2021 Antlion Pit Competition

The Antlion Pit Competition is designed to empower ESA members to develop and present their innovative ideas for entomology-related products and services.  The competition encourages the development of the entrepreneurial spirit through idea leadership, innovation, teamwork, and mentorship.  Before the competition, participating individuals or teams will receive support in the form of mentorship and webinars to help them identify a user group, ideate problems and solutions, prototype, and test their innovations while competing for cash prizes.  The venture idea may focus on a technology, product, process, service, or social venture.


Competition Information

The APC will take place in person during the ESA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, in two stages. Teams will be expected to be present at both events. Virtual submissions will be accepted for registered attendees of the ESA Annual Meeting Virtual Content.

Monday, November 1, 2021 - 12:30 – 2:30 PM Mountain Time
Stage I
– APC Demonstration Day – Teams will participate in a two-hour informal interactive “exhibit hall” style event where they will present their ideas and prototypes to judges and interested meeting registrants. Each team will be given access to a table, floor space, and electricity. At least one ESA member on the team must be present during APC Demonstration Day.

Virtual participants will engage with the on-site participants via virtual chat. Handouts, signs, or physical prototypes may be sent in advance.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM Mountain Time
Stage II
– APC Presentation Pitch – Teams will be given five minutes to present their pitch, followed by eight minutes of questions from both the judges and the audience. A maximum of two individuals may be on stage to present, one of whom must be an ESA member. Each team should plan to attend the entire event. Teams will be able to upload their presentations in the presentation preview room and are also encouraged to bring prototypes, final designs, and/or presentation props as needed.

Virtual participants will be expected to provide their five-minute pre-recorded presentation in advance. These will be played and presented live on-site. Video chat options with the judges and questions from the audience will take place via a live video call during the presentation pitches.

*Please note that these dates and times are subject to change and will be finalized by mid-September. If there are insufficient submissions, the competition will not move forward.

Cash Prizes and Awards

There will be a Grand Prize of $5,000, a 2nd Place Prize of $2,500, and an Audience Favorite Award of $2,500. If, in the opinion of the judges, the proposed innovative ideas do not represent a favorable business opportunity or societal win, then the prize money or some portion of the prize money will not be awarded. Judges are under no obligation to award all—or any—of the prize money.

Entry Rules

Entry into the Competition

To enter, one team member must be an ESA member in good standing. Each team member will required to complete a signed Antlion Pit Competition Participant Acknowledgement and Agreement Form by September 7, 2021 and provide as part of the team proposal.

Nature of Ventures

The Antlion Pit Competition is for new, independent ventures in the seed, startup, or early growth stages. Ventures should be related to entomology, but this relationship can vary. For instance, the venture can benefit entomological research, can use research done on insects for new innovations, can benefit the human condition through increasing/decreasing insect populations, etc. Licensing technologies from University or research labs is not excluded and is encouraged, assuming these have not been previously commercialized and that the ESA-member involved is a co-founder.

Ventures with revenues (excluding Phase I SBIR/STTR grants) that exceed $50,000 in prior years are excluded. Ventures that have raised equity capital in excess of $50,000 from sources other than the members of the teams or their friends and families before the current year are also excluded from the competition.

Presented innovative ideas and prototypes do not need to be tangible items.

Multiple Entries

Each competition participant is only allowed one idea submission as team leader. A participant may be on more than one team, but can only be team leader (or presenter) on one team each year.


Winners of previous Antlion Pit Competitions are eligible to participate; however, they must submit a different venture idea. Past participants may submit new ventures or resubmit their previous ventures; however, it is recommended that they seek to polish and improve their previous materials and pitch to have the best chance of success.

Judging Criteria

The Antlion Pit Competition reflects the real-world process of entrepreneurs seeking startup funds from early-stage investors, venture capital firms, and other avenues. The judges act as potential investors deciding on which venture related to insects / entomology they see as having the potential to succeed. The quality and feasibility of the idea, the strength of the management team, and the clarity and persuasiveness of the written summary and pitch presentation all affect the judges’ decisions. Judges in this competition should assume that they would be open to investing in any type of new venture, assuming that certain criteria such as those aforementioned are met.

Pitch Presentation Evaluation – Finals Event

The judges for the Finals Events will receive the finalist teams’ written materials submitted to the committee for review and scoring.

During the Finals Events the teams will be evaluated on the demos/prototypes and the presentation/pitch. After each team’s presentation and subsequent Q&A session, the judges will have a few minutes to fill out the scorecard, before the next team’s presentations begins. The winning teams will be determined by the judges’ scores and rankings. Scorecards will also be used to provide feedback to the teams. These scorecards will be provided to the teams to help improve their venture presentations in the future.

The rankings will be completed by the judges at the end of the venture presentations. Judges are under no obligation to award all – or any – of the prize money. Judges will rank the teams and the highest ranked team may be chosen to receive the overall first prize; other teams will be awarded prizes based on rank and fit with the prize category. If the judges determine that the teams would not put the money to appropriate use, they may withhold some or all of the funds.


The list of deliverables are due September 7, 2021.  Each team member will required to complete a signed Antlion Pit Competition Participant Acknowledgement and Agreement Form by September 7, 2021 and provide as part of the team proposal.


Deliverables will be due by September 7, 2021, to be considered for the finals during the Annual Meeting. In the event there are more than five submissions, the judges will complete a first-round determination based on the deliverables and will select teams to move to the finals. Teams will be notified no later than September 25, 2021, to confirm that they will be presenting during the finals. Virtual participants that move forward to the final stages will need to provide their final five-minute pre-recorded presentation by October 13, 2021.

Submissions should include the following elements:

  1. Name of presenting individuals
  2. Written venture summary
  3. A PowerPoint of up to 10 slides, or a video that is no more than five minutes in length, that provides an overview of the problem, solution, prototype, and testing. Include as many of the following components as possible (see webinar links below for more information):
    1. Problem statement, including results from need finding and benchmarking and a user persona
    2. The conceptual design of the proposed solution, and possibly ideas that were considered during the ideation phase of the design process
    3. Description of the prototype and results of critical function experiments
    4. Feedback about the prototype from users
  4. Proposal on how the money would be spent, if award
  5. Signed Antlion Pit Competition Participant Acknowledgement and Agreement Form for each team member.


Please note that once you submit you will not be able to access your submission again.


Below is a tentative scoring list for teams.  Each section will be scored from 1 - 10 (Poor (1-2) Fair (2-4) Adequate (5-6) Good (7-8) Excellent (9-10)
Max = 100 points.  Please note this may be updated slightly prior to the deadline.

Value Proposition:
The team clearly articulates their value proposition and is solving a problem related to entomology that needs to be solved. (What are they doing? What problem are they solving for the user? What value are they delivering to the user?)

Market Opportunity:
There is a clear market need presented and represents a real investment opportunity. (Why should I care? Opportunity is sizeable enough to go after.)
Customer Segment:
Has the team identified their users/ customers? Do they know how they will acquire the customers?
Technology / Product or Service:
The team has developed a truly innovative solution to an existing or emerging problem related to entomology. (How are they doing it? Their solution is realistic and feasible.)
Financial Understanding:
The team has a solid understanding of the financial requirements of the venture.
Competitive Advantage:
The venture provides something novel/unique/special that gives a competitive advantage in this market.
Management Capability:
This team can effectively develop this organization and handle the risks associated with this venture. (Who are they? Are they capable of solving this problem?)
Societal Value:
The team has developed something related to entomology that provides value to society.
Prototype: The team has created a useful prototype, or at least a critical component prototype, that helps explain the envisioned technology / product or service
Pitch: Presented in a clear, concise and compelling manner. Conveyed all criteria within the 10-minute time frame. (Simply put, do you as a judge understand what they are doing?)


Team Structure and Size

The competition is open to both ESA members and non-members; however, each team must consist of at least one ESA member in good standing. Non-ESA members may be members of the team and participate in planning the venture. During the final competition, only one non-member may present the venture and answer questions from the judges alongside an ESA member.  There are no restrictions on team size.  Individual ESA members can also enter as a Team.

Diverse teams lead to more creative and diverse ideas. We encourage individual entomologists to team with non-entomologists that can help bring their creative idea to implementation (e.g., designers, programmers, marketers, etc.).


Recorded Webinars from the Design Thinking Webinar Series are listed below as a resource to all teams.

Webinar Presenters:
Dr. Marianne Alleyne – Research Scientist and Lecturer; Department of Entomology at University of Illinois
Dr. Aimy Wissa - Director of the Bio-inspired Adaptive Morphology Lab; Mechanical Science and Engineering Department at the University of Illinois

Drs. Aimy Wissa and Marianne Alleyne bring years of experience in interdisciplinary design to the webinar series offered by the Entomological Society of America.

Dr. Wissa earned her doctorate degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. Her current research focus is on bioinspired adaptive structures for robotic applications.

Dr. Alleyne received her doctorate in entomology from the University of Illinois. She is involved in multiple interdisciplinary research teams working on novel designs inspired by multifunctional biological materials, insect locomotion, and insect sensing.

Drs. Wissa and Alleyne co-teach a bioinspired design course at the University of Illinois, as well as various design workshops. They teach biology and engineering students to design nature-inspired solutions to solve societal problems. In the bioinspired design course, the students are required to follow the design thinking process. Aimy and Marianne have adapted the content of their course and workshops for the purpose of this webinar series.

Webinar #1 – Empathy/Personas & Problem Identification Stages - View the recording
During this first webinar we will discuss how important it is to truly understand the problem your product or service is trying to solve. You will learn how to develop personas and empathy for the potential users, which can be incorporated into a more successful design. You will be exposed to tools that will help you to observe, engage, watch and listen to the potential user, to get a realistic understanding of the end user’s experiences.

Webinar #2 – Ideate Stage - View the recording
During our second webinar we will discuss different ways for generating the best solutions that will address the problem you defined using the tools from the first seminar. We will show how ideation methods such as bodystorming, mindmapping and sketching can help you to come up with the broadest range of possible ideas (not necessarily with the “right” idea). The goal of these creativity tools is to look beyond the obvious, to harness your team’s expertise and to uncover unexpected solutions.

Webinar #3 – Prototyping & Testing Stages - View the recording
The next step in the design process is to bring your creative ideas to be. In the third seminar we will discuss different prototyping methods, with a focus on low and medium fidelity prototypes, that can help you ideate, problem-solve, communicate and cheaply test multiple design solution possibilities. We will also discuss how to best test your design solution and the prototypes. Testing will help you refine your design, teach you more about the user, and will help you validate your own point of view of the problem and the solution.

For any questions on the Antlion Pit Competition, please contact Dr. Marianne Alleyne or
Dr. Patti L. Prasifka

2019 Competition Winners
First Place - Zoe Getman-Pickering - LeafByte - View the presentation
Second Place - Tanner Matson - Matson Trap - View the presentation
Audience Favorite - Tanner Matson - Matson Trap- View the presentation

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