How Foundations and Non-Profits are Utilizing Challenge and Prize Based Open Innovation

The increasing number of nonprofits exploring open Challenge programs and prize competitions led us to host a recent webinar titled, Challenging the World to Take Up Your Cause: Why Foundations and Nonprofits like Lumina Foundation are Harnessing Open Challenges and Prize Competitions. This webinar, which featured Kiko Suarez, Vice President of Communications and Innovation at Lumina Foundation (an InnoCentive client), and InnoCentive Director Siobhán Gibney Gomis, demonstrated how a well-designed Challenge can result in game-changing impact for foundations/nonprofits and their missions. You can view a replay of the webinar here.

There is certainly a time and place for Challenges as a tool in the nonprofit innovation toolbox – so when and where is it? The short answer depends on the stage of the innovation cycle you are in, and the situation you are in:

At the beginning: You’re starting to address a complex problem and want to consult the crowd on how to get started or a viable direction in which to head.

The Community Foundation of North Louisiana ran an Ideation Challenge looking for ways to tackle the problem of elementary (primary) school reading scores that were lower than standards in the rest of the country. Nearly 800 Solvers participated in the Challenge, and afterwards, Executive Director Paula Hickman of the Foundation was “elated to receive so many quality responses from so many corners of the world. A surprising aspect was that the educational challenges we face in our corner of Louisiana seem to be universal.” The Foundation is now headed in the direction of the winning solution, forming a collaboration with several other organizations to implement the idea.

In the middle: You don’t know what the solution is, nor who is best placed to solve it.

The Chordoma Foundation sought to find cell lines that could be used for research. The problem was that there were very few scientists focused on this disease. Explaining why the Foundation decided to tackle this problem with a prize program, Executive Director Josh Sommer explained: “We had $100,000 to work with. That would have been enough to fund 1-2 labs to attempt to develop chordoma cell lines. But it was not at all obvious who to fund. Instead, we wanted many labs to try their hand at developing chordoma cell lines; the more attempts, we thought, the more likely that at least someone would succeed. Because creating a cell line is a very clear deliverable and many labs are equipped to develop cell lines, we thought that a prize might just spur some labs to try.” Guess what? It did! Read more

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Why InnoCentive Seekers Should View Solvers as Consumers As Well As Innovators

It’s easy to fall into the trap of putting people into a box, viewing their capabilities and the benefits they can offer too narrowly. Our community of nearly 300,000 multifaceted individuals are not just experts who can help solve your problems – they are also consumers who can offer customer perspectives and insights, and odds are, many of them fall into your target market. Men and women, old and young, active professionals and retirees, academics and students, culturally diverse – they buy and use products and services across virtually all consumer categories.

There is much to gain from viewing InnoCentive’s Solvers as consumers as well as innovators, and there are some strong reasons for Seekers to buy into this perspective.

Combine development steps to engage with consumers and innovators at the same time. Our Solver Community offers a unique overlap of consumer focus groups and innovative developers. Rather than first discussing an idea for a new product with a focus group, and then exploring practicalities with developers, these steps can be combined inyo one Challenge. A great example of this was our recent Electronic Apps for Inhaler Devices Challenge, attracting asthma sufferers as well as app developers from our Solver Community.

Benefit from diversity and global reach. Our diverse community of Solvers span every continent and almost 200 countries, thereby bringing different cultural perspectives to Challenges. One Seeker took advantage of culturally varied attitudes and habits around care for the elderly by asking for models to motivate and support altruism within communities.

Co-create and drive brand engagement. Asking consumers to help you tackle Challenges is a strong and engaging way to demonstrate that you value their opinions and are open to feedback. A travel social network did this recently through one of our Challenges by asking Solvers which incentives work best for encouraging membership, and which website version they liked best. Thomson Reuters did this as well, asking Solvers to help the company improve its online products. This Challenge engaged more than 800 people from around the world, and Phase 2 which focuses on the implementation of this original Challenge is now in progress. Inevitably, these types of Challenges drive interest and website traffic from individuals who spent time exploring their offerings.

Next time you consider posting a Challenge to our Solver Community, think outside the box and enjoy the benefits of co-creating and conversing with your consumers!

Authored by Siobhán Gibney Gomis, Director of Business Development at InnoCentive & Amiel M. Kornel, Board Member at InnoCentive

Are Challenges Just for Established Companies?

I recently spoke to a group of small business owners at a Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. As we began our discussion, it became clear that many were intrigued by the idea of engaging the crowd to solve problems, but were also concerned that tapping into the crowd was the purview of the big enterprise – a valuable, exciting trend that was beyond the budget of a small company.

It’s not the first time we’ve been asked: “can small businesses afford to run Challenges?” But as I’ll discuss below, the question should really be: “can they afford not to?” There are at least three reasons why small businesses should harness the crowd:

  1. Data-driven decisions – As they expand and grow, small businesses make selective decisions on which services and tools to invest in. This means that dollars or pounds are often spent where the opportunity for returns is highest. Our pricing models, combined with data derived from running more than 1,600 public Challenges, enables CEOs to make cost calculations up front as well as understand what outcomes they can reasonably expect.
  2. Diverse & expansive reach – Not only can Challenges enable you to benefit from the expertise and creativity of InnoCentive’s crowd of nearly 300,000 problem Solvers, you can also view it as a marketing exercise. How long would it take, and how much would it cost, for a small business to engage thousands of people spread across every continent on its own? An exciting Challenge concept can elevate the profile of a small company and attract significant consumer and press attention.
  3. Stay lean (Talent On-Demand) – Crowdsourcing enables you to tap into the crowd when you need them – like the cloud computing of people, you don’t pay for the crowd when you’re not using it, but they are there when you need help. Small businesses have particularly tended to come our way when faced with problems outside of their core competencies.

One of my favourite examples of how to do this well concerns a start-up that was looking to develop a marketing strategy for a niche product that hasn’t yet hit the market. The CEO had a marketing executive to roll out the campaign, but wanted to be confident of the strategy before going forward – a lacklustre launch campaign could have had a devastating impact. He could have left it to the marketing executive to develop the strategy alone – this would have been cheaper in the short term, but would have cost the company dearly if the strategy failed to resonate. Alternatively, he could have hired a marketing agency to produce a strategy – for an experienced agency, this has a considerable price tag, and he would have received the best ideas from a group of only 3-4 people. An added risk was that the strategy they put forward would be one that the marketing executive couldn’t implement alone. Read more

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Musings about The Open Innovation Marketplace Webinar

book coverInnoCentive hosted a webinar featuring our very own Dwayne Spradlin and Alph Bingham, co-authors of the recently published book, The Open Innovation Marketplace: Creating Value in the Challenge Driven Enterprise.

To view a replay of the webinar, please click here. And to download a chapter of the book, click here.

During this live event, which gathered hundreds of participants from Fortune 500 enterprises, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, Dwayne and Alph discussed what motivated them to write the book, the importance of Challenge Driven Innovation (CDI) and other key open innovation principles, real-world case studies of CDI in action, and how companies can evolve into true Challenge Driven Enterprises.

Audience Polling Results

We asked several polling questions of the audience during the event. Here’s a snapshot of the questions and the participants’ answers:

What are the biggest innovation challenges you face today? (check all)

43% – Measuring the success of your innovation efforts

41% – Time-to-market with new products

33% – Lack of funding and resources

30% – Balancing risk and reward

15% – Increasing cost with diminishing returns

Analysis: Unsurprisingly, time-to-market was a top answer. Yet innovation measurement trumped time-to-market, which is indicative of the difficulty companies face in measuring the success of their various initiatives. Alph dives deeper into this topic in his blog post. Read more

Open Innovation and Strategic Sourcing

By David Ritter, Chief Technology Officer, InnoCentive

In this post, I’d like to build on my previous comments regarding the similarities between Open Innovation and Strategic Sourcing.  I think this metaphor can help executives understand the imperatives and challenges they face when considering their innovation strategy.

To compete in the global economy, companies need to establish core capabilities that enable them to take advantage of their scale.  Strategic sourcing is a classic example – manufacturing companies aggregate their demand across their factories for materials and negotiate with vendors from a position of strength and volume.  Sometime after 1960, strategic sourcing became a competitive necessity.  Companies that make stuff in any volume absolutely had to create the organization, processes, and culture that enable strategic sourcing, or they’d be driven out of business by others that had built this capability. Read more

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E&P coverage from Oil & Gas Symposium in Houston in November

InnoCentive Innovation Expansion Manager Chad Carrington spoke with E&P Editor Judy Murray about InnoCentive’s Oil & Gas Symposium in Houston, Texas on November 17th, 2010.

OG SignDuring last month’s Oil & Gas Symposium, E&P Editor Judy Murray made the point that as the oil and gas industry faces greater and more exacting technical challenges, it becomes more important to be able to innovate rapidly.  In a follow-up E&P article online, Judy emphasized that this reality has become increasingly difficult, with the notable gap between the aging experienced resources and those newly hired to the industry.  For more event details, see Judy Murray’s perspective in the following article,  Open collaboration takes a giant leap forward.

In an effort to mitigate the risks, the industry trend has been to organize for more effective collaboration in an effort to more efficiently address escalating field intelligence requirements.  Today, leaders are learning that timely viable solutions can be found well beyond traditional industry sources when diverse resources are engaged in a structured Challenge-driven approach.  The result is that novel solutions can be found and securely utilized across industries. E&P has been following the growing trend to explore how technology is being transferred across industries and the increasing value of solutions when motivated minds approach a problem from different directions.

Here is an E&P article about the changing landscape and InnoCentive’s participation in facilitating it: Open innovation changes the playing field. Additionally, here is an E&P blog with more thoughts about the possibilities with transferring technology: Technology transfer gets an edge.

– Chad Carrington, InnoCentive

InnoCentive Oil and Gas Byline

Technology transfer gets an edge

This post, by InnoCentive Innovation Expansion Manager Chad Carrington, originally appeared on the  E&P blog on 11/10/2010.

Transferring technology from one industry to another should be simple, but in practice, it is much more easily said than done.

Engineers, scientists, and R&D personnel are familiar with the technologies they come in contact with day to day, but they do not have much familiarity with the technologies used in other business sectors. Identifying those technologies and determining their application to solve problems in the oil and gas industry is an enormous challenge. The scope is extremely broad, and the technology needed often is very specialized.

Fortunately, companies interested in finding solutions outside the oil and gas industry have a tool available to them that gives them access to specialists from a broad range of industries. InnoCentive pairs “Seekers” who need solutions to challenging technical problems with “Solvers” who offer those solutions. For nine years, InnoCentive has worked with innovative organizations to solve their problems in this way.

As the oil and gas industry faces greater and more exacting technical challenges, it becomes more important to be able to innovate rapidly. InnoCentive helps that to happen, pairing Seekers with Solvers from fields as varied as construction and medicine. These pairings have produced interesting and innovative solutions that would not otherwise have materialized. Read more

CIO Interview

InnoCentive CTO’s interview with CIO Magazine

CIO Interview

I am very excited to share with you this video interview between InnoCentive CTO David Ritter and Bill Laberis, Editorial Director and Social Media Manager, Custom Solutions Group, IDG.  This discussion focuses on the important role that CIOs and other IT leaders should play in the implementation of a company’s innovation strategy.

In the interview, David talks about how investing in collaboration tools, social networks and idea management platforms is usually insufficient to truly improve innovation. Disjointed efforts usually elicit no tangible results, and often create information noise – indecipherable data – making it difficult to aggregate, rationalize and analyze. Instead he argues for a Challenge-driven innovation approach that will complement existing strategies and investments in social networking and collaboration.

This program is filled with insightful learnings, experiences and best practices that you can use right away! Have a look!


Predictive Data Analysis – Maximize Your Potential with Prodigy


Prodigy is an add-on Challenge feature that allows Seekers to increase Solver engagement on their computational or data-oriented Challenges.  When using Prodigy on computational Challenges, Solvers are able to get instantaneous and quantitative feedback on how well their solution fulfills the Challenge’s objective and how their performance compares with other Solvers.

When should I use Prodigy?

  • Crowdsource analysis of any dataset
  • Identify the best result or find the best analytical method
  • Improve the attractiveness of your Challenge and set clear performance benchmarks
  • Business Applications:
    • Market segmentation
    • Optimized product recommendation engine
    • Business analytics and analytical method development.
  • Biomedical Informatics Applications:
    • Dx and Rx biomarker discovery based on clinical data
    • New target identification
    • Toxicology modeling
    • Virtual drug library screens
  • Apply the Prodigy on proprietary data after masking it, public data or synthetic data

Most computational Challenges involve the dissemination of data for use in analysis or modeling.  The Prodigy works by asking Solvers to use those data to build a model and compare it to a “gold standard” (i.e. known answer, also provided by the Seeker) so that the Solver can track their success against the standard.  Scores provided by the Prodigy are typically a correlation coefficient that quantifies the significance of the solution found.


How does it work, continued:

  • Scoring with any reasonably computed method: r, r2, RMSE, etc. are supported.
  • To prevent gaming, Solvers are limited on their daily submissions to 5.
  • Submissions which are not statistically significant are not displayed on the leader’s table.

InnoCentive introduced this capability to give Solvers greater transparency into the process and allow them to gauge their own progress against the submissions made by other Solvers.  Think of this as a scoreboard of success and intelligence. Seekers will have the benefit of getting the best possible solution out of every participating Solver as Solvers refine and improve their solution.  As the Challenge progresses, it is typical that the maximum Prodigy score will increase steadily until the end of the Challenge.

Introducing InnoCentive@Work 3

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By David Ritter, Chief Technology Officer, InnoCentive

To compete in today’s economy, companies must find ways to innovate faster with their current resources. Open innovation (OI) is no longer just an interesting new approach to experiment with – OI is an essential core capability for R&D intensive enterprises. If you rely on innovation to drive your business, and you’re not proficient in OI, you’re at a disadvantage – because many of your competitors are already leveraging the talent and insight available throughout the world.

To help enterprises build this critical capability, we are very excited with the launch of the third generation of our @Work enterprise platform, InnoCentive@Work 3. @Work is InnoCentive’s SaaS offering, bringing the Challenge methodology into the organization. It is a web-based suite of tools and services that helps companies utilize the diverse knowledge inside and outside of their organization by creating online communities and facilitating collaboration to solve important business challenges, regardless of where solutions are hiding. Read more