Seeker Spotlight:

Posted by Connie French on Aug 31, 2010 3:13:01 PM

We recently posted a Challenge for the LAUNCH initiative, a collaboration among  USAID, Nike, NASA and the U.S. State Department.  This is the second Challenge posed by LAUNCH, but the first posted on  This Challenge is seeking preventive measures to improve the first 20 years of human health via nutrition, exercise and diagnostics.   We asked Dave Ferguson, from the Science and Technology Office at United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to talk to us a bit about this Challenge and the opportunity available for the winning Solvers.

Hi Dave.  Thanks for talking to our Solvers today.

Absolutely – thanks for asking.

Your partnership – USAID, Nike, NASA and the State Department is interesting – can you tell us how this collaboration came about?

If you think about it, there’s a pretty significant benefit to NASA, USAID and the State Department working together to share skills, information and expertise.  NASA, for example, has spent years, decades really, perfecting the art of working in resource constrained environments, through the evolution of manned space flight.  This expertise can be used in all kinds of other situations, to solve to problems in developing countries, or in dealing with natural disasters, just to name a few.    Another example is the extremely sophisticated earth sensing and data analysis capabilities that NASA has developed, which can be used to deal with environmental impacts from natural disasters.   USAID and the State Department have similar expertise to share – and we realized that we are more likely to succeed when we work together.

To round out the partnership, it made sense to bring in an organization from the private sector.  For this Challenge in particular, with its focus on improving health and promoting healthy habits, Nike was a natural fit, because of their focus on viable business models and sustainability.  Nike has always been an environmentally responsible corporation, with a long history of releasing innovative products, therefore they were excited for the opportunity to be part of the collaboration.

What are your objectives in participating in this Challenge?

All the participants in LAUNCH, from the partners, to the Council members and the Innovators, believe that innovation is at the heart of improving human health for everyone.  In particular, in developing countries, as in space, where resources are limited, new models and tools for supporting good health are required.  This program is like early stage investing – if a few of the innovations we work with in LAUNCH: Health actually develop to provide game-changing  impacts, we will be pleased.  The upside potential is huge and we fervently hope that LAUNCH can play a small part in making some of the innovations that are selected develop faster and provide impact on a larger scale.

Your Challenge is fairly broad – where do you expect solutions to come from?

We set the Challenge up that way intentionally, as we really want to hear from an equally broad range of innovators.  We hope that this will include start up businesses, individual innovators that may or may not be affiliated with a university or other research facility, and Non-governmental organizations.  We expect to see submissions from around the world – in fact it would be exciting to see solutions from indigenous innovators from developing markets .

There’s no award amount listed for your Challenge – what will the Solvers with the best solutions receive?

We know that our Challenge is a bit non-traditional, but we think winning Solvers will get more value from this award than they could even begin to imagine.  The award, or “LAUNCH” cycle consists of 3 phases:

  • The identification phase- during this phase, the solutions are reviewed by our panel of experts.  The top 10 are selected to present at the LAUNCH event.
  • The event –  the top 10 Solvers will be invited to the Kennedy Space Center in October, for a 3 day meeting that will coincide with the next Space Shuttle launch. This is where they present their solutions in person.   During this phase they receive unparalleled access and feedback from our council of 40 thought leaders, successful policy makers and business leaders.
  • The Accelerator – this is the real payoff.  Our LAUNCH team will work with the winning Solvers to improve business plans for their innovations, help with promotion, and, in some cases, identify sources of funding.  The end goal is to bring each of 10 solutions to fruition.

Many of the innovators that participated in LAUNCH: Water in March 2010 provided feedback that the benefit of participating in LAUNCH as an innovator was “priceless”

Can you tell us who will be reviewing the submissions?

The partners will make the final decision on which innovators will be selected to participate.  Members of the LAUNCH council and experts from the field of healthcare will provide input and help narrow the field through the selection process.

Earlier this year, you selected 10 finalists, who presented their ideas at the LAUNCH:  Water Forum.  Can you tell about the experience of the innovators that participated both at the event and after?

Sure – here are two really interesting examples:

Mark Sobsey from  the University of North Carolina contributed a bacterial water test that has been selected by USAID to be used in a field survey on heath issues.  For the first time, this annual survey will be able to include an evaluation of water quality.  Mark said,

“The LAUNCH Forum delivered increased visibility and unique insights for my innovation from all the experts, and most importantly within mission critical communities.  The LAUNCH Accelerator delivered high-level expertise and capacity in the areas of product design, market, and user research -- all key steps in taking my innovation forward as a commercial product.”

Mark Tomkin from DTI-r in the United Kingdom, submitted a technology that NASA has made plans to evaluate for possible use on the International Space Station. Mark Tomkin said,

"LAUNCH gave DTI-r an excellent opportunity to 'stress test' not just the technology, but also our business models, in front of experts; then interact with them in small groups. LAUNCH proved to be a superb sounding board for DTI-r's technology and business.
Through the LAUNCH Accelerator, doors were opened for DTI-r which helped to accelerate the company toward full commercial roll out of our technology, as well as provide back-room expertise to support the company as we transition from R&D to full commercialization. “

What role do you think Open Innovation can play in solving problems like these?

The partners are all very excited about using open innovation concepts to broaden the field of innovators (or Solvers) that are focused on sustainability issues and human development.  We all believe that open innovation is a more effective approach to meet our goals, whether in space, on Earth, as a business or as government agency.  Here at USAID, we are working on other open innovation programs to help us, and the broader community of interested parties, actually solve some of our most vexing development challenges.

Thanks for your time, and good luck with your Challenge!

Thank you.

Topics: Challenges, Seekers

Follow InnoCentive

Search Blog

Join 5,000+ Subscribers

Recent Posts