Previously only open to students, this year's challenge from the Biomimicry Institute is open to professionals for the first time. This year, entrants are tasked with tasked with developing a biomimetic design that solves an important food system challenge.

The competition requires entrants to turn to nature’s mechanisms and design as a source of inspiration for solving a problem. This is called biomimicry, a term made popular by biologist Janine Benyus with her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. A biomimicry evangelist, she helped found the non-profit Biomimicry Institute, which runs the competition in partnership with the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

Although the Biomimicry Institute has been running challenges since 2009, these were restricted to entry by students. This year sees the launch of the inaugural Biomimicry Global Design Challenge (BGDC), which is open to teams or individuals of professionals as well as students, be it in separate Open and Student categories – both of which will be judged on the same criteria, though these are weighted slightly differently for each category.

The competition features two rounds, with cash prizes awarded for each. The first is centered on the design concept, with the finalists of this round then progressing to the second, which involves developing a prototype. The winner of this second round will take home the US$100,000 “Ray of Hope” Prize.

"Our hope is that the Global Design Challenge will mobilize thousands of students and professionals around the world to tackle the problem of food security," Benyus says. "Our goal is to show how modeling nature can provide viable solutions to reduce hunger, while creating conditions conducive to all life. And we want to get those solutions to market as quickly as possible."

Registration is already open for both the Open and Student categories with the online submission form to be available from April 15. The deadline for submissions is August 3. Between August 4 and September 7, 2015 there will be the preliminary judging and on September 11 the Open category finalists will be notified.

Finally, on October 2015, up to 10 Open category finalists will get a chance to pitch to a panel of experts. On that date, both Open and Student category winners will be named at an awards ceremony in a yet-to-be announced location in the US, with the top concepts getting up to $50,000 in seed money.

After that, finalists from the Open category will spend the next several months completing a functional prototype with support from mentors from all over the globe, returning in May 2016 to compete for the US$100,000 "Ray of Hope" grand prize. A fresh cycle of the Challenge will kick off at that point.

The Student category is open to high school, college and university students under the age of 35, including all types of post-graduation and PhD candidates. However, post-docs and university students who are older than 35 must submit in the Open category. For further regulation details follow the links in the source credit below.

For those interested in finding out more, the Institute is webcasting an online Q&A on Thursday February 12 at 8 pm MST and another one on Friday 13th at 10 am MST.

The Biomimicry Institute produced the video below to inspire applicants and explain the goals of the competition.