I’m a Solver: Sitali Mushemi-Blake

Sitali Mushemi-Blake and her team at Cardiac Health Across Zambia (CHAZ) won two prizes, Best Idea and Collegiality, in the Lion’s Den Challenge. InnoCentive delivered the Lion’s Den Programme in cooperation with King’s College London.

I am the founder of a social enterprise called Cardiac Health Across Zambia (CHAZ) and a post-doctorate cardiac research physiologist based at King’s College London.

I first heard of the Lion’s Den Challenge through a close friend, Dr. Jason Mellad, who won the competition in 2010. I since wanted to enter the competition but remained focused and dedicated to completing my degree. Besides, I had too much on my plate at the time juggling studies, work, and life balances as a mother. When I finished defending my PhD thesis in Cardiovascular Medicine in the Fall of 2012, I received a circulating email informing prospect applicants that the Challenge was running for 2012-13. My focus changed as I realised that the window of opportunity was narrow.

My experience with the InnoCentive team has been a very positive one from the time I first walked through the door. Despite my lack of business experience, I quickly felt at home. I was keen to win the prize, and therefore attended the associated seminars and contributed to group discussions. The seminars proved to be a great source of information regarding business awareness, the different stages involved in the competition, and identifying strong team players. I made use of the networking sessions by speaking to attending mentors, guest speakers, and previous winners. The team at InnoCentive followed up on my email enquiries regarding able mentors.

It was after attending team building seminars that I trusted my ‘gut instincts’ in finding prospective passionate team members to help develop my idea. Our highly specialised multi-disciplinary and culturally diverse team from Kings College London consisted of myself (an imaging specialist), Dr. Sitara Khan (a cardiac registrar), and Dr. Yiwen Liu (a cardiac scientist) – a team with skill sets that if partnered with the Zambian government would make an impact on people’s lives. We worked incredibly well together and were able to effectively focus on different areas of the business.

Our hard work was guided and supported by two great mentors, Mr. Zulfiqar Deo and Mr. Gerry Creedon, who were able to develop my initial idea. What started out as a vague idea for a clinic in Zambia grew to a plan for a social enterprise providing training for Zambians and students for the UK.

As a team, we worked hard alongside our mentors to draw up a business plan and submit our proposal, which to our delight made it to the semifinals. We had to work even harder to consolidate our idea into a six-minute pitch to present in front of the judging panel and the Lion’s Den team. Our hard work paid off and our team was awarded not one, but two prizes: Best Business Idea and Collegiality.

Winning the Lion’s Den Challenge has helped our enterprise secure seed funds to register our company and cover some of the legal costs. My experience with InnoCentive has no doubt enhanced my career path and confidence.

To all future entrants of the Lion’s Den Challenge or any competitions organised through InnoCentive, my advice would be: As Sir James Black said to me in 2008, “pick up those pebbles on the beach because if you don’t, someone else will.”


I’m a Solver: Adam Rivers

Adam Rivers, a Nature-referred Solver, won the Heat Stable Prevention of Flavan3-ols – Iron (II) Interactions Challenge.

I recently solved a Challenge about milkshakes that seemingly had nothing to do with my day job working as a postdoc in marine science at the University of Georgia. I’m a biological oceanographer by training, but the Challenge I solved was about iron and beverage discoloration. During my PhD at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/MIT, I studied how marine microbes interact with natural iron binding chemicals called siderophores. When I read the detailed description of the problem, I realized that it was essentially another case of an iron complexation reaction that occurs naturally in the ocean. Almost immediately, I had a few ideas. I ran through some of the kinetic equations and did a bit of kitchen chemistry, and after a long weekend, I had come up with a solution to the problem.

I read about InnoCentive on a few years back and signed up to receive emails about Challenges. All of the problems don’t catch my eye, but occasionally, there will be a problem that I quickly have an idea about. I’m always dreaming up new products or ways to improve things. If you have that kind of personality, ideas (some good, some bad) come all the time, but of course you can’t pursue most of them. It can take years to pursue an idea academically or start a company based on an idea. InnoCentive is great because it allows anyone to invest a little bit of time writing up the sort of ideas that come to them all the time.

I have a long-term goal to build simple devices that can describe microbial communities remotely and send that ecological information to a web browser anywhere. As a spinout of that work, I’ve built a user-friendly lab freezer monitor that I’m trying to commercialize. Developing a product is a very different process; the biggest challenge is not solving a problem but making sure you are solving the right problem. With InnoCentive Challenges, the problem has already been found, I just focus on finding an answer. It’s fun to have an outlet to apply my knowledge in unexpected ways. My training in one field brought a fresh perspective to a problem in another field; the ability of open innovation to borrow ideas from other fields was certainly an advantage in solving this Challenge.

Ben Skowera, winner of The Economist-InnoCentive Transparency Challenge

I’m a Solver: Ben Skowera

Ben Skowera is the winner of The Economist-InnoCentive Transparency Challenge.

I am an Associate at SEI Investments in Oaks, Pennsylvania, where I’m currently working on the online software development team performing quality assurance and business analysis for our products. My past projects at SEI have also included web product strategy, international new service development, project management, and operational process improvement. I graduated from Lehigh University in 2009 with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and a minor in Economics.

I first learned of InnoCentive through a news article about technology and innovation and I decided to sign up. Shortly after, I came across The Economist-InnoCentive Transparency Challenge in one of the site’s weekly Challenge Bulletins. The Challenge tasked Solvers with developing an innovative way to utilize technology to drive transparency in the government. With the upcoming presidential elections and the political turmoil occurring throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa, I thought this topic was both extremely relevant and important.

I believe having a basic knowledge of the government, political processes, and current political events is a very important part of anyone’s involvement in government and politics. After performing research into how people obtain information about their governments, I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a sufficient way to truly understand the impact that political decisions have on us and our values and how well our elected officials are representing us over time. This is why I proposed my solution of creating a website that delivers personal and easy-to-understand, value-based political analysis by utilizing technologies and techniques used in online dating, social networking, and metric-based dashboard design.

As part of the award, I traveled to the Ideas Economy: Innovation 2012 event in Berkeley, California, where I was interviewed on stage by Matthew Bishop, US Business Editor and New York Bureau Chief of The Economist. The experience was incredible and so was the opportunity to meet and speak with some of the amazing people that attended the event. [editor note: to see Ben’s interview at the event, click on the link above]

By connecting organizations with problems to Solvers that reside outside of specific localities or the four walls of typical organization, I believe InnoCentive is creating a great opportunity for both people and organizations to take advantage of the tremendous knowledge the world has to offer. As more and more people connect due to the expansion of technology and the internet, I believe InnoCentive has developed a great way to bring together everyone’s ideas and create a global community to solve the world’s biggest problems.

I wish the best of luck to all future InnoCentive Solvers.


I’m a Solver: Mike Cirella

Mike Cirella recently won the Cleveland Clinic Challenge: Implantable Micro-sensor for Displacement & Mechanical Load. Previously, he received awards for three Challenges: Thresholds for Perception of Color Differences, Manufacturing of a Porous Film, and Task Light Charging.


Open innovation (OI) is a powerful platform that fosters creative thinking about problems that may be far outside a Solver’s daily routine. It provides an opportunity to apply diverse experiences that often lead to solutions never before considered. So often the ‘dumb’ questions are not asked by individuals studying problems from the perspective of someone inside an organization. The power of OI is much like a brainstorming session, where no question or suggested solution is off limits, thereby opening up the possibilities for a truly creative, even unique, solution.

It is precisely for these reasons that I am an active Solver. I have submitted many more proposed solutions than I have won, but each effort leads me down a new path and expands my knowledge for the next Challenge. The process allows me to ask “why not” instead of “why,” or worse, not ask at all since it is so far outside the normal approach.

For me, the common thread that links my winning solutions is the “Eureka moment” I experience after reading the Challenge description the first time and relate it to a past experience and solution to a problem in an entirely different field. Of course, many hours of research, organizing and fine-tuning my submission follows that moment, but the creative idea is formed by thinking laterally; searching my experience database for a tool or method that can be applied to a problem in a completely different area.

The Task Light Charging (aka Bogolight) Challenge sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation triggered my memory of how modern coin acceptors in vending machines function reliably in harsh environments by eliminating moving parts that wear and corrode. Since the task light required a rugged, off-grid method for re-charging its batteries that supplemented the existing photocell method, I applied wind and water power, converted to electricity via permanent magnets spinning past induction coils embedded in a plastic housing. No metal parts exposed and high inherent reliability.

The Manufacturing of a Porous Film Challenge had an obvious solution (to me) by applying methods used in the paper and plastics web production industries. Again, a past life experience at a company that manufactured polarizers for sunglasses prompted me to apply my knowledge of web rollers and controls and create a simple, inexpensive solution. Read the rest of this entry »


I’m a Solver: Subhabrata Sen

Subhabrata Sen and GVK Bioscience, the company where he works, have won five Novel Molecule Challenges in less than one year, and are currently working on four more.  The largest request he received was for over 100 compounds! Subhabrata became a Solver in 2009.

I’m an associate director specializing in parallel medicinal chemistry at GVK Bioscience, a contract research organization in Hyderabad, India. I was born in Kolkata, India, where I grew up very interested in science. My hobbies include painting (acrylic on canvas), reading, and collecting currencies of different countries.

GVK Bioscience is an extremely innovation-driven company, so we – particularly Dr. Balaram Patro, our senior vice president, and myself – were intrigued by InnoCentive’s Novel Molecule Challenges (NMC) program as another means of acquiring business for our company. The NMC program complemented our division’s core strength: combinatorial library design and synthesis of biologically active compounds. InnoCentive’s NMC program offers a new way of solving problems for companies by reaching out to an extensive audience of different backgrounds. At the end, innovation propagates and promotes the progress of our society and it’s very gratifying to be part of it.

Our library design and synthesis department designs and synthesize the compounds we upload for NMC challenges. Apart from initial guidelines from the Seeker, we utilize our in-house software to understand the synthetic feasibility of the molecules before uploading them to the InnoCentive platform. We also work toward novel routes for these compounds which can provide us access to a variety of molecules with new substituents pertaining to the scaffolds.

Being a son of a chemical engineer and a physics professor, I have followed my passion for science to the fullest. I obtained a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, mentored by Dr. Shon R Pulley, who first helped me realize the importance of innovation in science. I then had a fantastic opportunity to pursue post-doctoral studies with Dr. Albert I. Meyers at Colorado State University who truly expanded my scientific horizons. While working there, my belief in innovation strengthened all the more. I realized it was an integral aspect of science, and I began looking for applications of my scientific knowledge in industry. I developed my core competencies in combinatorial chemistry and natural product synthesis.

Following my post-doctoral studies, I have held a number of industrial positions. I initially joined Chemocentryx Inc., a biotech company located in the San Francisco Bay area in California.  After a couple of years and several patents, I returned to India in 2004. Since then I have worked for contract research organizations like Syngene, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, and the chemical company, BASF-India.


I’m a Solver: Manish M. Pande

Manish M. Pande became a Solver in 2009. Here he writes about his experience winning his first Challenge, Control of Bubble Size in Carbonated Beverages.


I am a metallurgist by profession, presently doing a PhD on a “clean steel” project jointly initiated by the MTM, K U Leuven and ArcelorMittal Gent, Belgium.

I obtained my master’s degree (M. Tech) and bachelor’s degree (B.E.) in Metallurgical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Mumbai (India) in 2006 and Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology (formerly VRCE), Nagpur (India) in 2001. I spent nearly three and half years in the steel industries in operations and R&D before the commencement of my PhD program.

Sometime back in 2009, a friend of mine suggested that I look at InnoCentive. I visited Open Innovation Pavilion, and the Challenge “Control of Bubble Size in Carbonated Beverages” was a familiar topic. I had worked earlier on metallic foams during my master’s thesis. I had a basic knowledge about the physics of foaming of metals, so I decided to give it a try. I proposed the method to manipulate the characteristics of bubbles in carbonated beverage and I was ecstatic to learn that the proposed method turned out to be the winning solution.

I feel that every problem posted by InnoCentive is an opportunity for the Solvers to push their thinking limits and come out with a solution that is of real practical significance. The statistics shows that there are over 250,000 registered Solvers from all over the world who have developed their thinking/approach to the problem in different educational environments. In such a scenario, even the participation of 0.001% of all the registered users, for a particular Challenge, makes it truly competitive. In this tough competition, proposing the right solution, which the Seeker finds suitable after already trying out all the possible resources/ideas to its disposal, is no mean feat. It makes the winner more confident about his/her creative abilities.

Congratulations to all such unique thinkers. I wish all the InnoCentive users good luck in solving the present and the future Challenges; and I encourage those who are not yet part of InnoCentive to join this global network. Become a Solver!


I’m a Solver: Sheeraj Pawar

PicI have been working as an SAP Utilities consultant at Accenture for nearly 4 years in Mumbai. In my workplace, my primary role is to provide functional solutions to energy providers across the globe.

I came across The Economist: Pictures of Tomorrow Challenge on The Economist’s Android application. I first thought of one problem that has deeply affected my community: the poor transport management system. When I took part in the Challenge, I recalled how one of my acquaintances had slipped and lost his life while traveling on a train’s foot board. This incident wouldn’t have occurred if proper transport system was in place. People are forced to travel in extremely crowded trains and buses because there are no alternative modes of transport. My main idea was about improving the transport management system in Mumbai. Currently, the strain on trains and buses is enormous due to the ever increasing population. People are forced to travel using conventional modes of transport thus leading to overcrowding. However, if the vast coastline of Mumbai can be used for water transport and dedicated bicycle lanes can be kept for commuters, the problem of transport management can be solved. I feel that my idea won because this problem is being faced in many other cities across the world and hence everyone can relate to it.

After winning the Challenge, my family and friends felt extremely proud and it is great to see them happy. Also, office friends can’t stop raving about me and my manager dropped an email to our entire team of 40 people appreciating me. I feel an additional sense of responsibility now to achieve my goal of improving my community in 2012. With the cash prize, I indulged myself in some long overdue shopping and after coming to California, I intend to spend some part of my cash prize money over there.

I think that The Economist-InnoCentive Challenge series is a great boon for people who have a burning desire for the betterment of society and have great ideas to achieve that goal. This Challenge series gives them a platform to express themselves and achieve something constructive over a period of time.

Overall, last 3 months have been great and further strengthened my self belief that I can achieve greater goals in the future.

Outside my workplace, I have co-directed a short film of 30 minutes and I have also penned education-related articles for local newspapers. I taught computer skills to child abuse victims at St. Catherine’s School, affiliated to the Archdiocesan board of education. I am also a huge soccer fan and follow almost all of the European leagues. I am glad I am a part of this great community of InnoCentive Solvers for whom ideas are a form of currency!


I’m a Solver: Agung Nuswantoro

Agung Nuswantoro is the winner of Humanitarian Air Drop

agung2I was born in Malang, the second largest city in East Java, Indonesia.

Being an inventor has always been my passion, although the profession is not well recognized in my country. Most people become flustered if you say you are an inventor (some people confuse ‘inventor’ for the CAD software ‘Autodesk Inventor’).

Since my childhood, I’ve been very interested in science and technology. I don’t know why, but I find serenity in scientific things. And as I grew up, my interests spread to many fields including design, military, sports, psychology, sociology, politics, etc.

I like being creative and seeing the world with a different perspective. Questioning how things, people, or situations might appear or function from a different perspective. I also love reading and sketching; some of my other hobbies include disassembling things and then reassembling them or creating something new out of the parts.

I graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, with a major in energy conversion. I worked for several years in R&D for an electronic manufacturing company. However, I found my job was only dealing with people, paper, and bureaucracy — no research and design as it should be. Therefore, I resigned. I currently work as a freelancer, but I consider my self an inventor.

I discovered InnoCentive while searching for design and innovation contests, a habit since I was in high school. I’ve always enjoyed participating in design and innovation contests. Although I don’t always receive an award, the experiences have enhanced my knowledge and skills. InnoCentive Challenges are different in many ways: it’s not about winning or losing — it’s about people pushing their limits and solving others’ problems, even without knowing each other.

My solution for the Challenge Humanitarian Air Drop came from the coal industry and used some aspects of a fire extinguisher system. Having an interest in military technology helped me a lot when developing the solution. I got my winning idea just about 10 days before the deadline, after trying several different designs over many sleepless nights.

Most Challenges on InnoCentive are definitely not simple problems; some are very exhaustive to think about, pushing the Solver’s creativity limit. But Solving is fun — it makes me learn new things and fuels my mind with creativity.

Right now, I’m working on several Challenges and waiting on others. What’s unique is that the “AHA” moment comes while thinking about several Challenges simultaneously. Though it’s not guaranteed that I will find a solution, thinking about solutions is itself very fun.

Thank you InnoCentive!


I’m a Solver: Gregg A. Micinilio

Gregg A. Micinilio recently won the Challenge Communication Platform to Connect Vulnerable Communities with Climate Change Solutions. Previously, he was awarded for Design of a Solar Water Treatment System based on TiO2 Nanoparticles and Detecting and Indicating Signs of Discomfort (in partnership with Sean Lukan).

blog6This was a Challenge completely out of the realm of my area of expertise as an Industrial Designer; however, I was so intrigued by the complexity and the global need of the project that I could not walk away from it. Putting my talents to use in a humanitarian cause is an incredibly humbling and rewarding experience and I was motivated by the fact that some of my ideas could possibly, in a small way, be put to use to help a world desperate for solutions.

The World Resources Institute (a global environmental think tank which works with governments, companies and civil society to build solutions to urgent environmental challenges) had initiated this Challenge to create a communication platform to connect vulnerable communities with climate change solutions. The requirements for solutions were not limited for use in just 1st world communities, but had to be broad enough to encompass ideas for 3rd world countries as well. A link was required between businesses, governments, and local communities, which would create an infrastructure game plan to attack climate change issues.

My solutions encompassed the use of inexpensive technologies such as cell phones and cell phone apps, and free social media to simplify and track the flow of information. I also created meaningful incentives for business and academia to offer solutions beyond just feel-good humanitarian charity, and introduced a more lucrative and enticing program where everyone would walk away having gained something real.

As a product designer I tend to think in pictures, and as this was a written proposal, I really struggled to get all of my ideas into a coherent format. I leveraged the strength of my day to day job of creating communication links between different disciplines, such as marketing and engineering, and applied that to the given Challenge. Approaching this problem as I would any other engineering or design project, I researched and gathered as much information as possible, identified the different groups of people involved, mapped a path to the most efficient/economical solutions; then I found technologies to link all the elements together. The final steps were to look beyond the obvious and to creatively expand solution directions, then figure out how I could reach desired results as inexpensively as possible, without losing value (”cost downs” in the product design field).

I have found that the more I branch out into areas outside of my career path, the more successful my solutions are in my own area of expertise. I truly appreciate the InnoCentive format of anonymous submission of proposals in which the Seeker looks at just the ideas and judges the work on its own merit–an innovative and fair idea that we often don’t see in the business world!

I would love to reach out to other Solvers in other disciplines to do a group project. If you have not entered a solution before, I urge you to do so. Even if you have just a tingle of an idea; pursue it, work it through, run it through a sieve and post it. I have lost more Challenges than I have won but I always come away intellectually expanded.


I’m a Solver: Adrian Perez

Adrian Perez won the Challenge Communication Platform to Connect Vulnerable Communities with Climate Change Solutions.

adrianperezCurrently I live in Savannah, Georgia, USA. I moved to Savannah from Honduras for tertiary schooling at the Savannah College of Art and Design. My academic specialty is the built environment with specific interests in systems thinking, interaction design, and sustainability.   Upon completion of my schooling, I moved to Kenya where I was doing work with the United Nation Human Settlements Programme under the Disaster Management Programme looking into subjects such as appropriate technologies, human displacement, and climate change. I eventually returned to Savannah and became involved with an organization called the Emergent Structures Projects (ESP). ESP’s mission is to increase the value and accessibility to building material waste streams through facilitation, collaboration, education and advocacy.

I heard about InnoCentive at a lecture by Jonah Lehrer titled “How We Decide”. He spoke about how the human mind comes to a moment of epiphany, a solution; he talked about how out-of the-box thinking is a product of interdisciplinarity, open-mindedness and moments of rest.  In discussing this subject matter, he mentioned I remember making a mental note of this for future investigation. I have since been a loyal frequenter to the site.

On one of these ‘frequent visits’ I found a Challenge posted by the World Resource Institute for creating a communication platform to connect vulnerable communities to climate change solutions. As I read through it, I became excited, as I was able to relate to certain thematic areas due to my previous experiences in Kenya. Shortly after, I began doing my research on the three main subjects of the challenge: climate change, communication platforms and human vulnerability. Over time, I began to form parallels between the three subjects and eventually began presenting my ideas to friends over coffee. After much frustration, moments of rest and a fast approaching deadline, a final idea was decided on and submitted. After that, one can only wait. It wasn’t after losing hope that I received a congratulations email from InnoCentive.

I find that InnoCentive reflects the spirit of the age; it takes advantage of today’s connectivity, allowing for disassociated and wildly diverse input of human experience, targeting the same problem, equating to well-rounded, inclusive solutions. Thank you InnoCentive!