, Information Sessions, Drop-In Hours, and more.

2. Build Your Prototype

Apply for Prototype Funding | Application deadlines November 19, 2019 and January 14, 2020
Funds are available for demonstration models or simulations that will help you showcase your idea. More information under the Prototype Funding Tab.

3. Apply

Submit a 5-7 page business summary for official entry into the EIC. Teams will be notified Yes/No by Tuesday, Feb 26.

4. Finalists Pitch and Compete at the EIC!

After finishing the competition application, the following information is for accepted and competing teams.

Pitch Workshop for Finalist Teams | Thursday, March 12, 2020
Attendance is mandatory for all teams in the Seattle area going to the finals on April 2.

1-Page Business Summary Due for Finalist Teams | Friday, March 27, 2020
Summaries sent to every judge before the day of the Challenge so they can decide which demos to visit.

ALASKA AIRLINES ENVIRONMENTAL INNOVATION CHALLENGE | Thursday, April 2, 2020 | 1:00-6:00pm | Seattle Center Exhibition Hall
Teams set up demos/simulations in the morning and pitch to a room full of judges early afternoon. Reception follows. Winners announced!


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.

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.

Entry Requirements

Any student from a Cascadia Corridor – Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia, as well as Alaska – college or university who is enrolled in a degree-seeking program can participate in the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC). 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, generally as advisers, but they can’t present at the EIC, nor can they receive prize money.

What is needed to enter?

What is needed to enter the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge?

Prototype Funding, apply November – January (see Prototype Funding tab)

All Entrants (see Dates and Deadlines tab)

  • 5-7 page business summary DUE Feb 18, 2020

Top Teams chosen to come to the final event:

  • Mandatory Pitch Workshop (Thursday, March 12, 2020)
  • 1-page business summary (due Friday, March 27, 2020)
  • 60-second Pitch (at the EIC, April 2, 2020)
  • Demo or prototype (at the EIC, April 2, 2020)


Your submission into the competition is distributed to a large group of community professionals who act as judges.

We strongly encourage any team with concerns regarding intellectual property such as patent or copyright potential to either contact their University’s intellectual property office (for University-developed discoveries) or competent legal counsel (for non-University related discoveries) before submitting their proposal into the competition.

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


  1. Teams entering must have at least one full-time or part-time student on the team who is enrolled in a degree seeking program at an accredited college or university in the Cascadia Corridor – Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia, as well as Alaska. If you graduated the summer quarter prior to the year of the competition or later, you are considered a current student in the competition.
  2. The competition entry must be developed during the student’s tenure at the college or university. Students working with outside entrepreneurs must create their own original business plan and have responsibility for their own portion of the business.
  3. All submissions to the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge must live up to the higher ideals of the University of Washington. The team’s idea must be appropriate for a university-sponsored event. The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship reserves the right to disqualify any entry that is its judgment violates the letter or the spirit of the competition or exceeds the bounds of social convention.
  4. 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.)
  5. Eligible students can form a team with non-students, but for the sake of this competition, non-students will be considered as advisors.
  6. Students must have an ownership stake in the business or the potential for equity or employment.
  7. 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.

Judging Criteria

Screening Round Requirements

  • 5-7 Page business summary
  • Due Date February 18 by 12 noon PST; notification of advancement February 26

The first hurdle on your path toward the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge finals is to submit a winning business summary so your team is selected to be one of the Top Teams who are invited to participate in the final Challenge.

What should be included in the 5-7 page business summary?

To view more business summaries, stop by the Buerk Center in Dempsey Hall 227 or contact Lauren Brohawn.

  • Definition of the Problem
    • Who cares about this problem? What will be different if you solve this problem? What is the size of the problem?
  • Proposed Solution
    • What is your idea for solving the problem you are addressing?
    • What is unique about your solution?
    • Why would customers be excited enough to pay you for your solution?
  • Team
    • Who are the individuals on the team? Do they have the skills to solve the problem? Have they engaged advisors, mentors, and experts from the community or industry?
  • Description of the Demo (prototype/model/demonstration)
  • Market Opportunity
  • Impact
    • Environmental
    • Decarbonization
    • Energy Use
    • Social
    • Ethics
    • Equity
    • Healthcare Access
    • Supply Chain
    • Community
    • Employee Engagement
  • Questions you should address (use your own format and style)
    • Have you defined the problem?
    • Have you clearly described the proposed solution?
    • If there is a demo, what is it? (prototype, simulation, proof of concept, poster, video)
    • Is the solution original or is it a novel application of an existing product or service?
    • Has the team researched and described the market opportunity and the competitors?
    • Has the team interviewed potential customers? How many? What did they say?
    • 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 is an estimate of the cost to produce?
    • What is the estimated timeline for development leading to launch of the product/service?
  • Examples:

To view more business summaries, stop by the Buerk Center (Dempsey Hall 227) during regular business hours. In order to prepare your own business summary, use this Submission Checklist, which includes the judging criteria judges will be using in the Screening Round to evaluate all entries.

Final Round Requirements

Top Teams that are invited to the final event held on April 2 must prepare:

  • 1-page business summary due March 27
  • 1-minute pitch, mandatory pitch clinic March 12, 5:30-8:30 pm, Anthony’s Forum, Dempsey Hall
  • Demonstration or prototype

If your team makes it past the screening round you will be invited to participate in the live half-day competition final event. There the Top Teams have tables set up trade-show style with their prototypes on display. A member of each team gives a 1-minute pitch to the audience of 150+ professionals who will be judging and the judges then circulate and learn more from teams before picking their top choices for the prizes.

The Top EIC Teams that present on the day of the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge finals will be judged on their 1-page business summary, their pitch, their demo or prototype, and the potential for impact.

What should be included in the 1-page business summary?

  • The criteria and contents for the 1-page business summary are the same as those for the 5-7 page summary (above), just shorter and more concise.

What matters for the 1-minute pitch?

  • How motivated, enthusiastic is the team?
  • Does the pitch convey the essential elements of the problem, the solution, and the market opportunity?
  • Does the team understand the problem/solution? (from both technical and marketing perspectives)
  • Has the pitch generated enthusiasm to see the demo?

What should the demonstration or prototype table setup include?

  • 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?

What questions should be answered for the potential for impact?

  • Could this team and this solution have a substantial impact in the market? In the environment? In people’s lives?
Interested in entering the Environmental Innovation Challenge? Want to meet other students who want to join your team? There are multiple ways to find team members:

  1. Team Formation Events
  2. StartupTree
  3. Environmental Innovation Practicum
  4. Capstone Course in Your Major

As long as you have one student on the team who is enrolled in a college or university in the Cascadia Corridor – Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia, as well as Alaska, your team can enter the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.

Questions? Email Lauren Brohawn at [email protected]

  • Team Formation Events
    Many entrepreneurship events are held on the UW Seattle campus where students can come out and find others who have an interest in working on solving problems together. Many go on to enter the Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge, Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, or the Dempsey Startup Competition. Questions? Email Lauren Brohawn at [email protected]. See the Entrepreneurship Events page for current information.
  • StartupTree
    Find teammates through UW Startup Tree online. Students log in with their UW net ID. In this web portal you will find some students who have an idea and need more team members and you will also find students with specific skills who are interested in innovation and want to join a team. Think of it as a match-making site for innovators!
  • Environmental Innovation Practicum
    The fall quarter hands-on Environmental Innovation Practicum course is another way students can dive in and learn about environmental challenges while working on team-based projects. Many of the class teams decide to continue into the extracurricular Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge where they will connect with mentors and further develop their concepts. Learn more in the Environmental Innovation Practicum: ENTRE 443/543 tab.
  • Capstone Course Teams
    You may be in an engineering, environmental science, or other major that requires a capstone project as a degree requirement. Why not build on that capstone by bringing it into the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge where the visibility of your accomplishments can be increased and mentors you connect with can help you take it to the next level?

Environmental Innovation Practicum

Practicum Fall Quarter 2019 | 2 credits (C/NC) | Tuesdays, 4-5:50 p.m. | PACCAR Hall 391
Cross-listed: ENTRE 443/543, ENGR 498, ENVIR 495

This course is designed to help you discover how entrepreneurial innovation is addressing some of our most pressing environmental issues, why sustainability should be embedded in the DNA of every business and the process involved in taking a great idea forward.

Learning objectives:

  • Gain awareness of our most pressing environmental challenges and how businesses large and small are beginning to tackle them.
  • Learn from subject matter experts about solutions emerging in various industries.
  • Evaluate business opportunities in cleantech and environmental innovation as explored with guest speakers, required readings/viewings and world news.
  • Gain hands-on experience in developing an innovation concept through the teams project.

How the Team Projects Work
The team projects are a significant part of the Environmental Innovation Practicum contributing 50% of each student’s total course points; 10% of your total points will be determined by your team members who will assess your contribution just as you’ll assess theirs. The project culminates in a team video submission outlining the team’s idea against the assignment rubric. Teams formed in class are encouraged (but not required) to go on to compete in the annual Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) on April 2, 2020.

Class Plan
The following class plan from 2019 illustrates the course design. Speakers, topics, required readings and assignment deadlines are subject to change.

For information on the course, the prototype funding, or the EIC contact Lauren Brohawn, [email protected]

Date Topic Confirmed Class Speakers
Class 1: October 1 Entrepreneurship and Environmental Innovation Port of Seattle panel
Class 2: October 8 How Entrepreneurs Solve Problems
Class 3: October 15 Customer Discovery
Class 4: October 22 Systems Thinking
Class 5: October 29 Team Formation Around Innovation Concepts
Class 6: November 5 Addressing Waste
  • Theresa Blaine, EPA
  • Kinley Deller, King County
Class 7: November 12 Circular Economy
  • Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman, Refugee Artisan Initiative
  • Josh Gary, Vartega
Class 8: November 19 Renewable Energy
Class 9: November 26 Business Sustainability Panel
  • Jim Hannah
  • Jacqueline Drumheller
Class 10: December 3 Movie Night

2016 Class Videos

#1: Doing vs. Talking. Why are you here?
Deborah Hagen-Lukens, Environmental Innovation Practicum faculty

#2 Rip Roaring and Ready to Go: Ideas Waiting for Commercialization
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 Team Formation Around Innovation Concepts
Collaborative Problem Solving session with Rocky Mountain Institute’s Martha Campbell, MES/MBA

#4 The Circular Economy
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 Product Design and the Theory of Change
Julian Marshall, Ph.D., UW Professor of Environmental and Civil Engineering

#6 Water Innovation
William Wescott, Ph.D., Founder, Brain Oxygen

#7 Energy, Fuel and How We Use It
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 Greening the Built Environment
Rob Peña, M.Arch., UW Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture

#9 Land use: Forests, Food & … Fish?
Dr. Sally Brown, Research Assoc. Professor, University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

2015 Class Videos

#1: Introduction and Overview
Nancy Floyd, NthPower

#2: “Opportunities in Cleantech”
Ron Pernick, Clean Edge

#3: “Remaking How We Make Things”
Panel Discussion:
Viccy Salazar, US EPA Region 10 Sustainability and Energy Advisor, Life Cycle Assessment
Larry LeSuerur, Founder and CEO of WISErg
Stacy Flynn, Founder evrnu

#4: Defossilizing Fuel
Keynote: Jesse Morris, Rocky Mountain Institute

#5: Plugged In (electricity)
Joel Swisher, Director, Institute for Energy Studies, WWU

#7: Growing in Place: Food, Water and Land
Dr. Steve Jones, WSU

#9: Prototyping and Concept Testing
Expert Panel Discussion:
Pete Agtuca, Founder, 3 Phase Energy Systems, LCNW
Jimmy Jia, CEO, Distributed Energy Management
Another panelist TBD

Prototype Funding

Application Deadlines: November 19, 2019 | January 14, 2020

Prototype funding can spur development and help convey your idea to a broader audience. We have funding available to teams that are entering the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge this year to help with creating a physical model, object, or device.

Student teams are invited to apply for funds that can be used to:

  • Purchase materials
  • Rent equipment
  • Hire short-term workers with high level skills beyond the team’s capacity

Teams must commit to entering the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge if they submit an application for prototype funding.

Awards are generally between $500-$2500, although other requests will be considered.

Funds can NOT be used for:

  • Marketing
  • Business cards
  • Displays
  • Signage
  • Computers
  • Digital devices
  • Legal or professional fees
  • Paying team members or consultants
  • Transportation
  • Lodging

Information you will need to complete the application:

  • Current student team member’s information. (We understand this may change.)
  • Description of the problem you are attempting to solve.
  • Description of the solution you are proposing.
  • Description of the prototype you will build to demonstrate your solution.
  • A budget estimate (itemized list) to build your prototype. Changes are expected but any major changes must be approved by Lauren Brohawn, [email protected].

Teams will be notified of the amount of funding they will be awarded 1-2 weeks after each deadline.

Questions? Contact Lauren Brohawn, [email protected].


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

Looking For a Team?
Looking to join a team, or need another team member to join yours? Come to our Team Formation Night events or build a team or offer a skill on Startup Tree (coming soon!).

Resource Nights (recommended for all EIC teams)

Every Tuesday night during winter quarter, the Buerk Center offers Resource Nights to help teams prepare for both the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge and the Dempsey Startup Competition. All teams are encouraged to attend. Resource Nights are located in PACCAR Hall, room 192 (Shansby Auditorium). 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.

Startup Tree (coming soon!)
Connect to other entrepreneurial students to build teams or use Startup Tree to gain advice from our industry advisers by asking them questions as you prepare your 5-7 page business summary. This platform will also have event and deadline updates from the Buerk Center. (Site for current students only.)

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 under the Judging Criteria tab.

2020 Prizes

$15,000 Grand Prize presented by Alaska Airlines
$10,000 Second Place Prize sponsored by the Herbert B. Jones Foundation
$5,000 Third Place Prize presented by the Port of Seattle

Special Prizes

The special prizes were created to reward student teams in the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge for their exceptional work in distinct categories. The teams are selected by a special group of judges using a separate ballot from the main competition.

$5,000 Clean Energy Prize sponsored by the UW Clean Energy Institute
Rewards student innovations that can reduce carbon emissions through solar energy production, electrical energy storage, conversion and distribution, and energy efficiency. This can include software and/or hardware.

$500 – $3,500 Grand Challenges Action Prize sponsored by the UW Grand Challenges Impact Lab (GCIL)
To emphasize action, not just excellent ideas, this prize rewards student innovation that is developing self-sustaining, scalable solutions for low-income or disadvantaged communities. Two $500 prizes will be awarded (one domestic, one global) plus up to $3,000 for expenses related to implementing, piloting, or prototyping the idea beyond the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.


Thank you to the 2020 sponsors for their generosity and dedication to helping students achieve their potential.


Alaska Airlines
UW College of Engineering


The Herbert B. Jones Foundation
UW Clean Energy Institute
Port of Seattle


UW Foster School of Business
Science & Engineering Business Association (SEBA)
James & Paige Spee in honor of Lamont C. Hempel
UW Grand Challenges Impact Lab (GCIL)
WRF Capital
EarthLab at UW
Christensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness
Perkins Coie Foundation
UW Department of Biology
Puget Sound Energy

Success Stories + Winners

View a complete history of Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge winners for each year: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 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 [email protected] or 206-685-3813.

The Environmental Innovation Challenge is sponsored by Alaska Airlines.

Join the conversation & keep in the loop on dates and deadlines:

Connect with the Environmental Innovation Challenge