Home Funding & Finance InnoCentive: The wisdom of lab crowds

InnoCentive: The wisdom of lab crowds


innocentive_web_270x190The name might sound like it was manufactured in the crucible of an expensive, bureaucratic, innovation think-tank naming committee, but this site is incredibly impressive, efficient and market oriented.

I’m talking about InnoCentive, a Massachusetts company that links organisations with problems to creative citizen solvers from around the globe.

Perhaps the most fundamental skill in business is the ability to find and match solutions to commercial problems. That could be as simple as connecting a technician to a project manager or as complicated as commercialising a cure for a rare disease.

In short, if you can identify a pain in the market, commercial opportunity resides in finding a solution.

This is how it works. InnoCentive invites large corporations and organisations that require a solution to an R&D problem to present this problem as a “challenge” on InnoCentive’s Open Innovation Marketplace. The challenge carries a prize, which is funded by the organisation with the problem. PhD students, scientists and innovators anywhere go about solving the problem. The first to do so to the satisfaction of the organisation wins the prize money.

So far, participants in InnoCentive’s Open Innovation Marketplace have:

  • improved the surface retention of particles
  • created a compound for skin tanning
  • accelerated biodegradation
  • invented artificial meat, and
  • invented a method of preventing snack chip breakage.

You can view the full list of solved challenges here.

Offering prize money as an incentive for scientists to solve problems is nothing new, but InnoCentive’s open source web method represents a departure from traditional approaches.

InnoCentive began in 2000 as e.Lilly, an internal ideas incubator within pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, which posted problems that the company had been unable to solve internally. Dwayne Spradlin, president and CEO of InnoCentive, told the New York Times last year that the Open Innovation Marketplace has attracted over 160,000 problem solvers from 175 countries. Over a third have doctorates and they have solved over 250 challenges for prizes typically in the US$10,000 to US$25,000 range.

If you’re scientifically-minded and have a desire to cure the ills of the world, it could pay to check out InnoCentive. Literally.