WaveMakers: AquaHacking Champions Ride the Innovation Tide in the Great Lakes

By AquaAction
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WaveMakers: AquaHacking Champions Ride the Innovation Tide in the Great Lakes 

The AquaHacking Great Lakes Challenge, hosted by AquaAction and Northwestern Michigan College, reached its climax at the Grand Finale, where ten exceptional teams presented their innovative solutions to critical freshwater issues. Competing for a total of $35,000 in seed funding, these teams demonstrated their commitment to building a sustainable future through their ingenious projects. 

Water Has No Borders: Coming Together to Protect the Great Lakes 

This binational event emphasized the unified effort to safeguard the Great Lakes—essential to the economic and cultural fabric of both Canada and the United States. Home to 20% of the world’s surface freshwater and a central economic zone, the region’s vitality highlights the urgency of advancing freshwater solutions. The Challenge marks Traverse City’s first step toward becoming a blue-tech innovation hub in the Great Lakes. 

“Water runs through our health, our environment, and our economy. As the US elevates water security as a foreign policy priority, the need for AquaAction’s programs has never been more urgent. Our mission empowers youth to launch impactful startups to solve the most pressing water issues, and today’s AquaHacking Challenge Finale is just the beginning. AquaAction remains a pillar of support, opportunity, and community as you change the world.”  – Soula Chronopoulos, President of AquaAction. 

Through the lens of this competition, the Great Lakes were not just bodies of water, they were the focal point for a diverse group of innovators, entrepreneurs, educators, and experts who came together to tackle issues threatening our environment, economy, and health. 

 Thank you to all the teams, judges, partners, sponsors, and attendees who made this event a success. Your dedication and commitment to freshwater conservation are truly inspiring! 

The Winners 

1st Place ($20,000) – Baleena 

Designing microfiber-trapping filters for household washing machines, Baleena tackles microplastic pollution at its source. Philadelphia, PN, USA. 

2nd Place ($10,000) – Wave Lumina 

Wave Lumina developed a portable Raman device to swiftly detect ultra-low levels of PFAS and other contaminants in environmental samples, revolutionizing on-site environmental assessments in Traverse City, MI, USA. 

3rd Place ($5,000) – Proto-StLo 

Introducing a novel algal filtration technology, Proto-StLo reduces lead concentration in drinking water through powdered algal extract and pH regulation. Champlain College St. Lawrence, QC, Canada. 

People Choice Award ($1,000) – Quantum Water 

Quantum Water uses insect-based carbon quantum dots to provide an innovative way to detect lead contamination in water at the University of Waterloo, ON, Canada. 

Thanks to Aurora Patents, the top three teams will be awarded an additional prize valued at $10,000, including $5,000 for the winner for a provisional patent application, and $2,500 each for 2nd and 3rd places for other legal services such as application, search services, and competitive landscape analysis. 

In addition, we are extremely grateful for our newest strategic alliance with Traverse City legal firm, Alward Fisher Rice Rowe & Graf PLC, who will provide access to their startup package, valued at $2,000, for up to five enterprises from both the AquaHacking Challenge and our scale-up program, AquaEntrepreneur. More on this alliance to be announced soon! 

A huge congratulations to all the finalists – you are all winners and now part of the AquaNation community!  Click to dive deeper into the other promising solutions presented by our Challenge finalists.

A Strong Spirit of Collaboration 

The panel of expert judges, Soham Dalal (Gener8tor), Bill Palladino (Krios Consulting), Cindy Warner (360ofme Inc), and Joe Blondia (The Leelanau School), lent their expertise and guidance, further fostering a sense of shared purpose. Their involvement emphasized the importance of multidisciplinary approaches in addressing complex environmental issues. 

NMC is very excited to be partnering with AquaAction. The Great Lakes AquaHacking Challenge has brought innovators and entrepreneurs to the region from across the US and Canada. This continues NMC’s commitment to developing the next generation of great thinkers around water issues as well as providing opportunities for our students. The ten finalist teams lay the groundwork for the types of exciting breakthroughs we envision populating the Freshwater Research and Innovation Center coming to the Grand Traverse region.” – Jason Slade, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, Northwestern Michigan College. 

As we honor the winners —Baleena, Wave Lumina, Proto StLo and Quantum Water — we also applaud the spirit of innovation and collaboration that resonated through the Finales, all crucial elements to the success of the AquaHacking Great Lakes Challenge. Together, we can overcome even the most daunting challenges to build a sustainable future for generations to come. 

And the best part – we will be back in Traverse City and the Great Lakes in 2025. Be sure to follow us on social media to find out when to apply for the next AquaHacking Challenge and how to get involved in the movement! 


For more information contact Kayla Menu-Courey, Director of Marketing, Communications and Fundraising 

Co-Host: Northwestern Michigan College  

National Partners: Fondation de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation, RBC, Ovivo, Xerxes, McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship,  

CC: Traverse Connect, Office of Possibilities, Aurora Patents, Alward Fisher Rice Rowe & Graf PLC