AP®︎/College Computer Science Principles
Open innovation platforms
Sometimes the wisdom of the crowd lies in the wisdom of a single person in the crowd. We don't all have the solutions for every problem, but given there are billions of people in the world with a wide range of expertise, it's very likely that one of those billions has a great idea that can solve a unique problem.
Diagram of crowd-sourced open innovation model. 8 people are shown with lightbulbs above their heads, and one lightbulb is highlighted.
Open innovation platforms take advantage of the global connectivity of the Internet to connect solution seekers with solution solvers. InnoCentive is one of those platforms, and it offers challenges across a range of disciplines: chemistry, computers, engineering, food, agriculture, life sciences, statistics, and physical sciences.
Screenshot of 2 InnoCentive challenges: Bird Identification from a Minimal Sample, Mitigating the Environmental Impact of Large Photovoltaic Plants.
Like many crowdsourcing platforms, InnoCentive incentivizes with monetary rewards, typically in the thousands of dollars. Top solvers can actually make a living entirely by entering challenges.
For the organizations presenting these challenges, the money spent is worth the potential gain. By opening their challenge up to a crowd, organizations broaden the idea search outside of their own internal expertise and even outside of their entire industry's expertise, to improve their chances of discovering novel solutions.
A non-profit organization named Prize4Life issued a challenge in 2007 to anyone who could come up with a biomarker for the fatal illness ALS, and in 2011, they awarded the million dollar prize to a neurosurgeon. That sounds like a lot of money (and it is!) but Prize4Life estimates that the discovery of the biomarker can reduce the cost of ALS clinical trials from $10 million to $5 million, making it more feasible for pharmaceutical companies to find ways to treat or even cure the disease.
The XPrize is another organization which gives big rewards for big ideas. The first XPrize competition challenged teams to build spaceships for suborbital spaceflight and awarded a $10 million prize in 2004. Since then, their competitions have encouraged innovation in under-funded technological research areas such as vehicle efficiency, oil cleanups, health monitoring, and carbon emissions reduction.
Photo of pilot standing on top of the SpaceShipOne with two thumbs up.
Competitions like the XPrize and InnoCentive may seem out of reach to many of us, as most of the winners have advanced degrees and extensive backgrounds in research and industry. Not every great idea needs to save lives or revolutionize an industry; great ideas can simply make our world a more enjoyable place to live.
LEGO Ideas is a platform where anyone can submit ideas for new LEGO build kits. Each year, the LEGO team reviews the ideas with at least 10,000 community supporters and selects a kit to manufacture and sell in their stores.
The kit ideas are as diverse as their creators: a science writer created a Women of NASA kit, a Hungarian animator designed a Steamboat Willie set, and a Filipino software engineer built a Voltron set.
Screenshot of three winning LEGO build kit ideas: Women of NASA, Steamboat Willie, and Voltron.
🙋🏽🙋🏻♀️🙋🏿♂️Do you have any questions about this topic? We'd love to answer—just ask in the questions area below!
Want to join the conversation?
- How can companies gain money with these "Open innovation platforms"?(2 votes)
- If you look closely at the Prize4Life story, the way that companies can use these platforms to gain money becomes clear.
Prize4Life paid a full $1 million to the neurosurgeon who discovered the ALS biomarker, so at the start it may seem like they were just wasting a lot of money. However, as you continue reading, you will find that this actually allowed the cost of clinical trials to be cut in half, which saved a whopping $5 million.
Prize4Life is of course a non-profit organization, so technically they cannot make any "profit" from this discovery, but you can imagine that if they were a for-profit private company, $5 million would be nothing to sneeze at.(6 votes)