Back in 1998 three Eli Lilly scientists conceived of a concept to help companies find outside help in answering complex problems. The concept is now known as Innocentive, was officially launched publicly in 2001, and can be found at Innocentive.com.
Companies seeking answers are referred to as ‘seekers’ at Innocentive and post challenges in an innovation marketplace to the community to solve. The seeker company provides a monetary ‘award’ to individual (referred to as the ‘solver’) that can actually be quite substantial. I recently perused the website and found challenges spanning many topics, from business & entrepreneurship, chemistry, mathematics, and health, and found awards in the thousands of dollars, with $10,000 and $20,000 amounts very common.
A recent article in the Economist magazine detailed that 900 challenges have been posted to date by 150 firms. 400 of these challenges have been solved by a community of more than 180,000 solvers. Firms include multinationals such as Procter & Gamble, Eli Lilly, and non profits such as the Rockefeller Foundation. Information exchange is taken seriously and both seekers and solvers must sign a confidentiality agreement. Innocentive states that there has yet to be a payment dispute and $3.5 million in awards have been paid out to date.
Below are some overviews of current challenges. One currently under evaluation seeks a solution for an insulin delivery system in developing countries and states that at least one award is guaranteed. Another seeker is looking for “novel approaches to protecting maize from insect damage” and will pay $20,000 for a successful written proposal. Finally, for those with math modeling skills, a seeker is looking for “probabilistic modeling of spending habits” and will award $10,000 to a bid submitted by a solver by December 2.Clearly, many of the challenges are complex and require a particular expertise but there is a wide array of topics for an even greater variety of topics. Innocentive is also working on a system to allow firms to first solicit solutions from existing employees, with an option to seek outside help if no viable solution can be found internally. In any case, Innocentive is worth checking out for businesses in need of solutions or entrepreneurs with a specific skill set that would like to help others solve challenging problems and make quite a bit of money in the process.