Around the Pier: Challenge Showcases Marketable Technologies for the Environment


The Triton Innovation Challenge thrives in a unique realm, crossing boundaries between business and marketing and the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Each year, the Rady School of Management, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center at the Jacobs School of Engineering of the University of California San Diego unite to present the Triton Innovation Challenge, promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and creative technology. Competing designs focus on helping solve current environmental issues whilst implementing marketable strategies.

Participating students, staff, and faculty members have a shot at cash prizes totaling $20,000. Competitors also earn the opportunity to gain additional mentoring from experts in investment and entrepreneurship, and to have their original ideas recognized and constructively critiqued.

The 2016 program marked the fifth year of the challenge, which is sponsored by the William and Kathryn Scripps Family Foundation Inc. Over the years, participants have presented myriad innovative environmentally-minded technologies.

Of the 25 entry project submissions, 11 semifinalists were selected for the commercial innovation track, and five were selected for the social innovation track. Seven of the semifinalist teams represented Scripps Oceanography.

The Triton Innovation Challenge is led by Lada Rasochova, executive director of the California Institute for Innovation and Development (CIID) at Rady, Gwen Nero, Scripps director of Corporate Affiliates, Business Development, Industry Outreach and Innovation, and Lori Deaton, project manager at the von Leibig Center for Entrepreneurism/Institute for the Global Entrepreneur. Karen Jensen, CIID program manager, led in organizing the challenge.

“The Triton Innovation Challenge is a fantastic opportunity for Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UC San Diego to showcase startups, new technologies, and social innovation initiatives with potential to improve and increase understanding of our planet,” said Nero.

In previous years, the competition prizes totaled $11,000. For the 2016 program, this amount nearly doubled. Traditionally, finalists compete by presenting a seven-minute full pitch of their environmentally-conscious technology.

As in the previous year, the 2016 program also included a newer competition category focused on social innovation. Three finalist teams were selected to present a fast pitch in the social innovation track. Each of the teams had two minutes to propose a project centered on social innovation as a means to help environmental concerns.

Entrants submitted executive summaries of their designs in mid-October, beginning the extensive competition process. Within their summary, each team introduced an environmentally relevant need or demand that has not yet been fulfilled, and proposed an idea or technology to address this need. Summaries also provided details on the feasibility of the project to meet this need, and underlined the marketability of the idea by identifying the target audience and customer.

Scripps semifinalists were

  • “Competitive Online Video Games in Schools” led by Daniel Rohrlick
  • “Plastic to Fuel” led by Lark Starkey
  • “Smartfin” led by Tyler Cyronak
  • “Squidtoons” led by Garfield Kwan
  • “Tiny Fish” led by Tim Rowell
  • “Total Alkalinity Sensor” led by Ellen Briggs
  • “Unknown Waters” led by Allison Lee

In the next phase of the competition, semifinalists were paired with von Liebig, Rady, and Scripps mentors. Teams worked with their consultants to fine-tune their designs, boost their business plans, and perfect their short presentations for the judges.

By mid-November, seven finalists were selected to go on to provide a full pitch of their commercially-promising designs, and three teams were chosen to compete in the fast pitch social innovation track in the final event.

2016 Triton Innovation Challenge: Commercial Track (Full Pitch) Finalists

  • “ANSA; The Autonomous Nutrient Supply Alternative” (Rady School of Management and Jacobs School of Engineering)
  • “Braykion” (Rady School of Management)
  • “Greyble” (Rady School of Management)
  • “LifeCycled Materials” (Jacobs School of Engineering)
  • “MobeWash” (Rady School of Management)
  • “Morsel” (Rady School of Management)
  • “Tiny Fish” (Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

2016 Triton Innovation Challenge: Social Innovation Track (Fast Pitch) Finalists

  • “Competitive Online Video Games in Schools” (Scripps Institution of Oceanography)
  • “One Village Philippines Solar-E Torch” (Jacobs School of Engineering)
  • “Squidtoons” (Scripps Institution of Oceanography)


Three of the finalist teams represented Scripps. Competitive Online Video Games in Schools, led by Scripps programmer analyst Danny Rohrlick, promotes oceanographic science and technology in schools using an online multiplayer videogame.

“Developing, practicing, and presenting the 1 to 2-minute pitch was the most challenging part of this challenge,” said Rohrlick. “It helped give my team and me experience writing a lean pitch that can be used not only for this current prototype, but other future ideas. It also helped remind me how stressful public speaking is.”

Squidtoons, led by Scripps graduate student Garfield Kwan, translates scientific research into engaging visual graphics to educate the public about science, provide educators with teaching tools, and support scientists with illustrations.

Tiny Fish, led by Scripps graduate student Tim Rowell, aims to produce affordable, solar powered GPS trackers that will be attached to vessels. These trackers will monitor the distribution of fishing activity, gear types, landings, and target species, and will help in developing sustainable fisheries.

“The Challenge was an opportunity to share a developing technology with the public that will have great implications on the sustainability of marine resources and the livelihoods of small scale fishers. The process was indeed challenging but rewarding,” said Rowell.

On November 29, the finalists competed in the last phase of the 2016 Triton Innovation Challenge. During the public event held in Wells Fargo Hall at Rady, finalists gained a high visibility opportunity to present their avant-garde technologies on stage.

More than 250 people attended, a new record for the event. The audience included university affiliates along with members of the local business community and venture capitalists with interest in promising start-up ideas.

“For UC San Diego, one of our main goals as a university is to be an innovator, which means bringing ideas from lab to market. The Triton Innovation Challenge is an opportunity for scientists and engineers to present their ideas to investors and to introduce them to the commercial side, so they can get funding and resources for their technology ideas,” said Deaton.

Commercial track and social innovation track finalists were judged on their presentation, their technology or idea, and the implications their project could have for the environment. Three winning teams were selected from the commercial track. The audience voted by phone for one winning social innovation project.

Scripps alumnae Xue Fan, application engineer at SonTek, and Tamara Mayer Schwent, senior project manager at Sirenas Marine Discovery, participated as judges this year.

After several phases of the competition spanning months, One Village was selected as the winner of the social innovation track, earning $2,500 to provide a sustainable source of light to communities in the Philippines.       

The three full pitch winners are LifeCycled Materials, awarded $10,000, Braykion, awarded $5,000, and ANSA, awarded $2,500. LifeCycled Materials is developing technology to transform paper and plastic waste into durable building materials. Braykion focuses on eliminating the issue of hospital-acquired infections and the deaths resulting from them by improving healthcare worker compliance with hand-washing guidelines. ANSA develops sustainable solutions to optimize crop growing processes within the hydroponic farming industry.  

In future competitions, Triton Innovation Challenge leaders will build on their goal to work with younger students interested in STEM and entrepreneurship which began this year when leaders invited high school students to attend the challenge.

“This was a great opportunity for learning and exposure for Scripps teams that featured MAS and PhD students and postdoctoral fellows. I hope that these teams continue to develop their technologies and business, taking advantage of all the UC San Diego resources that foster innovation,” said Nero.

For more information on the Triton Innovation Challenge:

Tashiana Osborne is a second-year graduate student in the laboratory of climate scientist Marty Ralph and physical oceanographer Art Miller.

Related Image Gallery: Challenge Showcases Marketable Technologies for the Environment


Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.