College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

‘Eden’ wins annual Clemson Design-a-thon Competition


Clemson University first-year students William Sutton, Ethan Wood and Kelly Cochran had about a day and a half to apply design thinking to create a sustainable solution for the future of food.

Their solution was Eden: Restaurant of the Future. Eden’s mission is to implement vertical agriculture, aquaponics, and hydroponics to work towards the eradication of both supply chain and general food waste.

The winners of this year’s Design a thon were (from left) William Sutton, Kelly Cochran and Ethan Wood.

A high-tech system that irrigates the crops would recapture unused water and circulate it back through the system. The crops would be fertilized naturally with fish waste, using a process that would clean the fish tank’s water and provide customers with fresh fish.

“Eden would be able to grow almost all of its produce in-house,” said Sutton, a mathematics major. “We estimated it would cut down waste by 70% in the transportation process, which would be super-cool for sustainability and serve as a model for the future.”

The idea for Eden took first place in Clemson Design-a-thon, a student-run competition hosted by the Clemson Grand Challenge Scholars and sponsored by the College of Engineering Computing and Applied Sciences and the Watt Family Innovation Center.

This year’s theme for the Design-a-thon was “The Future of Food.”

“Clemson Design-a-thon is a signature program that focuses on the development of essential skills to prepare students for societal impact,” said Claire Dancz, faculty director of the Grand Challenge Scholars and key to the event’s success. “When we create dynamic learning environments focused on real-world problems, we foster an ecosystem where students act as agents of change to positively impact local and global communities.”

The 23 teams started work on a Friday night in February to develop a deep understanding of the challenge and identify opportunities for innovation. Ideas ranged from a biosensor-based assay that shows a colorimetric signal to prevent foodborne illnesses to alternative fuel sources for farming machinery to mobile scanning technology for the identification of food allergens.

Sutton, Wood and Cochran, who first met when they played on the same kickball team, attended the keynote presentation by Deb Conklin, CEO of Reddy Ice and Clemson industrial engineering alumnus, on Friday night in the Watt Family Innovation Center auditorium.

On Saturday, they utilized resources provided on design thinking, how to give a pitch and tips for successful communication, conducted additional research on the challenge and built out their best ideas.

“The energy was so high all of Saturday,” said Wood, who plans to major in biosystems engineering. “It didn’t feel like school. It felt like we were in the real world coming up with a solution. That was really cool.”

Cochran, who plans to major in industrial engineering, said she enjoyed going through ideas and thinking about whether they would work.

“I liked just looking at the cause-and-effect and how it would impact our ideas and our ability to get to the solution,” she said.

Shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday, the team turned in a nearly three-minute video filmed in the Communication Center outlining their ideas for Eden. The team learned the next day that the Eden design won the contest and a $1,000 grand prize.

“Design-a-thon brought together students from a wide range of majors and experience levels for a friendly competition that was not only fun but also a way of learning to create innovative solutions,” said Aubrey Baldwin, director for the office of student engagement and key organizer of Design-a-thon. “Events such as this help students develop both their skillset and mindset to be successful in their life and career.”

While Eden’s creators are focused on school for the next few years, Sutton said he believes the restaurant would work.

“I am 100% sure that vertical agriculture is the future, and I really hope that someone starts a vertical-agriculture-based restaurant,” he said. “It’s a great idea that a team of people could make a lot more out of if given more time.”

Brad Putman, the college’s associate dean for undergraduate studies, also provided support along with Tullen Burns, Caleb Bruce, and Susan McKenzie Reeves of the Watt Family Innovation Center.

This year’s competition brought together 98 students from six colleges representing 19 majors, highlighting the multidisciplinary perspectives needed to address current and future global challenges.

Want to Discuss?

Get in touch and we will connect you with the author or another expert.

Or email us at

    This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.