XPRIZE Alumni, What They Did Next

Apr 23 2021


Over the past 25 years, we’ve kickstarted and seen through more than 25 Prizes. What unites them all? Catalyzing the innovation that accelerates a more hopeful future for humanity. 

We believe that Prizes guide innovation by providing clear, objective and measurable goals – or as we sometimes like to say: “Without a target, you’ll miss every time.” At their most powerful, incentive prizes capture the imaginations of people all over the world by inspiring everyone into action. 

From astronauts to ocean cleanup experts to cutting edge healthcare researchers, the teams that we come into contact with are global leaders in their fields and are passionate about making radical ideas become realities. It should hardly come as a surprise then that the 1000+ teams who have taken part in our prizes have gone on to do great things. 

Below, we caught up with four past XPRIZE winners to find out what they did next. 

Elastec, Winners of the Wendy Schmidt Oil Clean Up XPRIZE, 2011

The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XCHALLENGE was a one year, $1.4 Million competition to inspire a new generation of solutions that could speed the pace of cleaning seawater after oil spills. It was launched in the wake of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill, also known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the worst in history, taking 11 people’s lives and utterly devastating wildlife. 

The teams that entered all rose to the challenge, but at the end of 2011, the winner was crowned. First Place Prize of $1 Million was awarded to American environmental clean up experts Elastec / American Marine for the their Elastec Grooved Disc Skimmer, which skimmed oil off the water at a groundbreaking rate of 4670 gpm (at 89.5% efficiency) – three times the industry’s previous best oil recovery rate tested in controlled conditions.

Over the ten years that have passed since then, to say Elastec have been busy would be an understatement. The team has modified and developed their winning cleanup tool to become the X150 Skimmer. This was recently modified once again to be retrofitted into Navy Class V vessels for oil spill responses in open water, and tested at Ohmsett, ten years after the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XCHALLENGE. “The original drawings for the Grooved Disc Skimmer sat in a dusty box waiting for the market to accept it. Thanks to the XPRIZE Foundation spurring innovation, those drawings got out of that room and Elastec Grooved Disc Skimmers are now keeping our world clean,” says the Elastec team. 

As well as collaborating with the US Navy, Elastec have developed a whole range of tools for effective ocean cleanups. “Our Brute Boom has been very successful at collecting heavy debris and trash in waterways,” explains the team. “We’ve also launched a product called Bottle Boom which is the first consumer focused product we offer. It is a vinyl sleeve that the user can stuff with collected plastic bottles to create flotation. They can then deploy the boom in a nearby ditch to collect more floating trash.” Then there’s the ELASTEC Omni Catamaran – a versatile aluminum work boat that offers a variety of waterway maintenance and marina service applications – which continues to catch traction in the US.

The team has recently launched a website – Ways To Fight Plastic Pollution – that they hope will become a hub for education and action. “We’ve also recently started a partnership with 4Ocean. So recently, in fact, it’s not even gone public yet as far as official announcements,” says the team. “Elastec will be providing 4Ocean with multiple trash collection systems to be used around the world.” 

Acurable, winners of the XPRIZE Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE, 2014  

Back in 2014, Acurable weren’t Acurable yet, they were the team of medical resaerchers behind the AcuPebble – a technology to remotely diagnose apnoea. The tech was developed as part of the XPRIZE Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE – a partnership between XPRIZE and Nokia aimed at stimulating the development of a new generation of health sensors and sensing technologies to drastically improve the quality, accuracy and ease of monitoring a person’s health. It was only after winning the competition that lead AcuPebble researcher Professor Esther Rodriguez-Villegas created Acurable, negotiating the technology transfer from Imperial College London to the company and starting to build the team which would help her take the technology to market. 

In the years since, the team has been busy fundraising and obtaining all the regulatory approvals required to launch as a medical device. When we competed in the XPRIZE, AcuPebble was still an academic research project,” explains the team.We had developed a promising new technology to accurately and non-invasively interpret physiological acoustic body signals and extract disease related biomarkers. But the thorough assessment process and recognition of the XPRIZE award gave us the validation and confidence we needed to take things forward and fulfill the potential we always knew our technology had. Our vision has always been to use the AcuPebble technology to fundamentally improve the diagnosis and management of several serious chronic conditions such as Sleep Apnoea, Epilepsy, Pneumonia, COPD and Asthma. XPRIZE gave us the push we needed to do just that.” 

In 2020, the company launched their first commercial product, AcuPebble SA100, which became the first wearable medical device in the world to obtain the CE mark for the automated diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnoea. This was a huge milestone, and came on the back of a successful clinical validation trial in London, which was one of the largest ever trials in sleep apnoea diagnosis. Today, Acurable are supported by the NHS in the UK to scale adoption of their medical device across England, and have started making a difference to patients and healthcare professionals, drastically improving the sleep apnoea diagnosis pathway. They’re also starting European expansion and progressing through the FDA clearance process to launch in the US. 

Learning Upgrade, Winners of the Adult Literacy XPRIZE, 2019  

 The $7M Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE was created to tackle the huge rates of American adults with low or no literacy (estimated at the time at 36 million). The award went to two grand Prize winners in early 2019. One was Learning Upgrade. 

“Before joining the Adult Literacy XPRIZE we published K-12 web-based courses serving a small community of US schools,” the organization explains. “Thanks to the XPRIZE experience, we have expanded to serving adults, with most students using smartphones for access, and have served over 3 million students globally. XPRIZE has connected us to a global community of NGOs serving people in need. Our goal is to transform the lives of 100 million people over the next five years.”

 The Learning Upgrade solution addresses poverty, racial inequity, and women’s empowerment by giving people a path to upskill themselves using their own smartphones. Through “binge learning” each person can learn English, math, and digital skills to prepare them for college and career success. Their most recent initiative “Reverse the COVID Slide” takes the work that Adult Learning did with us at XPRIZE on smartphone learning and uses that platform for accelerated remote learning to help students catch up after falling behind due to COVID. They are also busy helping refugees in America learn English, one student at a time.  

SpaceIL, Winners of a XPRIZE Moonshot Award, 2019 

You might remember the SpaceIL team as the Israeli space organization who became the first privately-funded entity to successfully land on the Moon and to enter lunar orbit. Things didn’t go 100% to plan; Beresheet, SpaceIL’s lander, lost communication with mission control as it was due to land, effectively crash landing on the Moon’s surface as the world looked on. We awarded them a Moonshot Award of $1M for their innovation – and their literal moonshot – in April, 2019. 

On a recent episode of XPRIZE’s Future Positive podcast, Kfir Damari from the SpaceIL team remembers the moment of the landing: “We knew it was statistical, as the spacecraft essentially had to land by itself. It takes 3 seconds to send signals down to the Earth and back with processing time. The spacecraft moved at 2km per second, so before you can even move the joystick it has travelled 6 km. In the beginning everything was as expected... We had millions watching in Israel and around the world. The whole space industry was excited that the first private spacecraft was reaching the Moon. About 13km about the Moon there was a malfunction…” 

In the two years since, SpaceIL has investigated the mission and learned from it. “Beresheet1 did not complete its mission to land on the Moon, but this does not make it a failure,” explains the team optimistically today. Right now, they’re gearing up to launch Beresheet2, currently slated for 2024 – the team’s second mission to the Moon. “Beresheet1 constituted a breakthrough in Israel’s journey to deep space. We learned a great deal from the project and our conclusions are being implemented in the Beresheet2 project.” Two landers will be deployed on the Moon’s surface at different sites, while the orbiter continues to orbit the Moon sending data to Earth. 

“Although we definitely made an impact on the surface of the Moon,” jokes Damari, “the biggest impact we’ve made here is on Earth, with so many kids who – when we met them as part of the Beresheet1 education program – were in preschool, and now they’re in university studying aeronautical engineering.”