Archive for the Tag 'X PRIZE'

World’s Biggest Challenges are its Biggest Market Opportunities

Point: While many wring their hands over seemingly insurmountable problems, entrepreneurs roll up their sleeves and work on solutions.

Story: Peter Diamondis, founder of the X PRIZE Foundation and Zero Gravity Corp., is particularly optimistic. Seeing what small teams can accomplish with today’s technologies, he sees limitless opportunities. “A Maasai tribesman in Kenya today has better mobile communications than President Reagan had 25 years ago. If they’re on a smartphone, they have access to more information than President Clinton did 15 years ago,” he says.

These achievements don’t get as much attention as bad news, because our brains are wired to hone in on anything that could threaten our survival. But above the din of disasters and terrorist attacks are the facts that more people have been lifted out of poverty in the last 50 years than the previous 500. The cost of food is 1/13th what it was in 1870. Even those living below the poverty line in many countries today have access to a telephone, toilet, television, air-conditioning and a car — things that Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller couldn’t have dreamed of a century ago.

Moore’s law — the doubling of computing power for the same price every 12-24 months — is now showing up in other areas that are linked to computing power, including sensors, 3D printing and biotechnology.  For example, 3D printers that cost $500,000 can now be bought for $1300, making them accessible to small companies and entrepreneurs.

Lower costs like that make it possible to offer much-needed but low-cost products to the “bottom billion” people in the lower rungs of the economic pyramid. For example, an estimated 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water. But four billion of them are spending 30 cents a day for water, which makes clean water a $400 billion a year market, as inventor Dean Kamen points out. Kamen is in trials with a new water purifier that can turn any water (even polluted water, seawater or latrine water) into pure drinking water for less than .02 cents a liter.

Such innovations by entrepreneurs can solve the world’s biggest challenges.

“That’s my source of optimism. That and a realization I made early on that if there’s a problem, I’m going to solve it. Once you see the world that way, it’s a different place,” Diamondis said.


  • Look at negative events as potential opportunities to create new products or services to prevent or mitigate the negative.
  • Look past the sensationalized “bad news” to see the less-publicized march of positive trends in human development that create or expand markets for products and services.
  • Consider how to leverage the rising spread of modern infrastructure (communications, utilities, and logistics) to access more suppliers, partners, and customers.

Sources and more information:

Peter Diamondis at the Innovation Summit at the Shell Technology Center Houston, January 9, 2013

Peter Diamondis’ book, Abundance: Why the Future Will Be Much Better Than You Think

Ted Greenwald, “X Prize Founder Peter Diamandis Has His Eyes on the Future,” Wired

No Comments »Entrepreneurs, Innovation, Opportunity

Collaboration in Innovation Competitions

Point: Innovation tournaments can be run either competitively or collaboratively, with each approach yielding better results for different purposes.

Story: In his second book, Best Practices are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition, (named the 2011 best book on innovation by CEORead) innovation speaker Stephen Shapiro offers 40 tips on how to innovate efficiently.  His tip #11, for example, tackles the topic of innovation competitions and tournaments. The tip focuses on what role, if any, collaboration should play in these bounty-driven events.

Innovation tournaments can be run either competitively or collaboratively, Shapiro says.  In a competitive tournament, such as ones run by Cisco and LG Electronics, no participant can see rivals’ submissions.  In a collaborative tournament, such as GE’s Eco-Imagination challenges, anyone can see a submission and comment on or vote on the entry. The Netflix Prize and X Prize use a hybrid version, running the tournaments as competitions for prizes but allowing for collaboration within each submission.

Which approach generates the best solutions? Collaborative tournaments work best in areas where problems require “cumulative knowledge” or “building on best practices,” Shapiro says, citing research by Kevin Boudreau and Karim Kakhani in the Sloan Management Review. The collaborative approach lets players build on to each other ideas and create more refined ideas based on feedback from other participants.

Competition, in contrast, is most effective when the problem requires broad experimentation with an emphasis on truly new ideas rather than refined ideas  The competitive aspect means that many different ideas are pursued simultaneously. Whereas collaboration enjoys the benefits of players influencing each other, competition enjoys the benefits of players being independent of each other, thereby avoiding problems like groupthink, which might artificially narrow the ideas along the basis of the first idea suggested.  In some cases, a hybrid approach will use competition in phase one of the tournament to gather a lot of ideas and then use collaboration during a second phase to flesh out and refine the most promising ideas.


  • Hold an innovation tournament to access the innovative energies of suppliers, customers, and smart people from around the world.
  • Use a collaborative tournament if you need ideas that are cumulatively built and more carefully refined by the players.
  • Use a competitive tournament if you want a wider range of “left-field” ideas and plan to do your own refinement or hold a two-stage contest in which the second stage refines the ideas of the first.

4 Comments »Creativity, How-to, Innovation, open innovation, Strategy

Innovation-Inspiring Prizes

Point: Use open innovation challenges and prizes to inspire solutions, participation and collaboration from employees, partners and customers

Story: In 1919, New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 reward to the first person who could fly nonstop from NYC to Paris. Although various people tried, no one won the prize until Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Orteig’s prize, in turn inspired the X PRIZE foundation to offer the Ansari X Prize: a $10 million award in 2004 to the first team from private industry to devise a spacecraft capable of carrying three people 100 kilometers above the earth twice within two weeks. The goal of the prize was to spur private investment and develop a commercial space industry.

Erika Wagner, executive director of the X PRIZE Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke about how prizes like the X PRIZE are useful to embolden entrepreneurs to take big risks. And, the fact of the substantial prize means that funders and financiers take notice. Ultimately, 26 teams competed for the Ansari X PRIZE and in the six years since the prize was awarded, more than $1.5 billion dollars in public and private funding has gone to support the private spaceflight industry.

Companies from Toyota to Eli Lilly to SAP have run challenges and offered prizes as part of their open innovation efforts through partners like InnoCentive. SCA, for example, a large, international consumer products organization, achieved a return on investment of 74%, with a payback period of less than three months as a result of using InnoCentive Challenges for open innovation in a major R&D division of the organization.

Some of the benefits of prizes are:
• Increasing the number and diversity of the individuals, organizations, and teams that are addressing a particular problem
• Paying only for results
• Attracting more interest and attention to a defined program, activity, or issue of concern (1)

I’ll be sharing more insights about prizes and ideas from the Innovation3 Summit in Orlando Dec 8-10, 2010 in the next post.  For now, here are some action strategies.


  • Word your challenge precisely, around a well-defined problem, to get focused, on-target participation
  • Think through all phases of the prize: how will you announce it? How will you determine the winner? How will you follow up to implement the idea?
  • Be transparent throughout the process, explaining the criteria for selection of the winners, who will be selecting the winners, announcing and awarding the prize(s), etc.
  • Acknowledge all participants, thanking them for their contributions and giving feedback to those who did not win, providing them with information that may help them in future challenges.

No Comments »Entrepreneurs, Growth, How-to, Innovation, open innovation, Productivity, R&D