—— There are pressing environmental problems. And there are technologies that could solve them. What's sometimes missing are people who combine the two. Conservation X Labs wants to build this bridge – and is relying on the science of innovation to do so.


Even as a teenager, Paul Bunje knew he wanted to protect nature. Back then, he roamed the forests of California and marveled at the biodiversity of plants and animals. Today, Bunje is a biologist and is still pursuing his mission. Six years ago, he co-founded the technology and innovation start-up Conservation X Labs with Alex Dehgan, also a biologist and the former Chief Scientist of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Dehgan and Bunje had noticed that there was plenty of research around the threats to biodiversity and species loss. What was often lacking was a focus on solutions. Bunje and Dehgan considered what it might look like to create a process to bring solutions to conservation and address the human-created causes of species extinction. How could this approach succeed in bringing scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs, and investors together for conservation?

Their company, Conservation X Labs, is creating an ecosystem of such networks to support the development of radical new solutions to the extinction crisis. Their team is developing cutting-edge technology in their labs, leading innovation competitions, and incentivizing those outside of the conservation space to join in their mission to prevent the sixth mass extinction. The company currently has a presence in Seattle, Washington; Washington, D.C.; and Lima, Peru.

Harnessing the power of the crowd through prizes and challenges is one way that the team can source, develop, and scale critical solutions to the underlying drivers of extinction. These drivers of species extinction include environmental degradation, habitat loss, wildlife trafficking, invasive species, disease, and climate change.

These prizes and challenges have brought about creative solutions. For example, an innovation from one of the first calls for proposals five years ago is a shrimp substitute made from algae. The problem to be solved at the time: Shrimp farms pollute the oceans with, among other things, the high use of antibiotics, and wild catches usually end up with a lot of bycatch in the nets, which is dumped back into the sea as waste. Vegan shrimp alternatives could help alleviate these problems. With the support of Conservation X Labs, the seaweed shrimp is now ready for market and is being offered in restaurants across the United States.

Stories like this are what Bunje, Dehgan and their team want to bring to as many people as possible to show that everyone can be part of the solution. "Our community needs to keep growing," Bunje says. There are plenty of challenges: Conservation X Labs will soon announce semi-finalists for The Microfiber Innovation Challenge, which is seeking innovations that will prevent plastic microfiber pollution in the ocean.