Youth Design Challenge 2019

Challenge submission

September 2018
  Registration opens 
March 1, 2019
  Registration closes 
April 1, 2019
  Submissions due 
May 2019
  Winners announced

Teach STEM concepts while connecting your students to nature through the Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge.

The Youth Design Challenge (YDC) is a free hands-on, project-based learning experience that provides classroom and informal educators with a new framework to introduce biomimicry and an interdisciplinary lens on science and environmental literacy. Working in teams with an adult coach, students explore the wonders of natural world and apply what they learn to create innovations that support a healthier planet. Learn more about the YDC and how to participate below.



The Youth Design Challenge follows an academic calendar, with entries reviewed once annually in late spring.

  • Challenge Begins: September 2018
  • Submission Accepted: December 2018
  • Submission Deadline: April 19, 2019 (6pm Pacific Time)
  • Judging Period: April - May 2019
  • Award Announcement: May 2019
Who can participate?

The Youth Design Challenge is a team competition for students in middle school (grades 6-8) and high school (grades 9-12) in the US. A team consists of between 2-8 students and 1 or 2 coaches. Coaches are educators or other adults affiliated with a school or recognized organization who guide their teams through the Challenge. Please refer to the Coaches’ Handbook and Official Rules for complete eligibility details.

What is required to enter the Challenge?

Entries must employ biomimicry (nature-inspired innovation) to address a specific social and/or environmental issue related to climate change. Teams are also encouraged, when possible, to work on issues that affect their local community. Entries are submitted online and include the following elements:

  • Project overview (up to 300 words)
  • Video pitch (up to 3 minutes)
  • Project image
  • Team photo
  • Project portfolio (up to 14 pages)

Please refer to the Coaches’ Handbook and Official Rules for complete details about submission requirements.

Judging and Awards

Judging takes place on an annual basis. Coaches participate in the judging process during a preliminary review period in which they will rate a selection of student entries. Award winners are then selected by a panel of expert judges from among the top-scoring entries.

First, second, and third place award winners will be selected in two categories: middle school and high school. Members of the winning teams will receive award certificates and have their work publicly recognized online and/or in the media. The school or organization that hosted the team will receive a cash award in the following amounts: 1st Place - $1,000; 2nd Place - $750; 3rd Place - $500.

Curriculum and Training

You don’t need prior experience teaching or practicing biomimicry to participate in the Challenge (although it can help). The provided Biomimicry Design Challenge curriculum module is a step-by-step guide to teaching bio-inspired design to your students. We also offer a variety of additional resources and training opportunities to help you support your students.

Getting Started

Ready to get started? First, coaches/teachers must register for the Challenge (students cannot join independently). Coaches serve as the point of contact between their team(s) and the Biomimicry Institute and are responsible for submitting team entries.

  • Begin the registration process by clicking the SIGN UP button in the blue bar at the top of this page and completing your Coach profile.
  • Once registered, you will have access to resources, curriculum, and training opportunities on the Resources page.
  • Start with reviewing the Coaches’ Handbook for information and suggestions for coaching your team. Then browse the curriculum and resources.
  • Gather your team members and get them started learning and designing!
  • When your students have completed their designs, use the Challenge website to submit the competition entry.

Design Brief: Climate change adaptation and mitigation

The Problem

Earth has always been a changing planet, but the climate and ecological changes humans have set in motion are like nothing our species has experienced before. Hungry for energy, food, materials, space, and other resources, our population’s impact on the environment is destabilizing the climate, resulting in mounting negative consequences to the planet and billions of people. The science is clear, and so is our imperative. To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, humankind must find ways to reduce greenhouse gases, and find ways to adapt to current and predicted climate change impacts. We know that climate change is a complex problem; a hairy knot made up of many problems all woven together. But this diversity means there are also just as many solutions out there waiting to be discovered.

Your challenge

Create a nature-inspired innovation* that improves the climate change problem by:

  • Helping communities (humans or non-humans) adapt to climate change impacts (i.e. those forecasted or already in motion), AND/OR
  • Reversing or slowing climate change itself (e.g. by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases or removing existing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere).

* an innovation may include the design of a physical technology, a process, or a system. Basically, any new approach for how people can do things.

What are we looking for?

Successful teams will define a concrete, well-researched area of focus for their design efforts and apply a biomimicry process to develop an original solution. We are especially interested in projects that identify unique leverage points for change and demonstrate how biomimicry can lead to new or more effective solutions.

Why nature-inspired?

Nature is the best model we have for a sustainable, regenerative way of life. In order for humans to persist and thrive on a healthy planet, our systems must work in concert with nature’s systems. Biomimicry provides a pathway to the solutions we need to accomplish this. Consider how plants effortlessly turn CO2 into energy and materials every hour that the sun shines. What if we learned to do the same? What if CO2 were not the poison of our era, but instead the feedstock of a global carbon-sequestering economy? Nature offers incredible inspiration and time-tested strategies that can be emulated and applied to climate change issues in realms as diverse as energy, water, transportation, buildings and infrastructure, food systems, health, behavior change, and more. Visit our Climate Change collection on AskNature to learn more.

Official Rules

Updated: August 30, 2018 

The Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge (the “Challenge”) is a project-based learning experience hosted by the Biomimicry Institute (the “Institute”). 


1) The Challenge is open to students in grades 6th-8th (“middle school”) or 9th-12th (“high school”). 

2) Students must participate as part of a TEAM. Individual entries are not accepted. A TEAM consists of 2 - 8 student team members with 1 or 2 adult COACHES who will communicate with the Institute on behalf of the TEAM. No student may be on more than one Team, however Coaches may advise multiple Teams. 

3) TEAMS and COACHES must be affiliated with a US-based nationally, regionally, or state-recognized organization, such as a school, nature center, science education program, or youth club. The Institute has sole authority to determine whether an organization constitutes a nationally, regionally, or state-recognized organization. If you are not sure if your organization will qualify, please contact 

4) Coaches may be educators, volunteers, or parents/guardians working with the TEAM’s affiliated organization. Coaches must be age 21 or older. 

5) TEAMS may be comprised of students from assorted grades, however if any team member is in grade 9th-12th (high school) that team must compete in the high school category.


6) As a condition of participation in the Challenge and eligibility for awards, all parents/guardians of students participating in the Challenge must sign a consent and release agreement (“Consent and Release”) prior to engaging in program activities. The Consent and Release shall be collected by Coaches and filed with the Biomimicry Institute according to the instructions in the Coaches’ Handbook.

7) Coaches are not deemed agents of the Institute and carry no authority, rights, or representation on behalf of the Institute. The Institute provides the Challenge framework as a teaching guide for the Coach, which includes Program materials, management of the judging process, and the issuance of the team awards.

8) Coaches and participants (and minor participants’ parent/guardian) agree to hold harmless the Institute and its officers, directors, agents and employees from and against any and all losses, damages, obligations, liabilities, claims, expenses, fees (including attorneys’ fees), costs and judgments arising out of, based upon or resulting from participation in the Youth Design Challenge.


9) Coaches must register via the Challenge website, and identify themselves and their affiliated organization. Once registered, Coaches will receive the Coaches’ Handbook and access to resources and supports with which to guide their Teams in the Challenge experience and preparing a competition entry. Student Team members do not directly register or submit entries to the Challenge and the Institute will not correspond with student team members directly.

10) If a team has two Coaches, both may register but one of the Coaches must be designated “Lead Coach” and assume primary responsibility for communicating with the Institute and submitting and approving the Team’s entry on the Challenge website. If a team has only one Coach, they are by default the “Lead Coach.”


11) Entries must be received via the Challenge website by the posted deadline. Late and incomplete entries will not be considered. Follow the guidelines provided on the Challenge website and in the Coaches’ Handbook for instructions on how and what to submit.

12) Only one entry is permitted per Team. Coaches working with multiple Teams may submit up to three (3) entries. If more than three entries are received from a Coach, only the first 3 eligible entries will be considered. 

13) Teams must have completed “Consent and Release” paperwork on file in order to participate and to be considered for awards. (See item 6 above for details)

14) All entries must be the students’ own original work. If any copyrighted materials are used in the submission they must be properly credited and follow U.S. Fair Use guidelines.

15) The Institute reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to disqualify or refuse to display any entry it deems to be in violation of copyright, offensive, inappropriate, or not in keeping with the Institute’s image.

16) By submitting an entry, each Team (collectively the Coach(es), student team members, and minor team members’ parents or guardians) grants to Institute the right to display the submitted entry materials, photographs, and team biographical information (including names, school names, grades, city and state) on the Challenge website. The Institute may also use such photographs and information, with appropriate attribution, for educational or research purposes, advertising and promotion, or any other legal purposes, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world in perpetuity without further notice, permission, or compensation, except where prohibited by law.


17) Entries to the competition portion of the program are judged once annually and prizes are awarded in two grade level categories: middle school (6th-8th) and high school (9th-12th). In each category a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place award will be given. Refer to the Coaches’ Handbook for details on the judging process.

18) Coaches submitting entries to the Challenge will be asked to review a selection of entries during a preliminary round of judging and score them based on a numerical point system correlated to the Youth Design Challenge Rubric. Coaches may not judge their own Team(s) or any other Team that would represent a conflict of interest.

19) Up to 10 entries in each category (based on numerical score) will advance from the preliminary round to a second round of judging. A panel of judges comprised of Biomimicry Institute staff and selected biomimicry subject matter experts will select award winners. Decisions are final.

20) Projects selected for awards will be publicly recognized in a gallery on the Youth Design Challenge website, on the Biomimicry Institute website, and in media and outreach from the Biomimicry Institute. Each member of a winning team will receive an award certificate. The school or organization that hosted the Team will receive a cash award in the following amounts: 1st Place - $1,000; 2nd Place- $750; 3rd Place - $500. Winners will be notified via email.

21) Award funds will be disbursed in the form of a lump sum check addressed to the school or organization with which the Team is affiliated. The Biomimicry Institute will not disburse award funds directly to students or private individuals.

22) Award recipients are required to sign and return a prize/award acceptance form within fourteen (14) days of receipt of the prize/award acceptance form or the prize may be forfeited and, at the Institute’s sole discretion, awarded to another winner.


23) Each award recipient is solely responsible for any and all taxes on the prize and/or award as deemed applicable by the IRS tax regulations. The award recipient will be required to submit to the Biomimicry Institute a completed IRS form W9. If applicable, the recipient will receive a Form 1099-Misc from the Biomimicry Institute.

24) By accepting the prize, award recipients grant to Institute the right to use his or her name, photograph, likeness, and biographical information (including grade, school name, hometown, and state), for purposes of advertising and promotion, or any other legal purposes, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world in perpetuity without further notice, permission, or compensation, except where prohibited by law.

25) One or more winners may be asked to attend and participate in media and/or public relations events (the “Media Events”) designated by Institute and/or requested by various media outlets. Upon Institute’s request, and subject to winner’s availability, each winner agrees to participate in such Media Events without any further compensation. However, the Institute will cover travel expenses related to media events. Institute shall have the right, in its sole discretion, to choose the winners it wishes to participate in such Media Events. By accepting the prize, all winners, whether or not chosen to participate in such Media Events, agree to release Institute and its employees, directors, and officers, and hold each of them harmless, from any claims relating to the respective winner’s selection, non-selection, participation, or non-participation in any Media Events.

26) The Coach may be asked to submit testimonials, photos, and other materials for use in promoting the program, and if the Coach submits such materials, he or she agree that the license above with respect to the entry shall cover such submission.


27) We believe that privacy is important. Any information shared with the institute during the program is subject to the Biomimicry Institute Privacy Policy and Terms of Use which can be viewed here:

"One of the biggest things that needs to change is the educational system. [We] are still teaching a system to students that destroys the biosphere."

- Ray C. Anderson, Founder of Interface

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