Steve Bonadio

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Seeker Spotlight: Eurapp

Posted by Steve Bonadio on Aug 12, 2013 10:16:11 AM

Part of the European Commission’s “Startup Europe” initiative, Eurapp is a new project directed by the National University of Ireland Galway (Digital Enterprise Research Institute) and GigaOM. We recently spoke to John Breslin and Maciej Dabrowsky of NUI Galway about their recently launched Challenge which seeks ideas for initiatives focused on supporting European app companies in overcoming barriers and fostering growth.

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Topics: Seekers

Seeker Spotlight: U.S. EPA & Cincinnati Innovates

Posted by Steve Bonadio on Aug 5, 2013 2:08:46 PM

Last year, InnoCentive worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the successful My Air, My Health Challenge, which sought a design for a small, low-cost sensor that integrates air quality measurements with related health data, such as heart rate and breathing. We’re pleased to be working with EPA again and its partner Cincinnati Innovates on a new Challenge, Real-Time Sensor to Monitor Sewer Overflows, which seeks ideas for a new generation of low-cost, low-maintenance sensors to monitor sewer overflows. We recently spoke with Julius Enriquez, a scientist at EPA, Melissa Gatterdam, the Superintendent of Watershed Operations Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District, and Chris Kaeff, the Regulatory Reporting and Wet Weather Coordinator for Sanitation District No. 1 of Northern Kentucky.

Hello everyone – thank you for joining us. Could you start off by explaining to us the genesis of this Challenge?

There were two driving forces that brought about this Challenge. In early 2010, EPA took the lead for a program to catalyze public-private partnerships for commercializing water technology within the Cincinnati, Dayton, northern Kentucky, and southeast Indiana region, which together are known as a cluster. One of the goals of this program is to find innovative water technologies that can address regional water issues by engaging local stakeholders through collaborative research and development efforts. Additionally, federal entities have recently advocated the use of Challenges and prizes to develop new tools and approaches to advance open government, spur innovation, and address a variety of national priorities. To meet those goals, EPA and Cincinnati Innovates collaborated to develop a water Challenge that would promote innovation and economic stimulation while finding solutions to a pressing human health and environment issue: local Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO).

In the past, communities built sewer systems to collect both stormwater runoff and sanitary sewage in the same pipelines. During dry weather, these combined systems transport wastewater directly to the sewage treatment plant. In periods of rainfall or snowmelt, however, the wastewater volume in a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the sewer system or treatment plant. Combined sewer systems are designed to overflow occasionally and discharge excess wastewater directly to nearby streams, rivers, lakes, or estuaries. The federal government, through the Clean Water Act, called for the reduction and elimination of sewer overflows across the country.

By bringing together experts from both the Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Sanitation District No. 1 of Northern Kentucky (SD1), we discovered that it would be beneficial to develop a low-cost sensor, preferably costing $100 or less, that requires minimal maintenance. Although there are currently sensors available on the market to detect a CSO, the cost is prohibitive for many utilities and has led to time-consuming manual checks that do not provide constant, real-time flow levels.

How widespread is this problem in urban areas, like greater Cincinnati, across the U.S.?

Combined sewer systems serve roughly 772 communities with about 40 million people. Most communities with combined systems are located in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions. Although large cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Atlanta have CSOs, most communities with CSO problems have fewer than 10,000 people.

Localized flooding due to peak events has occurred in the past few years, despite major infrastructure improvements and successful integrated watershed planning efforts. Local sewer utilities in the greater Cincinnati area have been continually improving the sewer system to keep raw sewage out of waterways. Since the mid-1990s, one of the local sewer utilities has eliminated more than 40 overflow points and has invested $300 million in 71 wet weather projects.

It is also important to understand that CSOs contain not only stormwater, but also untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris. This is a major water pollution concern. Raw sewage contains pathogens that threaten public health, leading to beach closures and public advisories against fishing and swimming.

The EPA is among a select few federal government agencies that is widely embracing – and achieving successful outcomes as result – crowdsourcing and prize competitions as a means to innovate and solve important problems. Was there anything in particular about this Challenge that lent itself to this open problem solving approach?

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Topics: Seekers

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

Posted by Steve Bonadio on Jun 27, 2013 3:09:51 PM

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!

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Topics: Innovation Insights, Challenges

Seeker Spotlight: Enabling Innovation Team (EIT)

Posted by Steve Bonadio on Jun 11, 2013 10:57:37 AM

The UK's Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) Enabling Innovation Team (EIT) recently announced an exciting £1,000,000 innovation prize competition to spur innovation in areas that will transform the experience of rail customers, in three customer groups: regular passengers, discretionary passengers, and freight customers. The 2013 Rail Customer Experience Competition is underway and will close on July 14, 2013. We recently spoke with Angelique, Trevor, and Peter at the EIT about this exciting initiative.

Hello Team– thanks very much for speaking with us. For those not familiar with the EIT, can you tell us a bit about your work?

The Enabling Innovation Team has been set up by the rail industry’s leadership body – the Technical Strategy Leadership Group (TSLG) – to accelerate innovation. Our mission is to offer support to practical cross-industry demonstrator projects and break down the barriers to innovation, seeking out innovative ideas and proposals to help meet industry challenges.

Often innovation is held back by a circular argument that investment is needed to prove something works but there is risk aversion to investing until that something can be shown to work. Demonstration projects take innovation from a concept and out onto the railway to prove it works and make the case for further investment.

Our vision is to enable a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship across the whole rail industry to deliver growth for the British economy and a transformational change for the railway. To achieve this, our approach is to understand the challenges that the industry faces, connect potential innovators with these challenges, and where necessary, provide support to enable the innovation, including funding.

What are you looking to achieve with your competition? Can you tell us more about the problems you’re addressing and the goals you’ve set?

We want to help make a real difference for the passengers and freight customers using the railway. We have consulted widely with the UK rail industry, freight companies, and passenger organisations to understand the challenges that the industry and customers face. We identified three groups of customers who face different challenges: regular passengers, discretionary passengers, and freight customers.

Within these three groups, we have targeted a number of specific Challenges. For example, for regular passengers, including commuters, how can we minimize the impact of disruption, help personalise the passenger experience, and improve engagement between train operators and passengers via two-way communication?

The competition asks for innovative ideas to address these Challenges. The best ideas will be rewarded with financial prizes and the opportunity to secure further investment from the EIT to mature the idea.

Full details of all the Challenges are available at here.

Many government organisations would traditionally issue a RFP and/or award grants to address their needs. What prompted you to partner with InnoCentive and IXC-UK to use crowdsourcing as part of your strategy?

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Topics: Seekers

Are Challenges Just for Established Companies?

Posted by Steve Bonadio on Jun 6, 2013 9:14:12 AM

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.

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Topics: Innovation Insights, Challenges

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