2017 in Review: 8 Top InnoCentive Challenges

Posted by Graham Buchanan on Feb 7, 2018 8:00:00 AM

We posted over 100 Challenges in 2017, tackling a huge range of problems and needs faced by corporations, governments, and non-profits globally. Focuses included reducing the spread of invasive fish, cooling batteries better, improving how blood glucose levels are monitored, and automating report generation for the intelligence community.

Below I’ve collected some of the highlights from the year.

Two of the Challenges listed are still under evaluation but I’ll update this article as soon as the winners are announced.

State of Michigan: Great Lakes Invasive Carp Challenge

Invasive carp threaten the economy and ecology of the Great Lakes and current measures – electric barriers – have not been entirely effective in preventing their spread. In the first of a two-stage Challenge, the State of Michigan offered a $200,000 prize fund for viable new solutions that could prevent the fish migrating into the Great Lakes, without damaging the ecosystem, other species, or waterway navigation.

Over 350 entries were received from 27 countries around the world, making this our most popular Challenge of 2017 by submissions. While the winners are yet to be announced, Governor Rick Snyder said the Challenge had “unleashed the creativity and power of the entrepreneurial community to find the best ways to protect one of Michigan’s most prized natural resources.” The second stage of the Challenge will see selected winners present their ideas to a live audience of judges, industry experts, non-profit organizations, and venture capital representatives in a bid for additional cash awards totalling up to $500,000.

Roche Diabetes Care Challenge

For the 400 million people who live with diabetes around the world, it is important that they can accurately self-monitor their blood glucose levels in order to make therapy adjustments. In the United States, the blood glucose monitoring industry has experienced negative growth despite an increasing number of patients. To reverse this trend while meeting patient needs, Roche wanted to crowdsource innovative ideas and solutions for blood glucose monitoring.

48 submissions were received and the $10,000 award was shared between three Solvers - one from India, one from the USA, and one from Bulgaria. In their feedback, the Roche team commented that they had found “very practical solutions that could bring value to our business”.

NHS England: The Healthy New Towns Design Challenge

New town developments and urban regeneration projects offer a unique opportunity to design modern health and care services from scratch and to use the built environment to enhance health, well-being and independence. As part of their Healthy New Towns program, the NHS sought new ideas for services, products, and facility designs that would allow them to take full advantage of this opportunity in Halton Lea.

Of the 34 submissions received from around the world, Citiesmode were chosen as the winners of the $20,000 prize. Their proposal included apps that rewarded walking, an urban obstacle course, a community kitchen, a free cycle scheme, universal Wi-Fi, and converting a car park into a new community square and outdoor cinema. For David Parr, Chief Executive of Halton Borough Council, this “unique [Challenge] provided Halton’s Healthy New Town project with not one, but a variety of novel approaches”. You can read more about the winners here.

Enel Challenge: Methods to Cool Down Battery Storage Containers

As anyone who has sat with their computer on their lap will know only too well, lithium-ion batteries heat up considerably while in use. When stored and used on an industrial scale, the batteries are typically installed in containers equipped with Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems that keep the batteries within temperatures of between 15°C to 25°C. However, these HVAC systems take a lot of energy to run so Enel - a leading integrated electricity and gas operator – turned to the crowd for new cost-effective cooling methods. They received 55 submissions in total and ended up awarding a Solver from Canada, whose Proposed Solution was found by the Enel team to have a “good level of innovation as well as sufficient effectiveness”.

NIH Follow That Cell Challenge

The ability to predict the behaviour and function of a single cell could reveal valuable information such as how cells transition from healthy to diseased and their response to treatment. This information could assist with early disease detection and delivering tailored therapies. 2017 saw the conclusion of a two-phase Challenge from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA to develop new tools and methods that could deliver this predictive ability.

Nearly $500,000 in prize money was awarded over three years, with the final awards going to two biological engineering researchers. The first solution involved a nano-pipette with a tip so fine that it can non-invasively sample tiny amounts of material from inside a cell. The second solution involved engineering cells to secrete molecules of interest so analysis can occur without even going inside the cell. Speaking about the Challenge, NIH Director Dr James Anderson said “By using the prize mechanism, the NIH pays only for projects that achieve the program’s objectives. It de-risks an inherently risky goal.” You can read more about the Challenge and the winners here.

RUSAL Challenge: Processes to Convert Laminated Aluminium Foil Waste into New Products and Commodities

Laminated aluminium foil is widely used in packaging however the production process generates waste. Not only does this present an environmental cost but also a missed opportunity to turn that waste in something useful. So RUSAL - the world’s second largest aluminium company – ran a Challenge seeking processes that could convert the waste into valuable and commercially attractive commodities or products. 44 submissions were received and a Solver from Kenya was selected for an award. The RUSAL team hope to collaborate further with the Solver in the future after they have conducted additional experiments.

GC3: Developing New Preservatives for Personal Care & Household Products

Preservatives are added to all sorts of food, household, and personal care products in order to slow microbial growth and prevent contaminants from spoiling their spell and appearance. However there have been increasing concerns around the potential health impacts of several widely use chemicals. Therefore the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3), with sponsorship from 20 organizations including P&G and Johnson & Johnson, ran a Challenge seeking novel and effective preservatives or preservative boosters - offering a prize pot of $175,000. 48 submissions were received, which are currently under evaluation. The results are expected to be announced in the coming months. The sponsors plan to partner with innovators to co-develop, license or invest in the new technologies to speed them to market.

The ODNI-OUSD(I) Xpress Challenge: Machine Generation of Analytic Products

Gaining meaningful insights from large datasets is a key challenge of the modern world, shared by corporations and government alike. For the intelligence community, this is still largely a manual process with analysts sifting through vast amounts of information to generate reports with actionable intelligence – but what if this could be automated? This is what the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (OUSD(I)) sought to find out with their Xpress Challenge. They asked Solvers to develop an automated system that could sift through around 15,000 articles and reports and craft responses to the following question: “What developments related to artificial intelligence are most impactful to the national security of the United States?”

15 proposals were submitted with two chosen for awards totalling $200,000. Both winning proposals were able to identify and organize important information and synthesize it into coherent, logical and readable output. For Dr. David Isaacson, Program Manager at the ODNI, the Challenge served “a critical role in exploring the potential for 'machine analytics' to enhance existing [Intelligence Community] support to our nation's decision makers.”


Through Challenges like these we’ve been able to help drive progress at the cutting edge of all sorts of industries and engage thousands in the innovation process. If you’d like to read more success stories and crowdsourcing examples, please check out our Case Studies page.

Follow InnoCentive

Search Blog

Join 5,000+ Subscribers

On Twitter

Recent Posts