The University of California, Irvine’s (UC Irvine) ANTrepreneur Center recently celebrated the culmination of its eagerly anticipated Sustainability Innovation Challenge. This event series, a melting pot of ingenuity and environmental concern, saw students across disciplines join forces to develop sustainable solutions and leave an indelible mark on UC Irvine and the broader community.

About the Sustainability Innovation Challenge Finals

Held on Wednesday, November 29, 2023, at the ANTrepreneur Center, the Sustainability Innovation Challenge Finals commenced with an energetic networking session and a delicious pizza dinner. Formal proceedings then began with opening remarks and introductions by the esteemed panel of judges. Representing organizations like AWS, Siemens, and the UCI Sustainability Resource Center, the diversity and pedigree of the judging panel reflected the Challenge’s gravitas.

Transitioning to the main event, the rules and expectations for the pitch competition were laid out before the teams began delivering their presentations. Each team was allocated a ten-minute slot, where they were asked to give a five-minute pitch followed by another five minutes for questions from the judges. This format allowed the teams to succinctly present their innovative ideas and then engage directly with the judges, fielding questions and elaborating on their projects.

Once all the pitches were delivered, the judges evaluated the presentations based on the innovation of the idea, feasibility of the solution, impact on sustainability, and overall presentation quality. This multi-dimensional approach to judging ensured that teams were evaluated not only on the novelty of their ideas but also on their practical application and the ability to effectively communicate their vision. 

As the judges deliberated, keynote speakers Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, founders of the world-renowned Barefoot Wine, shared inspiring stories from their entrepreneurial journey, emphasizing resilience and the importance of sustainability in business. Their message, “Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn,” resonated deeply, underscoring the Challenge’s educational essence.

Finally, the event reached its climax. Amidst high anticipation, Ableo was announced as the Challenge winner and recipient of the $20,000 prize. Abelo’s winning idea focused on bee population and hive health monitoring. Their solution addresses the pressing environmental issue of decreasing bee populations by offering bee hobbyists a more effective way to monitor hive populations, identify hive intruders, and monitor ticks on bees. In addition to recognizing the feasibility and impact of their idea, Abelo was also commended for embodying the Challenge’s spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration, which they displayed through their teamwork, exchange of ideas, and ability to synthesize their diverse perspectives.

Want to see the final pitches? You can watch the livestream replay below!


Winning the Sustainability Innovation Challenge wasn’t just a triumph at the university level; it also opened the door for the Abelo team to join the Hult Prize. The Hult Prize is a year-long, global competition that challenges young people to solve the world’s most pressing issues by creating innovative social ventures. The Abelo team will join the global round of the competition in Boston.

Reflecting on the Sustainability Innovation Challenge

Speaking on their experience and their victory, the Abelo team shared: 

“The ANTrepreneur Center’s 2023 Sustainability Innovation Challenge fostered teamwork and rapid idea development. Our team of environmental science, biology, and business students exemplifies the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation. Great ideas come alive when we combine different perspectives, which is key to creating worldwide environmental solutions. 

Competing this year was empowering and we developed lifelong skills while focusing on sustainability and social entrepreneurship. We would join the Challenge again in a heartbeat! Now that the competition is over, we’re looking to develop Abelo further, specifically on the software end, and perhaps work towards a patent application.”

When asked about her experience serving as one of Abelo’s mentors, Astrud Reed, UCI Compass Community of Practice Manager, explained, “Being part of Team Abelo’s journey was a great privilege, and I am excited about their future endeavors!” She also noted the incredible way the team came together to become winners:

“At UCI, my role is to foster connections and collaborations across diverse sectors, aiming to create a diverse, effective community. Witnessing students from different majors, previously strangers, grow in presentation skills and confidence from the initial video to the final presentation was incredibly inspiring. They evolved into a unified team, each embracing their unique skills. This experience highlighted the need for collaborative efforts in solving 21st-century challenges.” 

Tom Andriola, UCI Vice Chancellor of Information Technology and Data (ODIT), also highlighted how the competition’s crowning achievement was its ability to unite such a diverse array of students together:

“The interdisciplinary nature of the Sustainability Challenge is a cornerstone of its success. Diversity drives innovation, and we saw that in full force at this year’s Challenge. It’s exciting to witness how these different perspectives come together to tackle some of the most pressing environmental issues we face today. This Challenge is a testament to UC Irvine’s dedication to fostering innovation among our students.”

As he closed out the Challenge, Ryan Foland, Director of the ANTrepreneur Center, was excited to discuss the impact of the event:

“This year’s Sustainability Challenge has been a remarkable showcase of student innovation and determination. I am immensely proud of every team that participated. Their ideas and dedication to sustainability are inspiring. This Challenge was more than a competition; it’s a platform that encourages our students to think creatively, collaborate across disciplines, and develop solutions that have the potential to change the world. We are committed to nurturing these young minds, as they are the driving force for a sustainable future.”

Looking Forward: New Opportunities for Support

While the 2023 Sustainability Innovation Challenge has now come to a close, the ANTrepreneur Center still has many opportunities for the finalist teams who didn’t win but want to move forward with their ideas. The ANTrepreneur Center, along with The Hub, will continue to support all participants by offering them access to resources, tools, and a collaborative environment to refine their ideas and bring their sustainable visions to life.

For more information about the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, including programming, speaker series, Micro-Internships, funding, and more, visit our website. You can also learn more about our valuable collaborations with Blackstone LaunchPad, Tech Coast Angels, Tech Coast Venture Network, OC Startup Council, SoCal Celebrates Entrepreneurship, the Hub @ UCI, and follow us on  Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and even Threads