Since 2005, the James Dyson Award has challenged inventive and entrepreneurial undergraduates and recent graduates of engineering and design, to ‘Design something that solves a problem’. Purposely broad and open-ended, the brief challenges students to solve big problems. Past winners have found solutions to renewable energy generation, new forms of sustainable plastics, and medical and cancer screenings. James Dyson chooses the two global winners; they receive vital funding and global recognition – key first steps to take their ideas into real life practical application.
“Young people want to change the world and the Award supports them to do that giving crucial funding, validation and a platform to launch their ideas. They are remarkably successful, 65% of international winners are commercialising their ideas, against a backdrop where 90% of start-ups fail. I will be looking for radical inventions that challenge and question established thinking. Good luck!” James Dyson, Founder and Chief Engineer at Dyson.
2020, an unmatched year
Last year saw a record-breaking number of entries to the Award and the new Sustainability prize awarded its first recipient: AuREUS, invented by Carvey Ehren Maigue from the Philippines. Recognising the role that engineers and scientists play in creating a sustainable future, the James Dyson Award introduced this global recognition prize last year, focused on ideas which tackle environmental issues and share Dyson’s philosophy of lean engineering, doing more with less.
In 2021, there continues to be two £30,000 global prizes: the International Sustainability winner and the Overall International winner. But first, each participating country and region will award a National winner (£2,000) and two National runners-up. Those that win a National accolade proceed to the International awarding stages.
Solving real problems
The best inventions are often the simplest, providing clear and intelligent solutions to real-world problems. The 2020 International winner, The Blue Box, is an at-home breast cancer detection device that diagnoses patients using an AI algorithm and a urine sample. It is designed to be less invasive and more accessible than current screening processes, after witnessing a rise in women skipping mammograms. The inventor of The Blue Box, 23 year-old Judit Giro Benet, says winning the Award was “a real turning point as the prize money will allow for extensive patenting to expedite research and software development”. The prize money and global notoriety the Award gave Judit means she is now working on final stages of prototyping and software development at the University of California Irvine, ready for human studies and clinical trials.
The Award has given young inventors international media exposure, which has opened up further investment and opportunities for them to develop their ideas. The UK 2011 National winner KwickScreen, infection-controlled screens for patient safety, has grown to establish a company employing over 70 people, supplying screens to every NHS trust in the UK and 240 hospitals internationally. In 2017, US National runner-up SoaPen, a colourful soap pen encouraging safe handwashing, commercialised their invention and were listed in the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 List. SoaPen now ships its expanding product portfolio across America, most recently creating a hand sanitizer to meet demand during the Covid-19 pandemic. 2011’s Singaporean runner-up, Rabbit Ray, is used by 44 hospitals across 23 countries. It’s a communications tool for hospital staff to use when explaining medical procedures to children. Its inventor, Esther Wang, has since founded an award-winning health-education company, Joytingle, and her Rabbit Ray invention supports medical procedure communications from vaccinations to chemotherapy.
Throughout this year’s Award, stay up to date with how past winners are engineering our futures on the James Dyson Award Instagram page.