Where are the 2021 Innovation Fund Challenge winners now?

Where are the 2021 Innovation Fund Challenge winners now?

After receiving Innovation Fund Challenge awards in April, teams are diligently furthering their innovations 

By Mallory Tope, Communications Assistant | Published December 14, 2021

The Student Innovation Fund Challenge kicked off for the first time last year during the 2021 Ignite Innovation Showcase. Now, eight months later, the winning teams are accelerating their innovations in preparation for this year’s upcoming challenge in April 2022.

The Student Innovation Fund Challenge annually invests in interdisciplinary student teams to promote learning and provide an experience of hands-on innovation. It awarded a total of $10,000 last year to three winning teams, who were then tasked with continuing their projects and creating a prototype for this year’s challenge.

This year, Student Innovation Fund Challenge co-founder David Slump and Christine Slump have doubled the prize amount of money to distribute to winning projects. A total of $20,000 in early-stage seed funding is on the line for a limited number of teams. 

Last year’s winners, who were recognized during an awards ceremony at the end of the Ignite Innovation Showcase, included:

  • Insect-Decide: Brenner Stickney, Taylor Warneke, Luke Becker, Joy Westercamp and Jiztom Kavalakkatt Francis.
  • We Can Honey-Do It: Kate Borchardt, Elizabeth Smith, Elena Frogge, Olivia Liebing and Julianna Hernandez-Garcia
  • REFORM: Ayman Karmi, Andrew Ruba, Alexander Thayer, Haley Schultz, Emily Huntley, John Kaman, Adam Eichhorn, Abigail Stanlick, Shaden Tweeten, Harold Sandahl, Rebecca Mort, Matthew Marander, Matthew Hines, Parker Houdeshell, Samantha Morrow, Abigail Freymuth, Skyler Lee.

Here’s how each of the teams has continued their work and how they’re preparing to return to the challenge during this year’s Ignite Innovation Showcase in April 2022.


David Slump and Insect Decide team, last team member, Jiztom Francis, is not shown. Photo provided by Brenner Stickney

The Insect-Decide project uses audio to detect and differentiate species of insects. This project is intended to be used for the conservation of endangered species and detection for pest control. 

Team leader Brenner Stickney, a junior in aerospace engineering, said the seed-fund money has helped the team advance their project by allocating resources to jumpstart their project. 

This competition has been extremely helpful in my and others’ academic and professional careers,” Stickney said. “A lot of the skills we learned, developing value propositions, knowledge of intellectual property, planning for growth are applicable in the future job field.” 

The “Insect-Decide” team is working hard to create a prototype to present next spring.

“We all are excited to show off what we have learned and created,” Stickney said. 

We Can Honey-Do It

We Can Honey Do-It has produced about 600-700lbs of conservation-focused honey from 24 hives. Photo provided by Katherine Borchardt.

We Can Honey-Do It is exploring if a conservation practice developed at Iowa State, prairie strips, can help improve beekeeping. 

With the seed money, We Can Honey-Do It has been able to access field sites, pay for lab analysis, and fund the costs of running a market study of prairie strip honey as a specialty product, said Katherine Borchardt, an ecology graduate student.

“The seed money has funded us to gauge customer response to this specialty product in a realistic marketplace and to verify our product is pesticide-free, nutritious, and made from plants in the prairie strips,” Borchardt said. 

For the first year, the team hopes to continue expanding their project as an Iowa State University product and future franchise opportunity. Since beginning the project, the team has produced about 600-700lbs of conservation-focused honey from 24 hives and is preparing their product for sale.

“The competition and resources from the Student Innovation Center have helped us bring together an interdisciplinary team to combine sustainable agriculture, conservation, and business production,” Borchardt said.

Borchardt said the team had discovered challenges to the application of conversation science, such as how to make students safe when working with honey bees. 

“Beekeeping is declining in the U.S. and so I hope to gain even more support from the university to establish a safe, professional beekeeping experience where students learn honey production from colony to consumer,” Borchardt said. 

Borchardt said that if students want an opportunity to try and create something or test something, this competition is the place to start. 

“It is a lot of work especially on top of classes and other employment, but it is an opportunity for interested students hoping to gain volunteer experience in innovation,” Borchardt said.


REFORM stands for recyclables for music. The team has three parts for their project, instrument design, polymer processing and sustainability. 

Team lead Karmi presents REFORM product. Photo provided by College of Engineering

“We are recycling plastic into filament that we use to 3D print musical instruments,” said Ayman Karmi, senior in material engineering. 

The seed fund was super important to the team and has been essential in the growth of REFORM, Karmi said.

The team has been able to get new equipment and a lab, which has helped them recruit more members. More instruments have come out of the REFORM lab in the last month than the last five months, Karmi said.

“My innovation journey started when REFORM began and I had always wanted to do a project like this, but it was really hard getting the people and getting the resources to get going,” Karmi said. “But the [Innovation Fund] challenge is what put me on the track to do a lot of the stuff that I’m doing now.” 

2022 Innovation Fund Challenge

Looking for an early-stage seed fund to jumpstart your innovation, well it’s not too late to power up those thinking gears and create a team to register for the 2022 challenge

This year the challenge will select a limited number of teams and award a total of $20,000.

If you want to learn more about the Student Innovation Fund Challenge or any of the other innovation challenge opportunities taking place at this year’s Ignite Innovation Showcase, you can attend a Q&A session on January 20, 2022. The session will be held from 5:30-6:30 PM via Zoom. 

 There will be weekly proposal preparation workshops in February, where your team can work closely with the program industry and university advisor to refine and create a winning proposal. 

The Student Innovation Fund Challenge is accepting applications now, so register today! Applications close March 11, 2022.