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Winners of First Annual Wege Prize Announced

Posted March 5, 2014 in Public

On March 3rd, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts was alive with energy and possibility as the first annual Wege Prize wrapped up with an awards and presentation ceremony that represented the culmination of many months of brainstorming, networking, pushing forward, experimenting, failing, learning, and heading back to the drawing board to draw way outside of the lines.

$30,000 in total cash prizes was awarded through the competition, which challenged transdisciplinary collegiate teams to work collaboratively to solve the wicked problem of creating a circular economy.

The five Wege Prize first place trophies. When lined up, they form the Wege Prize logo, sympolizing the spirit of collaboration at the heart of the competition.

Three teams presented their solutions to a judging panel comprised of five of the world’s leading design-thinkers and experts on the circular economy. Although none of the teams’ solutions were able to fully address all of the complex factors of the wicked problem, the judges were amazed by the passion, enthusiasm, and intelligence with which the participants approached the collaborative challenge. Having deliberated at length to determine which solution inspired the greatest hope for success, the judges ultimately awarded first place and $15,000 to team FusionGRow, who designed a compact and efficient in-home hydroponics system designed to reduce consumer dependency on large-scale commercial farming.

FusionGRow is (left to right) Jacob Czarniecki (General Business, Grand Valley State University), Aziza Ahmadi (Public Administration and Sustainability, Grand Valley State University), Philip Han (Collaborative Design, KCAD), Yulia Conley (Applied Economics and Urban Planning, Grand Valley State University), and Eric Choike (Industrial Design, KCAD)

In combining technological and biological material cycles and keeping the end goal of disassembly and renewal in mind, the team’s design drew considerable praise from the judges. Additionally, the team exhibited a remarkable depth of research and proved their effectiveness as a collaborative unit.

Wege Prize Judges (left to right) Michael Werner (Sustainability Strategist, Haworth Inc.), Gretchen Hooker (Biomimicry Specialist, Biomimicry 3.8 Institute), Colin Webster (Education Programme Manager, Ellen MacArthur Foundation), Ellen Satterlee (CEO, Wege Foundation), and Nathan Shedroff (MBA Program Chair, California College of the Arts)

Second place and $10,000 was awarded to team Wicked Solutions Inc, who outlined a plan to eradicate the use of low-density polyeurethene plastic bags at grocery stores by manufacturing a new kind of bag made from polylactic acid (PLA), and creating a system through which the new bags could be collected and reprocessed.

Wicked Solutions Inc is (left to right) Justin Burton (Industrial Design, KCAD), Evelyn Ritter (Mechanical Engineering, Hope College, Matthew Johnson (Industrial Design, Kendall College of Art and Design, and Kristina Raiz (Sustainable Business, Aquinas College

The judges were intrigued with the team’s concept and applauded them for their initiative, but ultimately felt that the solution didn’t go into enough detail regarding how the collection and reprocessing of the PLA bags would be accomplished. In addition to second place, the team took home the People’s Choice Award of $5,000 thanks to an outpouring of support in the online public vote.

The third finalist team, Tomorrow Today, fell just short of placing in what was a very tight competition. Consisting of members from Aquinas College, Grand Valley State University, and Kendall College of Art and Design, the team presented an idea to turn the old Grand Rapids Public Museum into a center for education and exploration of the circular economic model. The judges were thrilled that the team’s solution attempted to solve the wicked problem through the avenue of education, but in the end they felt the solution needed more specific detail to convince them of its feasibility.

Tomorrow Today is (left to right) Jamie Sansone (Sustainable Business, Aquinas College), Ben Georgoff (Collaborative Design, KCAD), Craig Van Vliet (Economics, Grand Valley State University), and Blake Bensmsan (Sustainable Business, Aquinas College). Not pictured is Greg Rupp (Supply Chain Management and International Business, Grand Valley State University), who helped his group present via Skype

The inaugural test run of the competition has given organizers a solid foundation and an abundance of momentum to build upon as planning for Wege Prize 2015 commences. The second iteration of the competition is open to students across the nation and will again be focused on the circular economy.

If you haven’t already, head to wegeprize.org to check out all of the Wege Prize 2014 solutions, and remember, Wege Prize 2015 goes national and starts now! Stay tuned for more information.