Northwestern Michigan College hosts first-ever international AquaHacking Challenge. Here's who won

What’s happening: The first-ever international Great Lakes AquaHacking Challenge was held at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City on Friday, May 10. The Canadian and American charity AquaAction organizes the event, a version of which first launched in Canada in 2015. This is the first AquaHacking Challenge hosted in the United States and to include American startups.

What it is: The 2023-2024 Great Lakes AquaHacking Challenge fielded a group of 10 finalists – American and Canadian startups providing innovative solutions to critical freshwater issues – as they competed for a share of $35,000 in seed funding and in-kind legal services. The grand finale was preceded by nine months of mentoring and expert coaching for the ten finalists, with the first international cohort launching in September 2023.

Who won: The Philadelphia-based company Baleena was awarded the grand prize, receiving $20,000 in seed funding on the strength of their microfiber-trapping filters for household washing machines, which works to remove microplastic pollution at its source.

Taking second place for a $10,000 prize was the Traverse City-based Wave Lumina, which developed a portable Raman device to swiftly detect ultra-low levels of PFAS and other contaminants in environmental samples. And Proto-StLo from Champlain College at St. Lawrence, Quebec City, won third place, taking home $5,000 in seed funding for their novel algal filtration technology that reduces lead concentrations in drinking water.

Each of the top three teams receive a prize package worth $10,000 from Aurora Patents, and legal aid valued at $2,000 from the Traverse City legal firm Alward Fisher Rice Rowe & Graf PLC.

Visit AquaAction online to learn more about the winning companies, including People’s Choice Award winner Quantum Water from Waterloo, Ontario.

Why it’s important: “NMC is very excited to be partnering with AquaAction,” says Jason Slade, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, Northwestern Michigan College. 

“The Great Lakes AquaHacking Challenge has brought innovators and entrepreneurs to the region from across the US and Canada. This continues NMC’s commitment to developing the next generation of great thinkers around water issues as well as providing opportunities for our students. The ten finalist teams lay the groundwork for the types of exciting breakthroughs we envision populating the Freshwater Research and Innovation Center coming to the Grand Traverse region.”

What’s next: The Great Lakes AquaHacking Challenge will remain hosted at Northwestern MIchigan College annually through 2026. Visit AquaAction online for updates on future opportunities for freshwater innovators.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.
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