The Woltemade Big Problem Challenge

A competition for all OWU students

Problem background: The Ohio River is one of the most polluted in the United States, and Lake Erie is also plagued by water quality issues, including agricultural runoff, harmful algal blooms, invasive species, and mercury. Nearly one third of Ohio residents get their drinking water from these sources, and these bodies of water also support a vast array of wildlife, including many endangered species as well as multi-million dollar recreational and commercial fisheries. Despite significant efforts by government and non-profits, the Ohio River and Lake Erie continue to face grave challenges. 

Your challenge: Use entrepreneurial thinking to create a plan that could improve water quality in the Ohio River and/or Lake Erie. Your plan should rely on a business-focused solution to improve water quality in these bodies of water. Your proposal may interact with existing regulation and programs, but viability should not depend on new government intervention or assistance. You will pitch your plan in a five-minute presentation to a panel of judges with expertise in water issues and/or social enterprise at the Woltemade Big Problem Challenge competition on February 29, 2024. Students may compete as individuals or teams with up to four members. The competition is open to students from all departments, and teams with students from multiple departments may benefit from an interdisciplinary understanding of their particular problem and proposed solution.

Prizes: $3,000 to the first-place team, $1,000 to the second-place team, and $500 to the third-place team. Note that these prize amounts are for the entire team, not individual team members (unless you are competing as an individual).


February 29, 2024

10 AM - 11 AM 

Merrick Hall Room 301

Live Stream Link 

Competition Judges:

  • Phil Smith, Director of the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center, OWU
  • Lauren Richards, Natural Resources Specialist, Preservation Parks
  • Lisa Roberts, Watershed and Sustainability Coordinator, City of Delaware
  • Brian Stier, Business Teacher, Dublin City Schools

Criteria: Your plan will be judged in terms of:

  • Feasibility: Is it realistic that you could get this idea off the ground? Although you may pitch a proposal on your own, working with a well-rounded team of fellow OWU students will improve your chances of success.

  • Sustainability: Does you plan have the financial means to sustain itself into the future (its success should not be dependent on donations, grants, or other public funds - there is a business model)?

  • Adoption: Do you have a clear plan to encourage and grow public adoption of your solution?

  • Impact: What impact do you expect your solution to achieve, and how will you measure it?

  • Research: What research has the team done in development of the plan?

Examples: Examples of different market-driven approaches to environmental problems:

Apply: Apply with this short form by February 16, 2024. Individuals and teams will be selected to compete in the pitch competition on February 29th. Applicants will be notified if they have been selected on February 20th.