Winners announced in the 2023 Elon Innovation Challenge

With focus on waste reduction and in conjunction with the Campus Race to Zero Waste Initiative, competitors developed innovative products, services, apps, or public awareness campaigns in their bid to win a $2,500 grand prize.

An Elon University sophomore’s means for turning plastic bottles that are often tossed in garbage bins into usable and sustainable filament is the grand prize winner of an annual competition hosted by the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

Aaron Satko ’25, a computer science major, topped nearly two dozen other teams competing for $2,500 in the 2023 Elon Innovation Challenge, which was focused this spring on waste reduction in conjunction with the Campus Race to Zero Waste Initiative.

Campus Race to Zero Waste is a nationwide program to increase waste diversion, recycling, and composting. The initiative supports Elon’s goal to reach 50% waste diversion by the year 2030.

Submissions in the 2023 competition ranged from reducing waste in the dining halls as well as recycling or reusing products to devising ways to compost more effectively and repurposing products for alternative uses.

Teams comprised of anywhere from one to five students met with representatives from the Office of Sustainability and were offered a coach to help develop ideas into feasible innovations.

“The Elon Innovation Challenge is one of the most fun events that the Doherty Center puts on every year,” said Alyssa Martina, director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship. “We get to see students from across campus innovate around a common theme and demonstrate great creativity and ingenuity with their solutions.

“It’s wonderful to watch them present such clever ideas and build such interesting prototypes. Our incredible EIC committee of faculty and staff shows the cross-campus collaboration and support that is integral to Elon’s core values.”

Top Results

  • First Place ($2,500): Aaron Satko identified a way to turn plastic bottles into usable filament.
  • Second Place ($500): Gabi Drumm-Schwartz, Aidan Bauer, Kyle Brody and Maddy Burgess upcycled aluminum cans and turned them into candles.
  • Third Place ($250):  Lauren Hill and Hannah Miller developed a public awareness campaign focused on the “ugliness” of garbage on Elon’s campus to encourage students to recycle.
  • Fourth Place ($100): Ashley Josey and Valentina Echavarria created a reusable coffee mug.
  • Fifth Place ($75): Shriya Baru developed a campus beautification/waste reduction public awareness campaign.

Judges also bestowed five honorable mentions and a People’s Choice Award, won by Finn Curran Ng’Asi, who developed a reusable gourd for holding drinking water to be given to students when they first arrive at Elon. All received $25 per team.

“Each year, and this one in particular, I’m struck by the creative ingenuity of Elon innovators,” said Professor Karl Sienerth, co-chair of the 2023 competition along with Kelly Harer in the Office of Sustainability. “The problem of waste is not just about how to get rid of it – waste consumes resources that could be applied to problems elsewhere and impacts humans beyond the Elon bubble.  It’s a big problem, and it is tempting to throw your hands up and say ‘it’s just too big to solve.’

“But our EIC participants look around and identify a piece of the problem that they can help resolve. Something as seemingly minor as modifying portion sizes in the dining halls has impacts several steps up the supply chain, as well as further along the waste chain.  I think the most important outcome of this year’s competition is it provided our innovators with the opportunity and the space to recognize – and believe – that small transformations really can make a difference that matters.”

Judges in the 2023 Competition

  • Associate Professor John Flynn
  • Assistant Professor David Jiang
  • Professor Stephen Folger
  • Assistant Professor Bill Squadron
  • Kendra Harrison, waste reduction and recycling manage
  • Professor Karl Sienerth
  • Scott Oakes, lecturer in management
  • Associate Professor Sean McMahon
  • Anton Wilson
  • Kim Phipps, program coordinator
  • Lexi Arnold ’23, who also served as the student co-chair of the Elon Innovation Challenge with Aidan Burnside and Lucy Garcia.

Elon Innovation Challenge Committee Members

  • Betty Garrison
  • Elena Kennedy
  • Rich Blackmon
  • Kyle Altman
  • Scott Wolter
  • Scott Spurlock
  • Sean McMahon
  • Nyote Calixte
  • Ryan Mattfield
  • Dave Gammon
  • Bill Squadron
  • Christopher Waters
  • Scott Oakes
  • David McGraw
  • Derek Lackaff
  • Scott Morrison
  • David Higham
  • David Jiang
  • John Flynn
  • Khari Morrow
  • Jonathan Su
  • Emily Krechel
  • Marcus Elliott
  • Kelly Harer
  • Karl Sienerth
  • Dan Reis
  • Kendra Harrison
  • Alyssa Martina
  • Kim Phipps
  • Evan Small
  • Robin Kazmarek
  • Scott Leighty