Three stand-out university student teams from around the world have taken winning spots in the 2023 Wege Prize for their ground-breaking solutions to further a circular economy through sustainable approaches that mitigate waste and maximize productivity.

Organized by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, Wege Prize challenges five-person student teams worldwide to collaborate in the advancement of sustainable solutions to today’s “wicked problems” in ways that support a circular economy. Each of this year’s five finalist teams is sharing in the competition’s $65,000 in prize money for developing solutions that address agricultural waste, environmental pollution and wastewater.

For the past decade, Wege Prize has identified winning teams in the interdisciplinary competition, with this year’s top three groups hailing from five countries and six academic institutions. The awarded teams faced an initial pool of 50 competing teams representing 37 countries as they progressed through a narrowing selection of contenders during the nine-month, multi-phase competition.

Wege Prize teams are inspired to reframe traditional production and consumption methods through a multi-discipline, immersive process encompassing diverse fields of study, cultures and institutions. The teams’ intensive research, testing, networking and prototyping is supported and refined through direct feedback from the competition’s panel of expert judges.

“The brilliant student teams that compete in Wege Prize give me hope that humanity will solve the serious ecological problems we face by designing equitable business models that regenerate nature and add economic value,” said Bill Stough, sustainable business expert and core judge for Wege Prize.

The winners of Wege Prize 2023 are:

  • Third Place ($10,000): UnWastewater used microbes to convert wastewater into raw materials for use in industrial and commercial products, closing the circle between the production and disposal of pharmaceutical chemicals.
  • Second Place ($20,000): Green Poultry Farm addressed environmental impacts of poultry farming, with the Mozambique team’s students using anaerobic digestion to create usable waste streams.
  • First Place ($30,000): Banana Leather from Yale University’s business and environmental management programs produced a sustainably made plant-based leather, mainly from banana crop waste.

Two other student teams, Cellucoat and Agri ThinkTank, each received $2,500 awards as finalists.

“Having a framework like Wege Prize to kind of streamline our idea – the business model, the feasibility, the down-streaming impact, the social impact – has just been a way that we’ve had to develop this and forced us to think things that have been really helpful and instrumental in propelling this business forward,” said Jinali Mody, lead of the Banana Leather team, first-place winner of the 2023 Wege Prize Award.

Wege Prize participants come from diverse academic programs at leading universities worldwide, including students from U.S. Ivy League schools and national science and technology universities in India, Africa, the United Kingdom, Canada and other countries. The teams’ solutions are making a real-world impact. 2019 finalist Rutopia’s eco-sensitive tourism concepts, covered by top editors at Forbes, gained funding and support. Others, like 2020 Wege Prize winner Hya Bioplastics and the 2021 team The Chilensis, have advanced to prestigious business incubators that lay the groundwork to implement their prize-winning ideas.

“Each participating Wege Prize team’s innovative ideas for new ways to develop products, services and business models help drive a regenerative, circular economy,” said Gayle DeBruyn, KCAD professor and Wege Prize organizer. “We are proud of this year’s winners and grateful for all of our student teams and dedicated judges in their pursuit and support of real-world solutions to pressing global issues.”