Global student design contest on circular economy names winners

Winning teams announced in Wege Prize 2017; 2018 competition launched

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design has announced the winners of Wege Prize 2017, the fourth iteration of the design competition challenging transdisciplinary teams of college/university students from around the world to rethink and redesign the way economies work.

The five finalist teams in Wege Prize 2017 presented their solutions to a judging panel of leading practitioners and advocates of design thinking and sustainability at the 2017 Wege Prize Awards, held on May 19 at KCAD. The teams’ solutions were evaluated on factors such as depth of research, technological and financial feasibility, alignment with circular economic principles, and potential for impact.

The winners were:

1st Place ($15,0000)                                                                                                            

Team name: Kulisha

Maya Faulstich-Hon – Environmental Science, Brown University;  Eric Katz – Business, University of Michigan (U of M) Ross School of Business; Jon Luthy – Industrial and Operations Engineering, U of M  College of Engineering; Katie Matton – Computer Science, U of M College of Engineering; Viraj Sikand – Environmental Science, Brown University (all undergraduates)

Solution: Kulisha developed a solution focused on working with food and beverage processing plants to convert their organic waste products into an insect-based protein that can be used in animal feeds and as an agricultural fertilizer. Their system integrates a type of insect called the black soldier fly into food/beverage plants to decrease disposal costs while creating additional value from waste that would be discarded.

The team has already secured a relationship with an Austin, Texas-based microbrewery, where they’ll soon begin testing a prototype of their system in an on-site facility.

“This solution is a genuine contender to solve two problems: eliminating a major food waste problem while providing a viable alternative to the current method of depleting fish stocks to generate the protein used in animal feed,’ said judge Colin Webster, an education programme manager with UK-based nonprofit The Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “It was clear to the judges that a tremendous amount of effort has been put into the development of this solution. It’s on the cusp of being trialed in a major way, and we’re really looking forward to seeing how that unfolds.”

2nd Place - $10,000

Team name: SOMOS

Enrique Andrade – Industrial Design, KCAD; Taylor Axdorff – Industrial Design, KCAD; Ian Culver – Collaborative Design, KCAD; José Sanabria Vindell – Renewable Energy Engineering, Autonomous University of Nicaragua Faculty of Science and Engineering; Alex Santiago Ramírez Cárdenas – Environmental Engineering, Autonomous University same as above (all undergraduates)

Solution: SOMOS developed a solution focused on helping small coffee farmers operating in Nicaragua’s Miraflor Natural Reserve halt the negative environmental impact of their production process while also taking advantage of the waste byproducts of that process to produce other raw materials which can be exported for additional revenue.

The team’s solution was informed by extensive localized research and observation. Team members from KCAD travelled to Nicaragua on several occasions to interview key stakeholders in Miraflor’s coffee production industry alongside their Nicaraguan teammates.

“SOMOS was succinct in both their presentation and the way they addressed our questions, and that allowed the strengths of their solution to come to the surfaces,” said judge Christopher Carter, an educator and nationally known sculptor who’s also a Next-Gen Board Member of The Wege Foundation. “What really impressed us most was the team’s on-the-ground approach; they went to the source of the problem and were deeply inspired by what they encountered. This solution could be adopted by other mountainous coffee farming regions, and that’s a great story.”

3rd Place - $5,000

Team name: Cheruvu

Nikhitha Rao Cheeti – Public Policy, U of M Gerald R Ford School of Public Policy; Aniket Deshmukh – Electrical and Computer Engineering, U of M College of Engineering; Shamitha Keerthi – Resource Ecology Management, U of M School of Natural Resources and Environment; Samhita Shiledar  – Chemical Engineering/Sustainable Systems, U of M College of Engineering/School of Natural Resources and Environment; Kavya Vayyasi – Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment (all graduate students)

Solution: Using their home country of India as a case study, Cheruvu developed a solution focused on creating a sustainable enterprise that employs crop science, machine learning, and crowd analytics to help farmers in India increase crop yields, mitigate risk, and improve their economic standing by providing them with access to high-resolution data on best agricultural practices, soil nutrients, climate, and satellite imagery.

Like SOMOS, Cheruvu developed their project largely through on-site interaction with those most affected by the problem they were trying to solve. The team, five students originally from India who are currently pursuing graduate studies at U of M, conducted extensive interviews with farmers in India struggling to maintain profitability and other key stakeholders.

“We were really struck by the depth of the ground fieldwork undertaken by Cheruvu. The team was able to prototype their solution in a real-world context, and we were touched by how much they cared about helping small farmers compete in what is an increasingly complex and evolving industry,” said judge Gretchen Hooker, a biomimicry specialist with the Biomimicry Institute.

Details about Wege Prize 2018 will be revealed in the coming weeks on


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