Wege Prize has announced its largest ever roster of highly diverse student competitors from around the world for the 2023 edition of the sustainability and innovation competition. Hailing from 107 leading institutions of higher education everywhere from China to Costa Rica, the competing students stand to emerge as pioneers of real-world approaches combatting “wicked problems” facing the world today, such as hunger, pollution, and waste.

With an initial field of 63 applications narrowed down to 50 competing student teams, Wege Prize 2023 welcomes a record 250 participants representing 37 countries by citizenship and almost 150 unique academic disciplines. With 50 graduate students and 10 doctoral candidates in addition to 190 undergraduates, the field of competitors brings together people from higher education institutions across 39 countries, making it not only the competition’s largest field ever but also its most international and diverse.

Now in its tenth year, Wege Prize is organized by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) to challenge students in higher education to build diverse, five-person teams that develop actionable solutions – products, services, or business models – to address ongoing issues affecting people and the environment. In this way, they have the opportunity to turn their inventive ideas into real-world solutions to help advance the circular economy.

The teams compete for a cash prize pool of $65,000 USD, more than double the awards granted in previous years.

“KCAD welcomes this large and highly competitive field of participants to their first phase of involvement in Wege Prize, where their innovative thinking and new ideas for circular economy solutions will help the world eliminate waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate our natural systems,” says Gayle DeBruyn, a KCAD professor of Collaborative Design and Wege Prize principal organizer. “This group for the 10th anniversary of Wege Prize is by far our largest field with an impressively diverse array of academic disciplines working together from around the globe. We are excited to see them get started!”

During Wege Prize’s seven-month, multiphase process, the student groups are challenged to refine their proposed solutions through valuable feedback with a multidisciplinary panel of expert judges. As the challenge progresses, a select group of finalist teams earns the opportunity to present their developed solutions and compete for a portion of $65,000 in cash prizes.

50 Teams, from 39 Countries

Wege Prize was established in 2013 to investigate complex, layered, “wicked problems” and to encourage students in higher education to take a diverse, collaborative approach in developing new, tangible solutions to produce and consume essential goods, design for the circular economy, and apply their business models or products to be implemented after the competition’s conclusion. Based on its success, Wege Prize was awarded major grant funding last year to extend the annual competition for an assured five years, thanks to the continuing financial support of The Wege Foundation.

Wege Prize 2023 boasts a field that is larger than the 2022 group, with 50 teams versus the 31 involved last year, and a record 250 participants. By institution location, 39 countries are represented this year as compared to the 29 countries in 2022, with more students at all levels of higher education.

A Platform for Innovation

A wide array of challenges is addressed by participating student teams from Egypt, Canada, India, Rwanda, United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries across the globe. Examples of the Wege Prize 2023 participant initiatives include: 

• Tackling “fast fashion” and developing more circular business models and products for the fashion and textile industries.

• Finding an alternative and organic material for semiconductors with low toxicity, high biodegradability, and that are easy to reuse or recycle.

• Using Black Soldier Flies to process bio product waste into high-protein livestock feed to support local farmers.

• Reducing food waste by using it to develop produce packing material made of bacterial cellulose that reduces spoilage.

Many Wege Prize competitors have built their ideas into successful ventures. Among the program’s notable achievers is the 2022 finalist team SCUP Aquaculture, which has just been shortlisted by the prestigious Moonshot Awards. From the 2021 competition, the Chilensis team has been recognized for its sound isolators made from discarded palm leaves to ease invasive indoor noise pollution in Chile. In addition, the 2020 Wege Prize winner Hya Bioplastics was accepted into a prestigious incubator and have advanced their business. Another team from 2019, Rutopia created concepts for eco-sensitive tourism that garnered the attention of top editors at Forbes, among others.

“We are so happy to see this recognition for some of our strongest teams,” says KCAD’s DeBruyn. “What’s best is that their collaborative efforts open new possibilities for workable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing wicked problems, while they also learn from industry experts to gain wider perspectives on their winning ideas.”

See details about Wege Prize 2023 at WegePrize.org.