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Casting a wide net for innovation

By Dorothy Lozowski, Editor in Chief |

I recall from the time that I worked as a research and development (R&D) engineer, the concept of a “rainmaker” — a talented researcher who was challenged to come up with new technologies that could eventually lead to new businesses. Today, crowdsourcing enables companies to tap virtually unlimited sources for ideas. While internal R&D resources are still fundamentally very important to most businesses, crowdsourcing techniques hold great potential for discovery, as well as opportunities for innovative thinkers.

 

Innovations for water sustainability

Recently, a national (U.S.) competition was launched to cultivate new ideas for improving sustainability in the water industry. Fittingly announced at the Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference (Weftec; Chicago, Ill., September 26–30; www.weftec.org), the competition is sponsored by Veolia (Paris, France; www.veolia.com), The Water Council (Milwaukee, Wisc.; www.thewatercouncil.com) and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. The program offers a variety of rewards, including $25,000 and $10,000 cash prizes, educational and training opportunities, as well as a year of office space that will be awarded to up to three winners. These incentives are being offered to find innovators and entrepreneurs whose ideas can be fast-tracked. Details about the program, called “Pow! emPowering Opportunities in Water,” can be found at www.veolianorthamerica.com/pow.

 

Tackling CO2 emissions

In another recent announcement, NRG, a U.S.-based energy company (www.nrg.com) and COSIA (Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance; www.cosia.ca) are co-sponsoring a $20-million XPRIZE (Culver City, Ca.; www.xprize.org) in a competition to address CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. The goal is to find breakthrough technologies that can convert CO2 into valuable products. The 4.5-yr competition will include testing the new technologies in either a coal-fired power plant or a natural-gas facility. Details of the Carbon XPRIZE can be found at carbon.xprize.org.

 

Crowdsourcing for innovation

Crowdsourcing for innovation has been gaining momentum in recent years. Another example is BASF SE’s (Ludwigshafen, Germany; www.basf.com) “Open Innovation Contest” for energy storage that was announced in February. This contest called for sustainable technologies to store power and feed it back to the grid. A prize of €100,000 and the opportunity to collaborate with BASF in a research project based on their ideas was offered to winners.

And in an earlier program announced in late 2013, the Dow Chemical Company (www.dow.com) and Innocentive (Waltham, Mass.; www. innocentive.com) offered a $15,000 prize for novel applications for Dow’s oil-soluble polyalkylene glycols.

Companies are partnering with groups like Innocentive, XPRIZE and others who can assist in crowdsourcing for innovative ideas. The websites of these crowdsourcing experts reveal the variety of companies that are using this technique. And for the entrepreneurs among us, a look at some of the challenges being offered can open doors to opportunity.■

 

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