The five student teams, from nine countries and 10 academic institutions, debut innovations addressing waste, hunger, climate and injustice as they transform economy.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA April 17, 2023 —For a world reeling from hunger, climate impacts, food waste and inequity, five student teams have stepped forward with expert-reviewed and innovative solutions as part of Wege Prize 2023, with several projects focused on advances in agriculture that cut carbon emissions and sustain developing communities.

These groundbreaking ideas are nurtured by Wege Prize, organized by Kendall College of Art and Design’s Wege Center for Sustainable Design with support from the Wege Foundation. The annual competition ignites game-changing solutions for the future by inspiring college/university students around the world to collaborate across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries to redesign the way economies work. This year saw 60-plus entries from teams hailing from five continents. The five competitors, vying for $65,000 USD in total cash prizes, will present their ideas to a public audience at the annual Wege Prize Awards in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at 10:00am ET on Friday, May 19 at Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD) and streaming live online at The diverse, multidisciplinary teams include:

  • Agri ThinkTank: Hailing from Rwanda, students from three institutions devise a tech solution to boost collection of agricultural waste for community composting.

  • Banana Leather: A way to make plant-based leather from mainly banana crop waste results from teamwork in Yale University’s business and environmental management programs.

  • Cellucoat: Students from four countries at University of Calgary innovate with a biodegradable, antimicrobial replacement for plastic packaging—and pollution.

  • Green Poultry Farm: Addressing environmental impacts of poultry farming, students from Mozambique—in four unique majors—use anaerobic digestion to create usable waste streams.

  • UnwasteWater: From four U.S. and European universities, this team tasks 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.


As part of Wege Prize, the teams have turned their ideas, starting as informal proposals, into robust and feasible solutions. With the input of expert judges, the five finalist teams employ research, market analysis, and real-world prototyping and testing to advance their plans.

“These inspired, dedicated students are innovators and disruptors in ways that offer a glimpse of the bright and optimistic future,” adds DeBruyn. “What makes it possible? Collaborate across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries to redesign the way economies work.”

Established in 2013, Wege Prize encourages student teams to solve complex, layered problems with a diverse, collaborative approach. The competition’s rules and design brief call for developing new, tangible solutions to producing and consuming essential goods — in sustainable ways that can be applied and used after the competition ends.


This year, the Wege Prize Awards is once again a free, in-person program held at KCAD in Grand Rapids, Mich., with an accompanying free livestream that will be watched globally starting on Friday, May 19 at 10:00am ET. Watch the students defend their ideas and respond to final judge feedback along with a worldwide audience. To attend 2023 Wege Prize Awards: Game-Changing Solutions to Wicked Problems, or to view the livestream, please find event details and registration at


Based in Rwanda, Agri ThinkTank is using food waste to make eco-friendly compost and livestock feed using black soldier flies (BSF), helping farmers access products that maximize agricultural production, reduce environmental contamination, and improve living standards. Developed products are accessed and sold through an app, which identifies when waste is available to collect and connects users to the resulting compost and feed products.

Team Banana Leather is producing an alternative leather material from banana plants that is vegan, cruelty-free, sustainable and circular. Made from banana crop waste sourced from India, the process not only helps with the country’s agricultural waste issues, but provides an additional source of income for farmers. Unlike other vegan leather alternatives, Banofi (Bannana-fibre leather) aims to become a 100% biobased and biodegradable product.

Team Cellucoat is developing a compostable, biodegradable, and customizable bacterial cellulose-based plastic alternative suitable for food packaging that is also antimicrobial, prolonging produce shelf life. Cellucoat also utilizes fruit waste from grocery stores and consumer homes for their bacterial cellulose growth media, helping to mitigate produce waste issues.

Team Green Poultry Farm addresses the wicked problem of environmental pollution associated with poultry farming in Mozambique, with an innovative biodigester system that converts poultry waste into biogas and biofertilizers, through anaerobic digestion. The biogas is converted into electricity and heat to meet energy needs within poultry production and the biofertilizer is used to grow feed for the poultry, promoting maximum use of resources and contributing to the circular economy by keeping materials in the loop.

Team UnWastewater seeks to eliminate waste in the form of wastewater, circularize the pharmaceutical industry and regenerate the natural environment via carbon capture by closing the circle between the production and disposal of pharmaceutical chemicals through microbial electrosynthesis (MES). By utilizing MES, a novel method of biochemical carbon capture and utilization to synthesize chemical products, UnWasteWater aims to valorize domestic wastewater for use in organic chemical feedstocks, and ultimately protect the environment, improve human health, and regenerate nature.

Wege Speaker Series 2023


The Nation’s first-ever Deputy Director for Energy Justice will give a virtual presentation on Thursday, April 20, 2023

Grand Rapids, Michigan – March 31, 2023 – The Wege Foundation will host the 26 th annual Wege Speaker Series ( on Thursday, April 20 at 4 pm. This year’s event will be virtual.

Presenting will be the Honorable Shalanda H. Baker, Director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy and Secretarial Advisor on Equity. Prior to her Senate confirmation, she served as the Nation’s first-ever Deputy Director for Energy Justice.

During her illustrious career, Director Baker has conducted research on equity and the transition away from fossil fuels, studied energy policy and indigenous rights in Mexico, as well as co-founding the Initiative for Energy Justice (, an organization committed to providing technical law and policy support to communities on the front lines of climate change.

“The Department of Energy is committed to delivering a just and inclusive energy transition,” said Director Baker. “And, by prioritizing equity and place-based strategies in our work, we are modeling approaches to a clean energy transition that delivers real benefits to underserved communities—including those historically overburdened by the energy system.”

While national in its scope, Director Baker’s work has very real implications for our communities here in Grand Rapids and the West Michigan region. Director Baker’s lecture and the conversation that follows with James Logan, the newly appointed CEO/President of The Wege Foundation, is intended to energize a deeper discussion with the funding community and engage the larger West Michigan community for energy equity and justice.

“We are very much looking forward to Director Baker’s lecture and eager to learn how we may be able to implement real changes here in West Michigan,” said Mr. Logan. “We want to be ready to engage with our local communities, businesses, and organizations on the next steps for local energy justice.”

Director Baker was a Professor of Law, Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. She is the author of numerous scholarly articles as well as her recent book, Revolutionary Power: An Activists’ Guide to the Energy Transition, where she argues that the technical terrain of energy policy should be the next domain to advance civil rights.

Please register by April 19, 2023 at:

Click here to download a pdf flyer

Wege Prize 2022


Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) announces
finalists for Wege Prize 2022, global competition for the circular economy solutions

Student teams from all over the world debut innovative approaches
to address global challenges in ways that transform the economy

Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA April 20, 2022 — Offering new ideas that can positively impact nations worldwide, five student teams are advancing as finalists for Wege Prize, the international student design competition with a $65,000 USD total purse to create solutions for “wicked problems” such as hunger, waste, pollution and climate change.

Announced by its organizer Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD), the 2022 edition of Wege Prize will showcase the finalists’ work in a May 20 streaming presentation with global attendance, at 10:00am eastern time. The finalists selected this month are drawn from a global field representing 70 academic institutions in 29 countries with students active in almost 100 areas of academic study.

“These inspired, dedicated students are innovators and disruptors in key areas that will help us address the multitude of issues facing the world today,” says Gayle DeBruyn, a KCAD professor and leader of Wege Prize. “We are delighted to see the five finalist teams working with our diverse group of supportive judges to nurture their inventive ideas and create tangible solutions that can help accelerate our transition to a circular economy.”

The finalist teams include participants from universities in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and North America — everywhere from Canada to China and Mozambique to the United Arab Emirates. The team names and their varied innovations are:

  • AquaPro, a super-efficient aquaponics system to grow fish, vegetables and duckweed.

  • Neocycle, a plan to recycle valuable rare-earth elements from electronics waste.

  • ROBUST, a method for transforming banana fiber waste into textiles and paper bags.

  • SCUP Aquaculture, an ocean platform concept benefiting fish biodiversity and allied industries.

  • Green Promoters, a team creating an organic pesticide fertilizer to replace chemical products.

Wege Prize is a widely acclaimed and globally recognized competition serving as an agent of change for these disruptive concepts — and lofty student ambitions. It has drawn participants from the best academic programs at leading universities worldwide, from U.S. Ivy League schools to national science and technology universities in India, Ghana, China, Japan and Chile.

Guided by direct feedback from the competition’s panel of expert judges – including specialists in design, circular economy, education, and sustainability from Europe, South America and the United States — participating teams refine their solutions over three distinct phases as their scope and complexity grows more challenging. From that process, the five teams chosen this month have earned the opportunity to compete for $65,000 USD in total cash prizes, awarded annually to those whose ideas spark the brightest hope for real world implementation and success. This year’s five teams of promising future innovators and change-makers were selected from a group of 14 semifinalists.

The solutions Wege Prize teams create have gone on to make real-world impact. 2018 winner Rutopia’s eco-sensitive tourism concepts, covered by top editors at Forbes, has gained additional funding and support while blossoming into a fully-fledged business. Others like 2020 Wege Prize winner Hya Bioplastics and the 2021 team The Chilensis have advanced to prestigious business incubators that have further strengthened the groundwork to implement their prizewinning ideas.

“With climate change and so many other pressing global issues coming to a head, the world needs people who can work across boundaries to solve problems now more than ever before,” adds KCAD’s DeBruyn. “Every Wege Prize team is advancing a thoughtful and creative approach for helping transition our linear economy of taking, making and disposing, into a circular one that’s restorative by design.”

 Wege Prize was established in 2013 to solve complex, layered 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 in sustainable ways that are applied and used after the competition’s conclusion.

This year, a free livestream of the finalist teams, the 2022 Wege Prize Awards will be held on May 20, 2022, when the top groups will present and defend their bold ideas in front of expert judges and a global online audience. Event details and registration can be found at


Click here to read about the finalists


The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council member will give a virtual presentation on Thursday, May 26, 2022 Grand Rapids, Michigan – April 26, 2022 – The Wege Foundation will host the 25th annual Wege Speaker Series ( on Thursday, May 26 at 4 pm.

This year’s event will be virtual.

Presenting is Dr. Beverly Wright, award-winning environmental justice scholar, advocate, author, civic leader and professor. She is the founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans, a community-university partnership organization that focuses on health inequities and environmental racism along the Louisiana Mississippi River Chemical Corridor and the Gulf Coast Region. The Center provides education, health and safety training, and job placement for residents in climate-impacted communities within the United States. Recently, she was appointed by President Biden as a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to help support his whole-of-government approach to the climate crisis.

As a child growing up in southern Louisiana, Wright’s understanding of environmentally compromised communities was close to home. She lived along the highly polluted 85-mile stretch of land between Baton Rouge and New Orleans known as ”cancer alley.” These childhood experiences shaped her eventual career choices in research and activism. “Dr. Wright combines her knowledge as a scholar and her experience as an advocate to assure equitable approaches to addressing climate change,” said

Wege Foundation President Mark Van Putten. “There can be no better time for Dr. Beverly Wright to describe her groundbreaking strategies as Grand Rapids and West Michigan develop and implement local climate change strategies.” “We are looking forward to Dr. Wright’s lecture and learning how we may be able to complete similar projects in Grand Rapids,” said Alison Waske Sutter, Sustainability and Performance Management Officer at the City of Grand Rapids. “Her talk will come on the coattails of a recent invitation for our city to participate in the White House’s national Building Performance Standards (BPS) Coalition.” “With data from new screening tools and studies, the extent of environmental injustice in our neighborhoods with the highest concentration of People of Color is becoming impossible to ignore,” said Sergio Cira-Reyes, Climate Justice Catalyst at the Urban Core Collective. “Dr. Wright’s research and expertise is exactly the wisdom we desperately need to start addressing these layers of injustice woven into other social determinants of health.” Dr. Wright received the 2003 Distinguished Alumni Award from the State University of New York, Buffalo, the Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leadership Award in 2006, the 2008 EPA Environmental Justice Achievement Award, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition 2008 Community Award, the Ford Motor Company’s Freedom’s Sisters Award in 2009 and the Urban Affairs Association’s SAGE Activist Scholar Award in 2011. She was also recognized by theGrio as one of its 100 History Makers in the Making.

She is the author of numerous scholarly articles and has co-authored the books Race, Place, and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina and The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How the Government Response to Disaster Endangers African-American Communities.

Dr. Wright received a Ph.D. from State University of New York at Buffalo.

Please register by May 25, 2022 at:

Partners for the 25th Wege Speaker Series event include:

  • City of Grand Rapids
  • Michigan Black Expo
  • U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan
  • Urban Core Collective

Click here to download the flyer.


We mourn the killing of Patrick Lyoya by a Grand Rapids police officer. We join all those grieving for Mr. Lyoya’s family and friends and for our community. We have pledged to listen to and learn from the voices of outrage and suffering and to support organizations working to right longstanding injustices and to bring systemic change.

In this moment of grief, we seek to highlight and support the leadership of our grantee partners in the arduous work of dismantling systemic inequities still lingering in our community. Several organizations, including grantees, have put forth specific proposals to reform policing and law enforcement. We are committed to supporting effective civic engagement by front-line organizations in this effort.

We pledge to strengthen the Foundation’s support through its grants and investments of organizations working for concrete, systemic progress in racial justice including policing practices, opportunities for wealth creation, economic advancement, access to a healthy environment and community wellbeing. In addition to policy and systems reform, we are also committed to helping address the community trauma from this tragedy and from recurring instances of injustice.

There are many things about our community of which we are proud. But, we are ashamed of the continuing systematic racism and injustice so brutally illustrated by this tragedy. The tragic ending of Patrick Lyoya’s life must be an impetus for effective and lasting societal change.

– END –

Wege Prize 2021 Winners



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 transition 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.)


Click here to learn more about the 2021 winners and finalists.


The founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment will give a virtual presentation on Thursday, May 27, 2021

Grand Rapids, Michigan – March 25, 2021 – The Wege Foundation will host the 24th annual Wege Speaker Series ( on Thursday, May 27 at 4pm. The flagship event took a hiatus last year due to the
pandemic. This year’s event will be virtual.

Presenting is Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, renowned author, educator and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. As a scientist, Dr. Kimmerer’s interests include the restoration of ecological communities and the rejuvenation of human relationships to land. She holds a PhD in Botany from the University of Wisconsin. Her presentation is titled Healing relationships with the natural world.

“Dr. Kimmerer teaches us how to restore healthy relationships with each other and with the environment,” said Wege Foundation President Mark Van Putten. “She offers an inclusive vision for Grand Rapids in planning to restore the Grand
River rapids that were so important to indigenous people.”

Dr. Kimmerer lives in Syracuse, New York where she is a SUNY (State University of New York) Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology and founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.

Dr. Kimmerer’s latest book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, has earned critical acclaim. She writes, lectures and interviews widely, including features on TEDx, NPR and Orion magazine. In 2015, she addressed the general assembly of the United Nations.

Please register by May 26, 2021 at:

The first 200 registrants will have the opportunity to receive a discounted price on a signed copy of Dr. Kimmerer’s book.

Partners for the 24th Wege Speaker Series event include:

  • City of Grand Rapids
  • Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.
  • Grand Rapids WhiteWater
  • Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians
  • River for All

About The Wege Foundation

Founded in 1967 by Peter M. Wege, The Wege Foundation focuses on 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, go to

Download PDF Information

Wege Prize 2020 Design Competition Winners

Global Student Design Competition  Ignites Game-Changing Sustainable Solutions  for the Economy of the Future, Provides Powerful  and Accessible Platform for Systemic Change

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD)
Announces Winners of Wege Prize 2020 Design Competition; 2021 competition launched

Team of students studying in Uganda and the United States wins top prize of $15,000 USD with a proposal to transform one of the world’s most invasive plants into a biodegradable raw material that could help make single-use plastic products obsolete.

Grand Rapids, Mich. June 3, 2020 – Covid. Climate. Injustice. Waste. Disparity. Hunger. Poverty. So much is at critical mass in our world that we have no choice but to address multiple interconnected global issues simultaneously. And if we’re to solve these complex, layered problems, we need individuals capable of working across the barriers that divide us to drive systems-level change.

That’s why Wege Prize—an annual international design competition organized by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD)—provides a powerful and accessible platform for any college or university student in the world to develop tangible solutions to “wicked” problems through a collaborative process that transcends disciplinary, cultural, and institutional boundaries.

Wege Prize teams are inspired to reframe the way we produce and consume by developing products, services, business models, or other solutions that address systematic issues while also helping power a transition from our current linear economy—in which we take, make, and dispose—to a circular economy that’s regenerative by design.

At the recent 2020 Wege Prize Awards, the five finalists that emerged from an initial field of 29 teams— representing 24 countries, 64 academic institutions, and 100 unique academic disciplines—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.

The winners of Wege Prize 2020 are:

1st Place ($15,000) – Hya Bioplastics – Click here to learn more about the Hya Bioplastics team.

Institutions represented: Georgia Institute of Technology (United States), Makerere University (Uganda)
Disciplines represented: Commerce, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Civil Engineering, Industrial Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering

Solution: What if one of the world’s most invasive plants could help spell the end for single-use plastic?
Hya Bioplastics is developing a process that blends dried water hyacinth fibers and boiled cassava starch into a biodegradable raw material for the production of disposable plates, cups, silverware, and packaging. At the same time, the process helps mitigate the threats posed by the spread of water hyacinth.

With approximately 86% of the more than 400 million tons of plastic produced in the world each year entering the waste stream, the need for alternatives has never been more dire. Similarly, water hyacinth is invading already-scarce freshwater sources around the world at an alarming rate, growing up to 17.5 tons per hectare per day and harboring disease-spreading organisms, compromising drinking water supplies, and negatively affecting other marine life in the process.

The true elegance of Hya Bioplastics’ idea lies in its use of one problem to solve another, and in the team’s keen understanding of the systems they’re disrupting. The team has already developed prototype sheets of its proposed material, begun testing product designs with it, and vetted its compostability through a number of different methods.

“We’ve seen a lot of examples of bioplastics out there, but the use here of local invasive species as feedstock is particularly insightful,” said judge Alysia Garmulewicz, an associate professor at Universidad de Santiago de Chile and fellow at the University of Oxford who researches digital fabrication and the circular economy. “This solution is also incredibly replicable and scalable, with a promising potential for real-world implementation.”

2nd Place ($10,000) – Further Food – Click here to learn more about the Further Food team.

Institutions represented: Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (United States), Grand Valley State University (United States), Oakland University (United States)
Disciplines represented: Collaborative Design, English Literature, Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Graphic Design, Nursing

What if we could streamline and reduce pre-consumer food waste at a university level by offering to-go meal packages and on-campus composting?
Further Food is developing a regenerative system that transforms unused food from campus dining services into packaged meals made available to students during the final hours of cafeteria operations, while leftover waste is diverted to an on-campus composting facility. The system keeps nutrients cycling through campus while also creating economic value, social capital, and educational/research opportunities.

In the United States alone, university students each produce an estimated 142 pounds of food waste each year, while the equally-wicked problems of hunger and food access persist. By interfacing with campus dining services at their respective institutions and engaging in extensive customer validation studies, Further Food was able to envision a viable, profitable, and scalable service that designs out waste, increases food access for students in need, and generates additional revenue, material capital, and educational opportunities for universities.

In addition, Further Food’s solution has the potential to help reverse the stigma around leftover food in ways that could have a profound impact not just on campus dining services, but across our society.

“We’ve heard ideas about campus food waste before, but what really impressed the judges is how this team’s vision extends beyond a single campus and into a model that could be replicated on any campus,” said judge Colin Webster, a learning content manager with the UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a global leader in circular economy research, advocacy, and development. “But the biggest implication for me is the potential for this to go beyond a campus and into all sorts of different environments. If you get this right, the model could really take off and become a new normal for how to deal with food waste.”

3nd Place ($5,000) – Pellet – Click here to learn more about the Pellet team.

Institutions represented: Ashesi University (Ghana), EARTH University (Costa Rica), Trinity College (United States)
Disciplines represented: Agricultural Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Business Administration, Mechanical Engineering

What if organic waste from urban restaurants and residences could give rural farmers access to affordable and environmentally friendly fertilizer?
Pellet is developing a system to do just that by tackling persistent waste streams while creating economic opportunity, nurturing soil health, and aiming to jumpstart a budding industry in Rwanda in the process.

With 80% of Rwandans involved in agriculture, and the industry comprising 30% of the country’s GDP, the demand for fertilizer is incredibly high, around 49,000 megatons in 2019 alone. Most famers rely on imported synthetic fertilizer that are not only expensive, they contaminate groundwater, damage existing microorganisms, and contribute to global warming due to their volitization.

At the same time, the lack of proper waste disposal in cities like Kigali creates a host of social and health problems. So, instead of discarding organic waste into poorly-designed landfills, Pellet proposes to upcycle this waste into organic fertilizer pellets that promote soil health, increase crop yield, and negate detrimental environmental impacts, all at a 35% cheaper cost to the farmers.

Pellet has already prototyped their process and product at EARTH University, where they achieved 50% greater yield on a maize crop planted with their organic fertilizer versus a crop fed with imported synthetic fertilizer.

“Pellet brought incredibly solid research, proven results, and a rock-solid business model to the table that really impressed the judges ,” said judge Christopher Carter, an educator, seasoned animator/story board artist, and a nationally-known sculptor who’s also a trustee and board member of The Wege Foundation, which provides financial support for Wege Prize. “More than just filling a need, their product impacts the social, economic, and agricultural sectors of Rwanda in interconnected ways that could serve as a powerful example for other areas in the region to follow.”

The other two finalist teams—Team Biochar and yOIL—were each honored with a $1,000 Finalist Award.

Team Biochar, composed of Ghanaian students studying in Ghana, Kenya, the Netherlands, and Uganda, developed a system to convert Ghana’s abundance of pineapple waste—which is currently either burned, discarded on the ground/in bodies of water, or buried in the soil—into biochar and compost that can be used to improve soil fertility, increase crop yield, and enhance food security while eliminating environmental pollution and reducing the spread of disease. Click here to learn more about Team Biochar.

yOIL, a team of Canadian students studying at the University of Calgary, developed a biological system for addressing the problems Canada’s unpredictable climate and short growing season pose to the country’s canola oil industry, namely excess chlorophyll from seeds diluting the quality of the oil while raising production costs, and a fungus that leaches nutrients from canola crops in cold and humid conditions. The team’s system removes chlorophyll from the oil and repurposes it into an anti-fungal treatment, reducing costs and waste while increasing product quality. Click here to learn more about the yOIL team.

Due to COVID-19, the 2020 Wege Prize Awards were the first to be held in an entirely virtual format. Despite the challenges of social distancing, all of the five finalist teams were able to create what judges collectively called the competition’s strongest body of finalist ideas in its seven-year history.

“With everything the global COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing loss of normalcy has taken from us, it’s also given us an enormous opportunity,” said Gayle DeBruyn, KCAD professor and Wege Prize organizer. “Because why should we settle for returning to normal when we have a chance to build something better? A world where we stop accepting wicked problems like waste, environmental degradation, poverty, and inequality as inevitable and start challenging, rethinking, and redesigning the systems that perpetuate them. Wege Prize is about so much more than the awards; it’s about empowering ourselves and each other to embrace new ways of thinking, seeing, and working together.”

Thanks to the continuing financial support of The Wege Foundation, Wege Prize 2021 will again be open to any undergraduate or graduate student in the world and will be focused on developing a circular economy.

Team registration will open in August 2020, but interested faculty, students and professionals are encouraged to begin making connections, building teams, and generating ideas now.

More details about Wege Prize 2021 will be revealed in the coming weeks on

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

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 the visual arts, design, art history, and art education; 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

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





Wege Speaker Series Lecture of April 23 is cancelled.

Dear Wege Speaker friends,

COVID-19 (coronavirus) continues to present challenges to organizations and communities across the country, and we are all beginning to feel its effects.

In accordance with Governor Whitmer’s latest recommendations and our own desire to limited any potential future impact of COVID-19, we are canceling this year’s Wege Speaker lecture with Favianna Rodriguez scheduled for April 23 at the Aquinas College Performing Arts Center.

While you’re sequestering, you may wish to view some of Favianna’s past interviews and presentations at

We hope that wherever you are, you and your loved ones are taking care of each other and staying as safe and healthy as possible in these turbulent times.


Blandford Nature Center
Grand Rapids Public Schools
Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities
Latina Network of West Michigan
Sierra Club Michigan Chapter
West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology
West Michigan Environmental Action Council