University Consortium Imagines Conservation Curriculum of the Future

Washington, DC — As part of its work to build the pipeline for conservation technology and innovation, Conservation X Labs hosted leading researchers and educators from nine American colleges and universities at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to re-envision the conservation curriculum of the 21st century.

Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs, facilitates a group discussion.

Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs, facilitates a group discussion.

Spurred by inter-institutional exchange and faculty from a wide range of disciplines, participants of the mid-December convening charted a series of modular competencies and proficiencies that would prepare learners of all levels to address the scope and scale of problems the planet faces. With support from the Moxie Foundation, the Conservation 3.0 Curriculum Convening resulted in an interdisciplinary set of core competencies and proficiencies and an initial set of learning modules that educators around the world could adopt in their teaching and in the field.

“The field of conservation faces exponential problems with linear solutions,” said Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs & Chanler Innovator in Residence at Duke University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative. “The future professionals of this field require a multidisciplinary, problem-oriented, and translational training that prepares them to tackle complex, wicked problems.”

Faculty pitch their group’s conservation curriculum core following inter-institutional exchange.

Faculty pitch their group’s conservation curriculum core following inter-institutional exchange.

The consortium of attending faculty and researchers represented a diverse range of disciplines including environmental science, ecology and conservation biology, biomedical technology, business and social entrepreneurship, and development engineering as well as a range of higher education and research institutions including the Smithsonian, Duke University, Arizona State University, George Mason University, Middlebury College, Georgetown University, Virginia Tech, William & Mary, the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the University of the District of Columbia.

“The Conservation 3.0 Curriculum Convening represented the spectrum of leading intellectuals and researchers that are pioneering this new movement in conservation education,” said Cassie Hoffman, Field Director at Conservation X Labs. “The varied disciplines each attendee brought to the table allowed us to not only think big about the future of conservation curriculum but also design specific modules that could be applied in any institution around the world. We are thankful that so many incredible field leaders shared their expertise and plan to continue this co-designing process in 2019.”

The results of an intensive curriculum co-design session.

The results of an intensive curriculum co-design session.

Attendees shared the work and perspectives of their institutions, developed a series of core competencies and proficiencies in breakout groups that were voted on by the broader gathering, and designed the initial learning outcomes, materials, and components of the selected “core” over the course of the full-day event. The selected modular “core” included Complex Systems Thinking & Analysis, Adaptive Human-Centered Design, Applied Implementation Sciences, Ethics, and Communications & Marketing.

Conservation X Labs, participating faculty, and their associated departments and schools will pilot learning modules in 2019 and explore opportunities to refine and iterate on modules and grow the impact of the Consortium. Interested faculty and institutions should contact Conservation X Labs at to join the curricula co-design process and Conservation 3.0 Consortium.

Conservation X Labs Awards Inaugural Con X Tech Prize Honors

WASHINGTON, DC — Conservation X Labs announced the winners of the inaugural Con X Tech Prize, a global conservation technology prototyping competition, and awarded $30,000 in prizes to three revolutionary solutions at the Conservation Innovation and Technology Happy Hour in Washington, DC last week.

Dr. Nancy Knowlton , Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History & Con X Tech Prize Judge, announces the Grand Prize Winner.

Dr. Nancy Knowlton, Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History & Con X Tech Prize Judge, announces the Grand Prize Winner.

The Real Deep Conservation VR project, a deep-sea camera trap intended for filming in 360° for use in virtual reality, won the Grand Prize and will receive $20,000 to iterate on their prototype and move towards achieving conservation impact. Additional $5,000 awards were made to Find Green, a mobile app connecting green-minded consumers with green businesses, and cargoscreen, a tool detecting illegal and unwanted shipments faster and more reliably using data-driven risk scores.

“We were amazed by the progress of all of the 20 Finalist teams during the prototyping period of this competition,” said Alex Dehgan, CEO and Co-Founder of Conservation X Labs. “The top three projects were truly able to maximize the $3500 Finalist grant to make incredible progress on their prototypes. The finalists each demonstrated how they have created financially sustainable and impactful projects that Conservation X Labs is proud to support into the future.”

The Grand Prize announcement was the culmination of a nine-month plus competition. In March 2018, Conservation X Labs released an open call for bold technology-enabled ideas to a conservation challenge looking to produce a first prototype. In August 2018, twenty project ideas were selected as Finalists and received $3,500 to prototype, demo, and take their idea forward over the twelve-week Stage 2 period. At the end of Stage 2, each Finalist project submitted a short video and grant report to demonstrate prototyping success and the feasibility and potential of their solutions.

All 20 Finalist projects are hosted on Conservation X Labs’ Digital Makerspace, an online community of solvers and technologists and will continue to benefit from technical, business, and marketing support on the Digital Makerspace. The community is open to the public to join, participate on a project team, and offer support or expertise.

“The Con X Tech Prize is a unique competition in the field of conservation seeding very early stage ideas and encouraging novel and innovative approaches to conservation problems,” said Cassie Ann Hoffman, Field Director and Manager of the Con X Tech Prize at Conservation X Labs. “It encourages collaboration, rapid-prototyping, and thinking about the financial sustainability and scalability of your idea from its initial conception.”

The ACKBAR is deployed off the coast of San Diego.

The ACKBAR is deployed off the coast of San Diego.

During Stage 2 of the Con X Tech Prize, Grand Prize Winner Real Deep Conservation VR deployed the Autonomous Camera for Kraken Baiting And Recording (ACKBAR) into the deep-sea twice off the coast of San Diego near La Jolla Canyon at 621 meters (over 2000 feet) depth and 585 meters. The ACKBAR is a deep-sea camera trap that can be readily deployed from most vessels, allowing deep-sea exploration at scale. The deep-sea is facing significant conservation challenges from bottom trawling large nets on the seafloor, oil spills destroying fragile deep-sea corals, and emerging threats like mining of hydrothermal vent communities. Most deep-sea exploration occurs for extracting resources, but the deep-sea camera trap will provide an inexpensive and easy to deploy tool for conservationists to rapidly explore deep-sea habitats in order to better understand and protect them.

“The deep is alive, mostly unexplored, and worthy of protection,” said Matt Mulrennan, leader of the Real Deep Conservation VR project and CEO of KOLOSSAL. “This prize was amazingly important to develop an easy-to-use camera platform that could disrupt the outrageous costs of deep-sea research, and now we want to use it to find real, living sea monsters and help protect them. Deep-sea technologies are finally matching up to our level of curiosity, and it’s the most exciting time in history for ocean exploration.”

Find Green, a consumer oriented mobile technology solution, was the recipient of the Lemur’s Choice Award, an honor bestowed by the selection of the Finalist projects in the Con X Tech Prize competition for greatest impact. Find Green aims to shift businesses toward sustainability by empowering customers to demonstrate market demand for sustainable practices (e.g. recycling, energy efficiency) through a mobile app that allows customers to both find and rate the environmental practices of businesses.

“We are thrilled with how this project has advanced,” said Leah Karrer from Find Green. “The steady stream of positive feedback we have received from virtually anyone we have encountered and presented the idea to is incredible. We are confident that Find Green is an idea whose time has come.”

The Erasing Extinction Award, named for the recipient's ability to best address human-induced extinction, was presented to the cargoscreen project. cargoscreen is a data-driven digital detection tool to help screen containerized cargo for illegal or unwanted wildlife parts, products or derivatives such as shark fin, ivory, pangolins or other wild flora and fauna. The tool will enhance enforcement of current policies, laws, and international treaties and contribute to ending the illegal trafficking of wild specimens which is estimated at around USD 20 billion annually.

“We’re humbled and excited at the same time to have won the Erasing Extinction prize! Winning this prize for us means we can further invest on the development side – improving our code base, testing, fixing bugs and enhancing the front end application of our prototype for demo purposes,” said Sivan Goldberg, cargoscreen’s team lead.

Please direct all inquiries about the Con X Tech Prize and Conservation X Labs to

The next round of the Con X Tech Prize launches in January 2019. To hear about the launch of applications when they happen, sign up to be notified below.

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Conservation X Labs launches The Global Cooling Prize in India

Conservation X Labs and its global partners launched The Global Cooling Prize last week during a high-profile event in New Delhi, India. This international competition incentivizes the development of a residential cooling technology that will have at least five times less climate impact than the standard Room Air Conditioning (RAC) units sold today. Over US$3 million will be awarded over the course of the two-year competition.

"The Government of India supports this innovation challenge, which aims to develop sustainable and efficient technology to provide thermal comfort to all and invites applicants from around the world to apply for The Global Cooling Prize," said Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Science & Technology, Earth Sciences, Environment, Forest and Climate Change at the Global Cooling Innovation Summit in New Delhi.

The coalition of organizations administering the prize -- including CXL, the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Alliance for an Energy Efficient Economy, and CEPT University -- will also support incubation, commercialization, and ultimately mass adoption of the breakthrough technologies that arise from the Global Cooling Prize. The prize is supported by the Government of India and Mission Innovation.

"If we don't do something about the growing global impact of air conditioning on our climate today, it will derail our best attempts to meet the Paris Agreement goal on emissions," said Sir Richard Branson, Prize Ambassador and founder of the Virgin Group.

Dr. Paul Bunje, co-founder of Conservation X Labs, speaks at the launch of the Global Cooling Prize. New Delhi, India (Nov. 12, 2018)

Dr. Paul Bunje, co-founder of Conservation X Labs, speaks at the launch of the Global Cooling Prize. New Delhi, India (Nov. 12, 2018)

Conservation X Labs has contributed its field-leading open innovation expertise to participant recruitment, technology assessment, scaling and deployment program design, prize design, and partner recruitment. These activities, particularly the post-prize efforts, highlight CXL’s goal to create market demand for any winning technologies ensuring that these cooling solutions are not only developed but also deployed throughout the planet.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Indian government, and some of the leading organizations and universities in the cooling space to launch The Global Cooling Prize,” said Dr. Paul Bunje, co-founder of Conservation X Labs. “Conservation X Labs’ mission aligns perfectly with The Global Cooling Prize, leveraging open innovation to develop more efficient cooling solutions that meet the growing global demand for RAC.”

During the two-day Global Cooling Innovation Summit that launched the prize, Dr. Bunje spoke on a number of high-level panel presentations about the power of prizes to spur innovation and the tools necessary for getting solutions to scale. Senior Program Manager & Cooling Lead Dr. Chad Gallinat also led a session with 40 private sector representatives and potential prize competitors to identify support activities that participants valued most and to build the necessary partnerships for greater investment, scaling, and expertise in the space.

Dr. Gallinat has been heavily involved in participant recruitment, technology assessment, and scaling activities as part of the prize administration.  Particularly, his efforts have led to the recruitment of 100 potential participants with novel cooling technologies and applications that could be applied to the prize.

Dr. Paul Bunje participates in a high-level panel as part of The Global Cooling Prize launch. New Delhi, India (Nov. 12, 2018)

Dr. Paul Bunje participates in a high-level panel as part of The Global Cooling Prize launch. New Delhi, India (Nov. 12, 2018)

“The energy around the prize is palpable,” Dr. Gallinat remarked following the Global Cooling Innovation Summit. “The potential participants represent a growing global effort to reimagine cooling technologies, and we are excited to see what novel technologies and solutions rise to the front as part of this two-year prize.”

The Global Cooling Prize is accepting preliminary applications until June 2019 and technical applications until August 2019.  Over US$3 million will be awarded in prize money over the course of the two-year competition. Up to 10 short-listed competing technologies will be awarded up to US$200,000 each in intermediate prizes to support the design and prototype development of their innovative residential cooling technology designs. The winning technology will be awarded at least US$1 million to support its incubation and early-stage commercialization following extensive lab and apartment testing over a five-month period. The winner will be announced in November or December 2020 at the close of this process.

To learn more about the prize and to submit your application, visit the prize’s official website at You can also find The Global Cooling Prize on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to get updates on the prize throughout its duration. 

The Rocky Mountain Institute also released a report in conjunction with the prize launch, Solving the Global Cooling Challenge, that outlines how business-as-usual measures will be insufficient to overcome the energy and emissions impact of projected room air conditioner growth. A winning, five-times more efficient technology could prevent up to 100 gigatons of carbon emissions by 2050 and put the world on a pathway to mitigate up to 0.5˚C of global warming by 2100, according to the report.

For more coverage of the launch event in New Delhi, India, check out the profiles in The New York Times, Fast Company, and Sir Richard Branson’s contribution to the Economic Times, How to Make ACs Cool.

All inquiries can be directed to To sign up for updates or to apply for The Global Cooling Prize, visit

Lead Engineer Hal Holmes Named 2018 Moore Inventor Fellow

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Dr. Hal Holmes, Lead Engineer at Conservation X Labs, was selected as one of five Moore Inventor Fellows (2018) by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to support his work on the DNA Barcode Scanner. He is the first Moore Inventor Fellow from a non-profit organization.

Dr. Holmes’ work focuses on a handheld, battery-powered, screening tool that enables someone without technical training to perform an automated DNA test to identify wildlife products right in the field. This invention will exploit genetic testing and technology for conservation and has the potential to monitor and prevent illegal trafficking of timber and wildlife products.

“Conservation X Labs believes that exponential technological innovations are required to solve the massive conservation challenges the planet faces,” said Dr. Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs. “We are proud to be the field leaders in conservation technology and are deeply honored that Dr. Hal Holmes, our Lead Engineer, was recognized by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for his groundbreaking work in the field of genetic testing for conservation.”

Dr. Holmes was also awarded an inaugural Schmidt Science Fellowship (2018) to drive the development of a new DNA extraction platform to address difficult sample types at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. To learn more about his contributions through the Schmidt Science Fellows program, see their press release and website. Learn more about Dr. Holmes and his work in his own words below.

Moore Inventor Fellows supports early-career scientist-inventors working on innovative projects with the potential to bring about significant change. Since its inception in 2016, Moore Inventor Fellows has supported early-career scientist-inventors at a critical stage of research, by giving them the resources and freedom to test their ideas. This year, to diversify the applicant portfolio, nominees were sought from select research institutions in addition to universities.

Each fellow receives a total of $825,000 over three years to drive their invention forward, including $50,000 per year from their home institution. Starting with five fellows in 2016 and five more in 2017, the foundation plans to allocate nearly $34 million through 2026 to support 50 Moore Inventor Fellows.

For more information about the Moore Inventor Fellows program, see their website and press release here.

All inquiries can be directed to

Announcing 20 Finalists for First Round of Con X Tech Prize


Conservation X Labs, a Washington, DC based social enterprise, announced 20 finalists for the first round of the Con X Tech Prize, a global competition that provides funding for project teams with a bold conservation idea that are preparing their first prototype.

“We're proud to announce the finalists for the Con X Tech Prize, our micro-grants program to bring revolutionary ideas from blueprint to prototype,” said Dr. Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs. “From cargo shipments to machine learning to micro-finance, we've selected twenty innovations that have the potential for exponential impact and help end human-induced extinction.”

Each team will receive $3,500 to develop their idea into a first prototype for the next round of the competition. Then, one grand prize winner will be awarded $20,000 to support the future of their project. To learn more about the 20 finalists, check out the Finalists Announcement Page. 84 teams submitted applications to this round of the Con X Tech Prize on the Digital Makerspace (DMS), Conservation X Labs’ signature collaboration platform.

The announcement was covered in Mongabay, which interviewed Cassie Hoffman, Field Director at Conservation X Labs, and profiled some of the finalists.

The goal of the Con X Tech Prize is to build the ecosystem of early-stage conservation technology products and solutions and support growing teams and ideas from around the world. Selected teams receive seed grants to support their work over a ten-week period. At the close of the prototyping period, one team is awarded the Grand Prize. The Con X Tech Prize supports ideas that have the potential to be conservation game-changers.

Interested in joining a future round of the Prize? Be the first to know about the next round of funding on the Digital Makerspace or sign up to receive an email notification on the Con X Tech Prize page.

The ‘Ohiʻa Challenge: Calling New Solvers to Save Hawaiʻi’s Forests

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$70,000 Challenge Launches Today – Application Period Open Until February 1, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC, USA, September 5, 2018 / -- Hawai'i's iconic ʻŌhiʻa tree faces a new and undetectable threat that is killing off trees at an unprecedented rate. This disease threatens to decimate this species that is critical to the unique culture and habitat of Hawai'i. Conservation X Labs, a DC-based technology start-up, announces the launch of The ʻŌhiʻa Challenge—a competition for solutions to this threat. In partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior offices and agencies, Conservation X Labs today announced the opportunity to compete and seeks new solvers from unconventional fields such as engineering, fluidics, optics, microbiology, hackers, makers, and many more to save Hawai'i's forests from extinction.

The ʻŌhiʻa Challenge offers $70,000 for solutions that can rapidly detect and prevent the spread of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD). ROD is caused by fungal pathogens that have recently decimated the endemic ʻohiʻa tree population on the islands of Kaua'i and Hawai'i. Applications for solutions will be accepted from September 5th, 2018 through February 1st, 2019 on

Conservation X Labs has partnered with Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, and National Invasive Species Council (NISC) Secretariat to launch The ʻŌhiʻa Challenge as part of a collective effort to address ROD by harnessing emerging science, technological innovations, and the ingenuity of people around the world.

The ʻōhiʻa tree carries immense cultural heritage and natural value in the Hawaiian islands. A Hawaiian legend tells of the love and separation of the young couple ʻŌhiʻa and Lehua: jealous of their love, the goddess Pele turned the warrior ʻŌhiʻa into a tree and Lehua into the tree’s flower. If you pluck the red lehua blossoms of the ʻōhiʻa tree (Metrosideros polymorpha), legend says the lovers’ tears fill the sky with rain as they are separated again.

Promising solutions will receive further support on Conservation X Labs’ Digital Makerspace, a platform where science, entrepreneurship, and technology communities come together to co-create tech-enabled solutions to conservation problems. Anyone can submit a solution to identify infected trees early before they die, minimize the spread of ROD, and eliminate the pathogens and leverage the community of solvers to develop ideas.

The ʻŌhiʻa Challenge team is calling on the technology, engineering, and scientific community to help solve the problem. “Our goal is to use the best of human ingenuity to identify technological solutions that can save part of Hawai'i's beauty. This is why we look to engage innovative thinkers within other advanced technology fields through this challenge prize”, said Dr. Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs, “We don’t have to accept ʻōhiʻa's extinction.”

Microscopic invasive fungi, Ceratocystis huliohia and Ceratocystis lukuohia, are responsible for ROD. Since 2014 when first identified, the fungi have infected thousands of acres of forest and have recently invaded the islands of Kaua'i and Hawai'i. If unstopped, ROD could irreversibly change Hawai'i's ecosystems and culture by eliminating the beloved ‘ohi’a.

To join the coalition to save the ʻohiʻa and protect Hawai'i's natural heritage, visit for complete information about the Challenge rules and instructions on how to submit an application. All press and general inquiries can be directed to or Senior Program Manager, Chad Gallinat (

Chad Gallinat
Senior Program Manager, Conservation X Labs

Press Releases for The ‘Ohi’a Challenge can be accessed at the following:

EIN Presswire (Sept. 5, 2018):

EurekAlert (Sept. 5, 2018):

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (Aug. 14, 2018):

Conservation X Labs Hosts Make for the Planet Borneo in Malaysia

Make for the Planet Borneo. Kuching, Malaysia. June 24-29, 2018.

Conservation X Labs, a Washington DC-based social enterprise, gathered 54 innovators in 15 teams from 9 countries in Kuching, Malaysia at the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC5) for Make for the Planet Borneo. Teams competed for over $10,000 in prizes and the opportunity to test and pitch new ideas in front of thought leaders and IMCC5 delegates.

One winning solution, a coral reef monitoring ROV, tested in the hotel pool in Kuching, Malaysia. 2018

One winning solution, a coral reef monitoring ROV, tested in the hotel pool in Kuching, Malaysia. 2018

Make for the Planet Borneo was made possible with the support of 11 partner organizations, including local and regional companies Proteus 3D Printing (Kuching, Malaysia), Mr. D.I.Y. (Malaysian supply company), Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL), WWF-Malaysia, SEEED Designs, as well as the International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC5), Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, and MakerBay.

Conservation X Labs brought a team of world class engineers, designers, and conservationists as mentors to help the teams with their solutions and created a pop-up makerspace on site. By the end of the intensive rapid prototyping competition supported by 9 international partners and sponsors., 8 teams created working prototypes and 4 of the 15 solutions were selected to receive prizes.

The pop-up makerspace at Make for the Planet Borneo. 2018

The pop-up makerspace at Make for the Planet Borneo. 2018

“We were deeply inspired by the incredible work of the Make for the Planet Borneo teams to create novel solutions to some of the world’s most complex oceans conservation challenges,” said Dr. Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs. “These kinds of creative, technology-powered solutions are exactly what the field of conservation needs to meet the pressing problems that it faces. From reimagining marine protected areas to combatting plastic pollution and enhancing coral restoration, these solutions have the potential to transform marine conservation efforts.”

Five accomplished Conservation Experts pitched marine conservation problems to the teams.

The Make for the Planet Borneo participants celebrate a successful competition. 2018

The Make for the Planet Borneo participants celebrate a successful competition. 2018

  • The Honorable Dr. Jane Lubchenco, former NOAA Director, inspired six teams to create solutions re-imagine marine protected areas.

  • Marc-Olivier Roux of the USAID Oceans Fisheries Partnership convinced three teams to model solutions that incentivize traceability in fishing supply chains.

  • Dr. Muhammad Hafiz bin Wan Rosli, with input from Professor Dato’ Dr. Aileen Tan Shau Hwai of the University of Sains Malaysia, encouraged four teams to #BeatPlasticPollution.

  • Dr. Andrew Thaler of Blackbeard Biologic, with input from Dr. Jake Levenson and Dr. Jamison Smith, enticed one team to eliminate ghost traps from our oceans.

  • Tom Moore of NOAA supported one team as they created a solution to speed up current diver-assisted coral reef restoration methods.

Teams worked on-site at the IMCC5 meeting to create models and working prototypes of their solutions. The event was fully integrated into the meeting of 700 marine conservationists, with early prototypes displayed during the poster session to allow marine scientists and conservationists to interact with engineering and design teams and provide feed. Approximately half the teams were professionals in engineering, computer/data science, or entrepreneurs.

Judges participate in the final pitch session. 2018

Judges participate in the final pitch session. 2018

The top solutions included a lineless lobster trap system (the team has already filed a provisional patent and created an LLC) in response to the ghost traps challenge; a system to speed up the diver-assisted out-planting of corals (NOAA will support this team to attend a coral reef restoration meeting in December, 2018); an inexpensive autonomous drone- boat capable of mapping shallow marine regions in response to the MPA challenge; and a series of Internet of Things-enabled buoys to detect and deter illegal activity near MPAs. See short descriptions of all of the solutions, teams, reviewers, judges, and partners on the Make for the Planet website.

“Conservation X Labs is excited to support the Make for the Planet Borneo teams as they begin to translate their successful ideas into impactful solutions,” said Open Innovation Director Dr. Barbara Martinez. “The partnerships and connections between IMCC5’s leading marine scientists and our innovators has the potential to tackle some of the ocean’s greatest challenges.”

The LobsterLift team accepts the grand prize award at Make for the Planet Borneo. 2018

The LobsterLift team accepts the grand prize award at Make for the Planet Borneo. 2018

The event concluded with all fifteen teams pitching their ideas in two judging sessions. First, all of the teams pitched their ideas to a panel of impressive reviewers. The team with the highest score in the “scalability” category received the 6-month “hotbench” prize from MakerBay, a Hong Kong-based makerspace. Reviewers also had the difficult task of scoring the projects to determine the top 7 finalists eligible for cash prizes. A panel of five judges ranked the seven finalists in a second round of pitches where teams had more time for Q&A.
 The five judges are listed below.

  • Professor Dato’ Dr. Aileen Tan Shau Hwai, Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the Universiti Sains Malaysia

  • Dr. Alex Dehgan, CEO and Co-founder, Conservation X Labs

  • Dr. Line Bay, Senior Research Scientist and Team Leader for Reef futures: Adaptation and Resilience of Coral Reefs at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, AIMS

  • Dr. Edward Hind-Ozan, President Elect of the Marine Section of the Society for Conservation Biology, as well as the Chair of the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress in 2018

  • Jennifer Koss, Deputy Director, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program

Conservation X Labs congratulates all the teams that participated in this exciting Make for the Planet competition in Borneo and is grateful to its partners for making it possible!

All inquiries can be directed to For more information on Make for the Planet and to find out when the next competition is scheduled, check out the Make for the Planet page on the Conservation X Labs website.

The DNA Barcode Scanner Featured in The Atlantic & bioGraphic

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Conservation X Labs and the DNA Barcode Scanner were featured in stories for bioGraphic and The Atlantic on the growing movement of technology for conservation. The profiles focused on our DNA Barcode Scanner and its potential to revolutionize the fight against wildlife trafficking and seafood fraud among other fields. Check out each story to learn more about what we do and how we seek to transform the field of conservation!


A Handheld DNA Scanner Could Crack Down on Wildlife Identity Theft

Virginia Gewin, The Atlantic

“The Conservation X Labs device is a first step toward that lofty goal. Using the Barcode of Life Database, the team identifies sequences specific to individual species, then synthesizes these short stretches of DNA and freeze-dries them onto reference chips. It’s not quite Janzen’s dream of a tool capable of identifying any of millions of species. But unlike existing genetic sequencers, which are typically complicated and expensive, this scanner is fast, cheap, and easy to use. It is a handheld, field-ready scanner, the first to swiftly verify, either yes or no, whether something is, indeed, the species someone claims it to be. That alone has utility in law enforcement. If you only need a Ford Fusion, there’s no need to build a Ferrari, says David Baisch, the molecular biologist leading the development of the DNA barcode scanner.”

Tech Support for an Ailing Planet

Virginia Gewin, bioGraphic

“Conservation X Labs also wants to diversify the field of conservation itself. Right now, says Alex Dehgan, co-founder and CEO of Conservation X Labs, “The problem is that conservation is only filled with conservationists.” Dehgan, his co-founder Paul Bunje, and their small team are working to change this, deliberately building a working environment to nurture novel, bold conservation strategies with a specific focus on technology “hacks”—taking existing tools and devices and modifying them to fit new needs. “We’ll need a tribe of hackers, makers, economists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to help a sometimes-technophobic conservation community reverse the sixth mass extinction,” Dehgan says. In other words, they’re forcing a culture clash. The company, with support from the World Wildlife Fund, will soon launch an online digital makerspace, where these disparate groups can find each other and work together to create real-world devices, software, and other tech solutions that can chip away at some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.

The whole field of conservation is in dire need of an upgrade, Dehgan says. When the conservation movement began, proponents directed their energy toward creating parks and preserves. As the field evolved beyond protecting land, conservationists shifted into phase 2, assigning a dollar value to the often-overlooked ecosystem services, such as water purification or pollination of food crops, that nature provides for free. Now, Dehgan and Bunje say, it’s time for Conservation 3.0: innovative technologies and diverse solutions that tackle unaddressed causes of biodiversity loss, not just its symptoms. The device that Conservation X Labs is building with a total of more than $300,000 in funding (including additional money from Schmidt Marine Technology Partners)—a field-ready DNA scanner capable of quickly identifying species—is a prototype for this movement. It’s a device that delivers technology to improve conservation enforcement. But tech fixes like these face an uphill battle, both in development and adoption, and those in the conservation field are watching closely to see if they can succeed.”

2017 in Review: Conservation X Labs in the News


Bold Conservation Ideas go from Concept to Reality on this new collaboration platform

Eillie Anilott, Fast Company 

Conservation X Labs (CXL), which Dehgan launched in 2015 with Paul Bunje, chief scientist at the XPrize Foundation, aims to apply the tech startup model to the practice of conservation. In its nearly two years of existence, the organization has hosted numerous hackathons and challenges for innovative, tech-driven solutions to species extinction and environmental degradation.  

Earth Optimism Summit will provide contrast to marchers’ angst

Elizabeth Pennisi, Science

The first Earth Optimism Summit kicks off today at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, just blocks from where the marchers will be gathering. It will feature some 240 talks on what is working in conservation, energy efficiency, innovation, and other fields. Conservation X Labs, a DC-based social enterprise, will host Make for the Planet, an intensive rapid prototyping competition during the Earth Optimism Summit.

Why we should use the tech startup model to solve environmental problems

Starre Vartan, Mother Earth Network

Enter Conservation X Labs (CXL), which conservationist Alex Dehgan launched in 2015. CXL aims to use the tech startup model to work on challenges in the difficult and complex space of environmental protection. How does it work? Much like any tech accelerator does: by bringing people together who have various skills and talents, providing a challenge, and letting them suggest — and test out — new ideas. The 2016 Blue Economy Challenge, which looked at how to create more sustainable fisheries, is a good example.

Interview with Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs

Inspiring Social Entrepreneurs (Podcast), Ep. 71: Feb 17, 2017

Listen to an interview with CEO of Conservation X Labs, Alex Dehgan, as he reflects on the company, its mission, and his experiences working in conservation and development around the world.

Alex also appeared on The Business of Giving in a live interview on December 11, 2017 with Denver Frederick on New York AM 970 to discuss Conservation X Labs and his work.

2016 in Review: Conservation X Labs in the News

Learn more about what CXL did in 2016:

Invasive innovations: Summit fosters technological solutions to invasive species challenge

Julia John, Mongabay

“We can do this,” declared the big round pins on the chests of attendees at the first annual Innovation Summit on Overcoming the Invasive Species Challenge. Cohosted by the National Invasive Species Council (NISC), the conference brought together leading scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs to examine new solutions to the severe consequences of invasive species on Monday, December 5th, at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.

Experts hack away at portable DNA barcode scanner to fight timber and wildlife trafficking

Julia John, Mongabay

The recent DNA Barcode Scanner Hack brought together a range of experts to brainstorm a handheld modular DNA analysis device that could identify timber samples in the field, help flag wildlife trafficking, detect novel pathogens and enhance fisheries traceability, bypassing the need for an expensive, distant laboratory.

Solving global grand challenges, one MOOC at a time

Taylor Robb-McCord, Mongabay

The newly launched Innovation and Design for Global Grand Challenges MOOC explores current global challenges in conservation and development taught by Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs. The course is free and covers topics from wildlife trafficking to global health, 3D printing and synthetic biology. Launched in July 2016, the course has registered 1,500 students from 75 countries.

New ‘Blue Economy Challenge’ wants your solutions to transform the aquaculture industry

Shreya Dasgupta, Mongabay

On February 29, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), in partnership with Conservation X Labs, SecondMuse, NineSigma, and the World Wildlife Fund, launched the Blue Economy Challenge­ — an innovation challenge that aims to transform the aquaculture industry, particularly in the Indian Ocean region.

Harnessing Innovation for Conservation:  Interview with Alex Dehgan

Jennie Specter, Solutions Journal

An interview with Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs, on why innovation is needed in conservation and how to harness the power of entrepreneurship to save the planet’s biodiversity.