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Global Student Design Competition Announces Winning, Game-Changing Sustainable Solutions — Platform for Economy of the Future Also Extending Grant, to Expand Programs through 2025

Global Student Design Competition Announces Winning, Game-Changing Sustainable Solutions — Platform for Economy of the Future Also Extending Grant, to Expand Programs through 2025

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) Announces Winners of Wege Prize 2021, and Plans for Growth, Bigger Prize Purse

A team of students from Ghana and Costa Rica wins first prize and $15,000 USD with transformative concept turning wood waste into mushroom production

Grand Rapids, Mich., June 3, 2021 – Tackling the world’s most pressing, complex “wicked problems” by addressing global issues with design thinking, the winners have been announced for Wege Prize, an acclaimed international student design competition organized by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD). The winning teams, sharing a $30,000 USD purse and earning broad visibility for their ideas, hail from Chile, Costa Rica, Ghana, Malawi and Tanzania. The students presented their ideas at a live online event as the culmination of a nine-month-long competitive process supported by expert judges.

As reported widely in trade and news media, Wege Prize provides a powerful and accessible platform for any college or university student in the world to develop tangible solutions to serious challenges, benefiting from a collaborative process that transcends disciplinary, cultural, and institutional boundaries. The resulting solutions — including many that go on to join incubators and earn startup funding — address climate and environmental impacts, social and economic disparities, and cycles of waste, hunger and poverty.

This month, KCAD has announced that Wege Prize has been awarded grant funding to extend the annual competition for five more years, with a new growth plan to increase the prize purse by over 100% to $65,000 USD, to double its pool of judges, and to begin exploring future extensions of Wege Prize to serve more students and communities.

“Wege Prize teams are inspired to reframe the way we produce and consume by collaboratively developing products, services, business models, and other solutions that address systematic issues,” says Gayle DeBruyn, KCAD professor and Wege Prize organizer. “The participating teams also help chart paths to transitioning from our current linear economy — in which we take, make, and dispose — to a circular economy that’s regenerative and restorative by design. We need to champion more of these creative, daring problem- solvers!”

Earning first place in 2021 is the team AgriTrade Hub, which unites a student from Costa Rica’s EARTH University with three universities in Ghana to not only find uses for the problematic wood and sawdust waste created by the Ghanaian logging industry, but also to turn those waste materials into agricultural and economic value. Among the nutrient-giving byproducts of the proposed solution is a mushroom compost ideal for fertilizing newly planted forests and valuable ornamental trees. (More details follow, below.)

“Our solution is geared toward supporting the local economy, and contributing to food security and nutrition through the production of nutrient-rich oyster mushrooms,” says AgriTrade Hub team member Victoria Akwamaa Yeaboah, a student in agricultural science and natural resource management at EARTH University. “With our focus on ensuring that nearly all the resources are used up, we’re contributing to a circular economy that helps redefine the universal issue of wood waste.”At the 2021 Wege Prize Awards event held online recently, AgriTrade Hub presented as one of five finalists that emerged from an initial field of 35 teams — a record field for Wege Prize — representing 29 countries, 88 academic institutions, and 114 unique academic disciplines. The five finalist teams presented bold ideas that evolved over nine months of intensive research, testing, networking, prototyping, and direct feedback from the competition’s panel of expert judges.

AgriTrade Hub won the $15,000 first place prize. The second- and third-place teams were awarded $10,000 and $5,000 respectively, and the two other finalists earned $1,000 each. (The total cash awards given will more than double in the 2022 iteration, says DeBruyn.)

The winners of Wege Prize 2021 are:

1st Place ($15,000) – AgriTrade Hub

Institutions represented: Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, University of Energy and Natural Resources, University of Ghana, and EARTH University in Costa Rica

Disciplines represented: Biological science, agricultural science, natural resource management, geological engineering, and political science

Solution: Addressing the wicked problem of increased logging in Ghana creating wood waste and sawdust – about 97,000 metric tons annually – and the mismanagement of waste disposal, the team’s solution proposes transforming wood waste into nutrient-based substrates for mushroom production, leading to mushroom compost for use in fertilizing and growing forest and ornamental trees, thereby eliminating all forms of wood waste and mitigating environmental impacts.

2nd Place ($10,000) – Sutote

Institutions represented: EARTH University in Costa Rica, Nkhoma University in Malawi, Hubert Kairuki Memorial University, and the Water Institute in Tanzania

Disciplines represented: Medicine, business management, agricultural science, natural resource management, water resources and irrigation engineering

Solution: Synthetic pesticides are a wicked problem the world over, extremely harmful to health and the environment. In Tanzania, pesticide residues have been detected in the samples of irrigation water, and this team is devising a closed-circle production system for tomatoes using organic pesticides from the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia Diversifolia).

3nd Place ($5,000) – The Chilensis

Institutions represented: Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and University of Santiago de Chile

Disciplines represented: Integral design, physical engineering, chemical engineering, business administrationSolution: With overcrowding already a wicked problem in Santiago, Chile, the pandemic in 2020 has only aggravated the impact. The Chilensis is developing sound isolators using discarded palm leaves waste to improve the quality of life by providing privacy. Old palm leaves are treated as waste, but they have significant sound isolation properties and help address the challenge while creating a circular economic opportunity.Two other finalist teams—Team Musana and Banga Na—were each honored with a $1,000 Finalist Award:

Team Musana, comprising students all from Uganda, addressed head-on the issue of using wood to fuel stoves for cooking, which contributes to more than 80% of biomass fuel use and widespread deforestation in Uganda. This team helps solve this wicked problem by created a stove using solar power and water to fuel cooking, eliminating the need for wood fuel and helping reduce deforestation in Uganda. In addition, their solution includes a model to buy or repair used stoves to reuse raw materials.


Banga Na, with students from Ghana and Tanzania, tackles the high-waste problem of cashew apples causing bugs, environmental, and economic problems for local farmers in Ghana. For this wicked problem, the team’s solution of adding value to cashew apples by converting the fruit to wine, juice, and organic fertilizer, generating income and employment from waste and improving food security and economic growth in the country.

The finalists and winners emerged from 11 interdisciplinary student teams from around the world shortlisted to advance to the final phase of the competition. Of the selected teams, eight included participants from African countries, and seven of the teams have been focused on food-related or agricultural problems facing the world today, addressing food insecurity, production inefficiencies, waste and environmental degradation.

“We’ve been so inspired by the quality of the concepts advanced by these teams, and we’re also very gratified to see the international, collaborative and cross-disciplinary nature of the student teams that participated in Wege Prize this year,” adds KCAD’s DeBruyn.

Wege Prize was established in 2013 to solve the most complex, layered problems. The competition requires teams of individuals capable of working across the barriers that too often divide people — to drive systems- level change. The KCAD prize offers a powerful and accessible platform for any college or university student in the world to develop tangible solutions that often find real-world acceptance and application after the competition concludes.

Examples from recent Wege Prize teams have included Rutopia, whose 2019 concepts for eco-sensitive tourism have got the attention of top editors at Forbes, among others. Another is Hya Bioplastics, which created a process for blending dried water hyacinth fibers and boiled cassava starch to produce a biodegradable raw material used to make disposable food packaging. The venture’s cofounders have been accepted into a prestigious incubator and have advanced their business.

This year, five finalists for Wege Prize were interviewed by GreenBiz editor Deonna Anderson for a video series available here:

Due to COVID-19, the 2020 and 2021 editions of the Wege Prize Awards were held in an entirely virtual format. Despite the challenges of social distancing, the judges applauded the participants for developing some of the strongest ideas in the competition’s eight-year history.

Wege Prize Extended for Five More Years

Thanks to the continuing financial support of The Wege Foundation, Wege Prize 2022 through 2026 will again be open to any undergraduate or graduate student in the world and will be focused on developing a circular economy. New in 2022, Wege Prize has been extended for five more years of competitions, with a new growth plan to double the prize purse to total $65,000 USD. Wege Prize will also double its pool of judges in 2022, meaning that more students will benefit from the interactions and teaching by renowned experts participating next year. In addition, KCAD will begin a process of reviewing ways to expand Wege Prize to serve more students and communities as it shares ideas for the circular economy to an even wider audience.

Formal team registration for Wege Prize 2022 will open this August. In the meanwhile, KCAD encourages interested faculty, students and professionals to begin making connections, building teams, and generating ideas right away for this highly competitive, global design competition.

More details about Wege Prize 2021 will be revealed in the coming weeks on wegeprize.org.
About Wege Prize
Wege Prize, a West Michigan-born concept developed by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design with the support of The Wege Foundation, is an annual competition that ignites games-changing solutions for the future by inspiring college students around the world to collaborate across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries and redesign the way economies work. To learn more, go to wegeprize.org.
About KCAD
Located in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) is committed to creating lasting impact in West Michigan and beyond through collaborative partnerships, cultural innovation, and an educational model that prepares students for leadership in design, the visual arts, and art history; provides innovative, collaborative education that fosters intellectual growth and individual creativity; and promotes the ethical and civic responsibilities of artists and designers, locally and globally. For more information, please visit kcad.edu.


About The Wege Foundation
Planting seeds that develop leaders in economicology, health, education, and arts, and enhance the lives of people in West Michigan and around the world. For more information, please visit wegefoundation.com.