Global Design Challenge 2021

Initial Application

September 18, 2020
October 15, 2020
April 30, 2021
June 30, 2021
September 2021

Design Brief

Earth has always been a changing planet, but the rapid climate and ecological changes humans have set in motion in the last century are like nothing any species has experienced before. Hungry for energy, food, and other resources, our growing populations are pushing Earth’s systems toward a frightening and well-documented tipping point. The science is clear and so is our imperative. To reverse course, we need a new generation of innovators who know how to create human materials, products, and systems that are regenerative, circular, and generous to all species. Are you ready to learn how to design generously through the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge?

Our challenge is this: Create a nature-inspired innovation (a product, service, or system) that aligns with one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals, outlined by the United Nations.

By combining human ingenuity with nature’s genius, the possibilities are infinite! Every single person can make a difference, even by 1°. How many #degreesofchange can you make with nature as your guide and mentor?


The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge calls for design concepts addressing any issue(s) outlined by the Sustainable Development Goals. We know that the SDGs are vast and expand across many subject areas, but this diversity means there are also just as many solutions out there waiting to be discovered. Successful teams will define a concrete, well researched area of focus for their design efforts and apply the core concepts and methods of biomimicry in developing a solution. We are especially interested in projects that go beyond familiar approaches by identifying unique leverage points for change, removing barriers to the adoption and spread of existing solutions, and/or clearly demonstrating how biomimicry can lead to new, novel, or more effective solutions.

  • Biomimicry after the fact: If you already have a design solution, please do not retroactively argue that it is biomimetic or “like nature” just to apply to this challenge. Often, it is quite obvious to our judges when this is the case. If you are working with an existing design, we’d rather see how you applied biomimicry to improve it. How can learning from nature lead you to a stronger, more sustainable outcome?
  • Common characters: As news stories and information about biomimicry has spread, many case studies and biological strategies have become common (e.g. the water capturing abilities of the Namib Desert beetle). While this is great for public awareness, creativity and innovation are limited when designers don’t look beyond the common cast of characters. For this reason, designs that rely on biological strategies, design concepts, or biomimetic technologies that have already been well documented should offer significant comparative advantages or greater depth of emulation.

Getting Started

Any university students and new biomimicry learners have the ability to participate in this challenge —regardless of whether you’ve been trained in biomimicry or not. All it takes is a partner or a team. You get to use your creativity and critical thinking, all while finding inspiration from nature.

Here are five steps for a successful Challenge submission:


Sign up on the Challenge website, or log in if you already have an account. All team members will need to create an account to sign up for the platform. By signing up for the 2021 Challenge you will be the first to receive helpful tips and new content developed to assist you through all parts of your submission. You will also gain access to our mentor pool, where you can work first-hand with subject matter experts around the world.


Once you’ve formed a team, read through the Challenge Brief and the Rules & FAQs, including the submission requirements.


Tap into our resources, including the Biomimicry Toolbox, to determine a specific challenge to work on and to familiarize yourself with the various steps in the Biomimicry Design Spiral.


Work with your team to put together your submission according to the submission requirements. As a participant in the Challenge, you are able to access our network of experts and mentors who volunteer their time to help teams with their Challenge projects. You can find a gallery of mentors in the Resources section.


When you're ready to submit, have ONE team member (the “team leader”) log in and pay the Challenge entry fee. The team leader must complete the submission form and upload all of the required documents.


Contact us at - we're here to help!

Rules and FAQs

The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is a team competition. You must be part of a team of 2-8 individuals in order to enter. Each member of the team must register for the Challenge individually, but only one team member needs to submit an entry.

Eligibility: The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is open to teams of independent professionals and college and university students anywhere in the world. Note: We also have a Youth Design Challenge for middle and high school students. Learn more about the Youth Design Challenge here.

May 13, 2021 at 11:59:59 pm Pacific Daylight Time (GMT-7)


Registering on this website is the first step in joining the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. You must be registered in order to access the entire website, receive support emails, access the mentor directory, and submit to the Challenge. Begin the registration process here. All team members should register for the Challenge individually, however only one team member will submit on behalf of each team.

Team Formation

The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is a team competition. In order to submit an entry, you must be part of a team with two-eight members. Each member of the team should register for the platform and create an account, in order to access tools, receive updates, and learn about free training opportunities. However, one team member (“team leader”) will create and complete a team’s submission.

Please note: Unlike in past years, teams will not be required to create a team profile and link individual member profiles to the team. Rather, the team leader will be required to list all team member names and email addresses on the submission form.

Is there a fee to register?

No, there is no fee to register on the challenge website. However, if you decide to submit an entry to the Challenge and compete for any of the awards, you must pay a submission fee (See Submission Requirements).

Do I have to register to begin working on the challenge?

You will have to register in order to access the materials and resources on the Challenge site and to receive updates about the Challenge.

What is the required team size?

Teams that choose to submit a design must include two to eight team members.

Can I register for the challenge as an individual?

Yes, you can register for the challenge and access our resources as an individual. However, in order to submit you will have to recruit additional team members to work with you. You can meet others in the biomimicry community by joining our Biomimicry Global Network Slack workspace.

Can I submit to the challenge as an individual?

No, you may not submit to the challenge as an individual. 

Can I participate on more than one team?

No, you can only participate on one team for the challenge.


No, each team may only submit one entry per Challenge cycle.


The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is open to teams of independent professionals and college and university students, anywhere in the world. Entries from individuals will not be considered. All entries must involve a technology, product, service, or process that addresses a challenge related to the current theme. The entry must show a clear connection between a biological mechanism, process, pattern, or system, and the technological solution submitted; i.e., the solution must emulate a natural model(s).

Entries must describe an entirely new solution and represent a given team's unique work and intellectual property.

For middle and high-school students, we also offer a Youth Design Challenge. Learn more about the Youth Design Challenge here.


The world needs sustainable solutions. To that end, up to 10 finalist teams will be invited to participate in the Biomimicry Launchpad, a program designed to encourage innovators who are using biomimicry as an integral part of their design process, and to inspire and support the next generation of sustainability leaders. Throughout this program, participants will deepen their understanding of biomimicry as they refine their concept. The Launchpad begins in late Fall 2021 and includes a 10-week digital program that provides startup coaching and mentorship, access to prototyping support in the form of workshops and grants, pro bono IP legal assistance, and connection with a community of like-minded innovators. By the end of the Launchpad you will have learned how to become a startup and developed your sustainability leadership skills. Remember, this is just the start! You are now part of this community of nature-inspired changemakers; our goal is to help you succeed! Past Global Design Challenge finalists and Launchpad participants include Nucleário, Werewool, and ECOncrete.

Student Details

College and university students, including associate degree students, undergraduates, MBAs, MD candidates, JD candidates, other masters degree candidates, and PhD candidates, are eligible to pay at the student-rate. Students must be enrolled at the time of submission or have graduated within 6 months of the submission deadline. Any team consisting of a combination of students and professionals must pay the professional rate. However, faculty and mentors can work with student teams in advisory roles without jeopardizing a student team's submission fee.

Will my team's intellectual property be protected?

Entrants retain ownership of all ideas and materials/images submitted to the challenge and only the BGDC program staff and the judging panelists will have access to complete entry materials. However, the Biomimicry Institute retains the right to reproduce and distribute materials submitted for public view (e.g. images, overview text, and video). With your permission, we may also share all or portions of your presentation PDF for educational purposes. Entering teams must recognize that any information submitted as part of the Challenge is at risk of inadvertent public disclosure. The organizers, judges, and other affiliates of the Challenge will NOT enter into nondisclosure agreements with entering teams. If you have a question that is not addressed above, please contact us at

Submission Requirements

Submission Method

Submissions are accepted electronically via the Challenge platform only. We do not accept submissions by post mail or any other method.

Submission Form

All entries must be submitted via the online entry form. In order to gain access to the submission form, a team must be created. Once a team is created on the Challenge platform, and if the submission period is open, the team leader can access the submission form via their team profile, from the Challenge page, or under their “My Activities" menu. (My Activities is accessed by clicking on the user icon at the top of the site after logging in). Note: Only the team leader can begin the submission process.

Fees and Payment Method

Entry fees are due at the beginning of the submission process. The team leader will be prompted to pay the fee when they begin a submission draft. Payment is accepted by credit card (Visa or MasterCard). An early-bird discount is offered to teams that initiate the submission process and pay the fee in advance. Regardless of when you pay, your team will have until the submission deadline to finalize your entry and formally submit it.

Early bird rate deadline: March 1, 2021

  • Early-bird rate: Student-only teams $40; professionals or mixed teams of students and professionals $100
  • Standard rate: Student-only teams $50; professionals or mixed teams of students and professionals $120


We want to make the Challenge welcoming and accessible to budding biomimics worldwide and realize the fee may be unachievable for some teams. If this applies to your team and you’re interested in pursuing a scholarship, please complete this form at least ONE month prior to the submission deadline.

Please note: We cannot grant scholarships to each applicant that applies. All applicants will be contacted with a response. Notification will be given, via email, two weeks before the Challenge deadline.

Submission Requirements

Submissions will be required to contain all of the following: All materials submitted must be in English. Visit the Rules & FAQs page for details about the submission process and eligibility requirements. Any submissions not following the requirements will be disqualified automatically.

In order to enter the Challenge, your team must provide the following:

  1. Team Information: Names and email addresses for all team members, location, and school and advisor/mentor name, if relevant.

  2. Project title (70 character limit)

  3. Specify which SDGs your solution addresses.

  4. You will need to complete an online questionnaire, which will address the following topics:

    • Define the problem you are trying to solve. (up to 150 words, will be posted for public view if chosen as finalist)
    • What organisms/natural systems helped inform your design? (up to 150 words, will be posted for public view if chosen as finalist)
    • What does your design do? Give a detailed technical overview of your solution. (up to 300 words, will be posted for public view if chosen as finalist)
    • How does your solution address the problem or opportunity you selected? (up to 150 words)
    • Ethos element -How compatible is your design with all surrounding living systems? Is it safe? How is it more sustainable than the alternatives? (up to 150 words)
    • (Re)connect element -Describe how participating in this design challenge helped you and your team connect with the natural world. (up to 150 words)
    • How were Nature’s Unifying Patterns or Life’s Principles applied to your design?(up to 150 words)
    • Team bio: discuss your team’s ability to succeed (up to 150 words)
  5. Design concept image (JPG format): A photograph, rendering, or illustration representing your design concept. This will be the primary image used to identify your project publicly. To ensure quality, please upload images that:

    • Are high resolution format (at least 300 DPI)
    • Are in a landscape format if possible
    • Include any copyright or photo credit information
  6. Team photo (JPG format): The team photo will be in our resources, media, and solutions gallery. The photo should depict all team members. Group photos outside are always encouraged, if possible!

  7. Video pitch (3 minutes maximum): The video should provide an overview of your design, highlight your design process, convey key discoveries or insights, and ultimately convince the judges that your idea has merit. The video must be uploaded online, (Vimeo and YouTube work best), published and made publicly available for view. For advice on creating your video, download this guide: "Tips for Your Video Pitch"

  8. Project presentation document (PDF format, 10 pages or less, no larger than A4 size): A presentation in the form of PowerPoint or Keynote slides (or similar text and image layout). This document will not be made public. See below for details on the content that this presentation must include. Documents with more than 10 pages will be disqualified.

    • An overview of your scoping process
    • A description or depiction of your biological inspiration process
    • A discussion of the current limitations of your design and a description of next steps.
    • A list of all references and sources, including experts consulted, preferably cited using the Council of Science Editors (CSE) style.
    • Image(s) or renderings of a prototype of your innovation. Your prototype is not required to be functional at this stage. Your prototype should be testing for both desirability (do people actually want what you are creating?) and feasibility (is it technically possible to build your solution?).*
    • A discussion on the interviews you and your team conducted with the stakeholders and potential users of your innovation. Please interview at least ten stakeholders.
    • Optional: high quality images of your biological inspiration with appropriate copyright information provided.
    • A discussion on the interviews you and your team conducted with the stakeholders and potential users of your innovation. Please interview at least ten stakeholders.

*People sometimes confuse prototypes with Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). The main difference is that your MVP is a "live" product that is providing value to someone. Prototypes are more like tests that will help you validate various assumptions.

Presentation document to be one file in a PDF format, 10 pages or less, no larger than A4 size.

Incomplete submissions will be disqualified. We strongly recommend that you review the Judging Criteria carefully before submitting your entry.

Will late entries be considered?

The submission platform will not accept late entries. We recommend submitting your materials at least a day in advance of the deadline in order to avoid last minute issues with bandwidth or other technical glitches.

Can a team submit more than one entry?

No, teams may submit only one entry per team.


No, each individual may only be on one team, submitting one entry to the Challenge.


Introduction to the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge

Welcome to the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge (BGDC). This syllabus was created to help guide you and your team and/or students through the biomimicry process. It is broken down into 8 weeks with suggested readings, videos, activities, and milestones.

Week 1: Why biomimicry? What is biomimicry? What is design?


Additional Resources



Week 2: Systems, Earth’s Operating System, Nature’s Unifying Patterns, Intro to the Design Spiral




Week 3: Design Process, Creating a Design Question, Defining the Challenge


Additional Resources


Week 4: Discover & Abstract

In order to find the BEST strategies or models, you need to have a lot of models to look at. Depending on the complexity of your biologized question, and the amount of scientific literature related to that question, you might identify anywhere from 20 to 100 strategies to look at more closely. Try to identify at least 40 biological strategies, if possible.


Additional Resources


Week 5: Emulate


Additional Resources

  • At this stage, you may want to refer back to the biology/biologists as needed to deepen your understanding of how a strategy works


Weeks 6-7: Evaluate

Now you’re going to evaluate your design. Make changes to your design and work your way back through the design spiral.



  • Nature’s Unifying Patterns Checklist PDF: Go through this checklist to see where your design aligns with or could align with Earth’s operating conditions.
  • Make prototypes 
  • Share your prototype(s) with at least 10 users and stakeholders to solicit feedback from the groups you are designing for. Make changes accordingly and revisit prior steps in the design spiral when needed.

Week 8: Compile your BGDC Materials

You should have been working on your BGDC materials throughout the entirety of the biomimicry process. Now is the time to compile your information and materials. See the submission requirements for more information.

Judging Criteria

All entries will be evaluated according to the following seven criteria. 

Biomimicry Process25%
Context and Relevance20%
Social and Environmental Benefits20%
Communication and Presentation10%

Detailed Criteria

Biomimicry Process
  • How well do you demonstrate and document an understanding of function and biological strategies?
  • Did you effectively identify relevant biological strategies applicable to your design challenge?
  • Did you identify multiple biological strategies before identifying the most relevant strategies for emulation? How did you determine and prioritize the strategies most relevant to your design?
  • Did you identify any deep/overarching patterns among the strategies you identified?
  • How well do you show a clear connection between a biological mechanism, process, pattern, or system, and how the design concept submitted emulate that natural model or models?
Context and Relevance
  • How well do you define your specific challenge/problem?
  • How well do you understand the context, design criteria, and constraints of the challenge you decided to work on?
  • What are the benefits/impacts that your design concept has on your specific challenge/problem?
Social and Environmental Benefits
  • Will adoption of your design lead to significant social, cultural, and/or environmental wins? E.g., does your design concept improve accessibility for a percentage of the population; help low income populations meet basic needs; address product lifecycle effects on the environment; address issues of toxicity, reduced material usage, and waste reduction; etc.
  • How well do you understand and address the underlying sustainability problems you aim to solve?
  • Have you articulated and defined any sustainability problems?
  • Have you provided more than shallow evidence of how your design concept will address sustainability concerns?
  • How have you applied nature's unifying patterns in your design?
  • How novel is the innovation and/or biological inspiration?
  • If something like your design concept has already been proposed, does your solution offer significant comparative advantages or greater depth to the emulation?
Communication and Presentation
  • Do your submission materials (e.g. presentation document, video, etc.) provide a clear overall description of the biomimicry process you followed?
  • Do your submission materials describe/communicate well your proposed design concept?
  • Is the value proposition clear?
  • Do you support your design arguments with relevant, properly attributed data/information to enhance your credibility?
  • Are your visual materials (e.g. design concept sketch rendering and video) informative, and clear in how they describe your design concept?
  • Have you sought out experts and mentors as needed?
  • Is your team interdisciplinary and does it have the right skills to address the specific challenge selected?
  • Is your team clearly motivated to continue working on this solution beyond the design concept stage? Has your team developed a prototype? Has your team taken your prototype to ten or more stakeholders and potential users?
  • Is your team clearly motivated to continue working on this solution beyond the design concept stage?
  • Do you have the key people (team members, advisors) and core capabilities (interdisciplinary backgrounds/expertise) you need to move on to the next phase of the competition? If not, are you seeking outside assistance to fill those gaps?


You can find more information about former judges here. Stay tuned for the 2021 judges!

The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is an annual competition that asks teams of students and professionals to address critical global issues with nature-inspired solutions. The challenge is hosted by the Biomimicry Institute.