Second Innovation Contest Showcases Winners Taking Aim at Grand Challenge

June 23, 2017
Innovation Contest winners Samer Dessouky, left, and Jim Stewart, center, talk with ILC member and Disney Imagineering VP Mike McCullough.

If the ASCE Grand Challenge can seem daunting, then the ASCE Innovation Contest provides hope.

ASCE welcomed the winners of the Society’s second annual Innovation Contest to its headquarters in Reston, VA, for a two-day event designed to provide a platform for showcasing their ideas. The level of creative energy and ambition in the HQ building was palpable.

“It’s very exciting to see all these ideas that everybody has come up with. Some very smart people here, really interesting ideas,” said Tim Klotz, EIT, A.M.ASCE, a roadway engineer for AECOM whose Hyperloop transfer system earned the Most Innovative award in the Next-Generation Transportation category. “There’s a lot of excitement.”

ASCE’s Industry Leaders Council debuted the Innovation Contest last year as part of the Society’s Grand Challenge initiative to significantly enhance the life-cycle performance of infrastructure by 2025. As the need for infrastructure investment has increased, the available funding has decreased. To close that spending gap, innovation will be essential.

ASCE_InnovationContest logo WEB SMALL“The Grand Challenge is about changing the culture,” said ILC member Marc Hoit, Ph.D., F.SEI, F.ASCE, professor and vice chancellor for information technology at North Carolina State University.

“We are all too often incremental. And I think that’s human. We do incremental changes and incremental improvements. What we’re [the ILC] trying to do is what they call ‘black swan events,’ events that come out of nowhere and make drastic changes and revolutionize the industry.”


The contest event included category winners from both 2016 and 2017. They presented their ideas formally, discussed their concepts informally with like-minded innovators, and displayed visual representations and prototypes in an exhibit space.

“These ideas are all things that make a whole lot of sense when you think about it, but I’ve just never thought to think about it,” said Jonathan Bradshaw, EIT, S.M.ASCE, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford whose “AquaCharge” submittal won three contest awards. “So it’s just really interesting to be here to experience that and participate in it through all the interactions.”

The winning concepts varied in scope and scale. Some, like the Ocean Foresters’ “Global Food and Energy Security With Restorative Engineering,” aim big – using seaweed to combat climate change. Others, like the father-daughter team of Robie Bonilla-Gris and Catalina Nadeau-Bonilla’s “Anti-Scour Sheath,” address a specific need and may be closer to market-ready. The common threads were an ability to solve a problem and the integration of different civil engineering disciplines and ideas.

Larry Stolarczyk drew on a background in biology, electro-magnetics, electrical engineering, and theoretical physics to develop patented technology that uses AM radio waves to view subsurface utilities. His breakthrough won the contest’s Overall Greatest Impact on Delivering the ASCE Grand Challenge Award.

“That’s what innovation is about,” Stolarczyk said. “It’s about being dedicated to certain types of problems and then putting those building blocks together. You may not discover it immediately. It may develop slowly over time. And this is a great forum for expressing those new innovative ideas.”

The Innovation Contest event also included a tour of Northrop Grumman’s Center for Innovative Solutions in McLean, VA, as well as a Shark Tank 101 panel. High-level investors Mat Garver (Liberty Street Capital), Matthew McGrath (Optimize Capital), Mark Riser (Morningside Private Investors), and Jed Freedlander (Hunt Development Group) provided insights into how innovative ideas are brought to market and what they look for when making investments.

Innovation Contest honoree Andrew  Cardella, EIT, A.M.ASCE, showcased his "Living Greens: Harnessing Available Nutrients from Wastewater Treatment" innovation in the exhibit hall.

Innovation Contest honoree Andrew Cardella, EIT, A.M.ASCE, showcased his “Living Greens: Harnessing Available Nutrients from Wastewater Treatment” innovation in the exhibit hall.

The second Innovation Contest closed with a look ahead to the third iteration. New contest chair Hoit announced that the third contest will open later this year, with topic categories including innovative business models, the Internet of things, sustainable engineering, next-generation transportation, and a new category: ASCE’s role in innovation.

“How do we take something that’s been bugging people in civil engineering and turn it into something that’s able to be implemented, something that’s able to be turned into a product to revolutionize our field?” Hoit said.

“How do you improve roadways? How do you improve building projects? How do you improve the materials that we use? How do you improve the contracts and negotiations? There are so many things that need work. The more people who start taking those ideas they have when they’re really frustrated and turn [them] into something useful, the better off we’ll be.”

Watch for details on the opening of the third contest at its official site.

1 Comment
Leave a Reply

— required *

— required *