Innocentive: $10K++ for your thoughts.

Innocentive built the first global Web community for open innovation where organizations or “Seekers” submit complex problems or “Challenges” for resolution to a “Solver” community of more than 200,000 engineers, scientists, inventors, business professionals, and research organizations in more than 200 countries. Prizes for winning solutions are financial awards up to $1,000,000 although most hover around the $10K-$25K range. Not too bad for a couple of day’s worth of creative thinking. Solver David Bradin (a chemist-turned-attorney) explains his flash of insight moment when he scrolled through Innocentive’s list of challenges and came up with a solution almost out of the blue. “It took me more time to register as a Solver than it took to win the Challenge,” he quips.

Last week, Innocentive’s CEO, Dwayne Spradlin announced a partnership with The Economist:

“We are trying to tackle the most complex and dire issues facing humanity- how do you provide access to clean water in developing countries? How do you feed everyone in areas with burgeoning populations? In our partnership with The Economist, these are the types of questions we will be asking. By tapping into the world’s brightest minds for access to fresh and bold thinking we can empower real invention and meaningful growth.”

Spradlin is a real evangelist for crowd-sourcing and collaboration. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with him about participatory technology assessment and citizen science (public involvement in science research and science policy discussions). He described Science Cheerleader and its sister site, ScienceForCitizens.net, as “close cousins” of Innocentive. I agree! These sites demonstrate an authentic belief in the benefits of public participation–from restoring trust, to creating a better informed citizenry, to assessing risks–all while advancing innovation.

Sometimes the best ideas come from the fringes.

Harvard University did a study on Innocentive’s solvers and found that, on average, people who solved the posted challenges were six areas away from the discipline most closely associated with the challenge. For example, a few years ago an oil company posted a speculative challenge for an application likely to be needed in the Artic: the capability to empty tanks in freezing conditions. Not an easy task. When oil gets cold and starts to coagulate, siphoning it is akin to sipping the last bits of a Slurpee (you know how the icy bits move to the side, making it tricky to sip up anything good?).

Who came up with the winning solution? An industry outsider.  How? “It really had nothing to do with my training or education,” he explained in an interview with me last year. “It was the result of a chance encounter with a cement mixer.”

“As it happens, I was earning a summer income as a construction worker a few weeks before I stumbled upon Innocentive’s website. We were mixing and pouring cement. I noticed that the cement was starting to set in the mixer and I alerted my buddy. He walked over to the mixer and touched it with a cement vibrator. The agitation recalibrated the consistency of the cement in a matter of seconds. When I read about the oil removal challenge on Innocentive, I immediately thought of ways to simply attach a cement vibrator to the oil drums.”

His winning solution netted a cool $25,000. Here he is to tell us more:

Yesterday, Innocentive featured Science Cheerleader’s sister site, ScienceForCitizens.net!

Here’s an excerpt of the interview:

The Rise of the Citizen Scientist.

We recently discovered a new web site, Science for Citizens, started by Science Cheerleader founder Darlene Cavalier and her business partner Michael Gold.  The site attracts a wide spectrum of people, who may or may not be “official scientists” but who enjoy working on scientific projects in their spare time.

We love the idea of the citizen scientist – many of these people have the same profile as our Solvers.   And we particularly like this site, because it has such a wide variety of interesting projects, from monitoring water quality in the Willamette River to building habitats for Monarch butterflies to helping build a database of dinosaur bones.  In addition, people who are enthusiastic about their projects are welcome to submit blog posts about any scientific topic that interests them.  Using the “Project Finder,” users can search projects based on time commitment involved, whether the project takes place indoors or outdoors, degree of difficulty – there are even projects that are suitable for children.  The site is still in beta, but we think it’s a great idea – in fact, we even posted one of our Challenges there.   We asked one of the founders, Michael Gold, to tell us a bit more about the project: read the full story.