Monthly Archive for March, 2009

How To Do an Innovation Challenge Not Right


Imagine Cup 2009 Student Competition

Imagine Cup 2009 Student Competition

Microsoft for several years has run something called the ImagineCup, which aims to engage students around the world in developing the next killer application. One of the exciting features is the annual Finals, which take place in a city around the world (this year it’ll be Cairo).


This year, the challenge “theme” is, “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems facing us today.” Tied to the Millennium Development Goals, the challenge invites students to submit entries in nine categories – software, embedded development, games, robotics, IT challenge, mashup, photography, film and design. First place prizes range from $25,000 to $8,000 depending on the category.

Its a lively an envigorating proposition.

Here’s what doesn’t work for me: just about every competition entry category that has legs must be built on a Microsoft product. Two specific points come to mind as lessons:

  • If you’re going to be about solving the world’s problems, the “platform” on which they are to be solved is a second order problem eg is this really marketing to students? Lesson: communicate the intent clearly.
  • If you’re inviting the very best from students in a learning process, why not draw upon their existing base of talent and expertise instead of shoehorning them into a specific tool set? Lesson: meet people where they’re at.

Aside: Imagine Cup has an interesting feature called a “Leader Board” – I am sure this is something that could be a fun tool to engage visitors and users using a combination of intelligent analytics and user feedback tools.


The folks over at the X Prize recently offered a nice summary of some major innovation competitions at the intersection of development and the environment. One of them, the Imagine Cup – a student innovation prize – I’ll blog about separately. Shamelessly (if gratefully) ripping off X Prize, here is their short list:

Aspen Design Challenge: Designing Water’s Future
Deadline: 2008-12-31
The international contest challenges cross-disciplinary student teams to develop design solutions that encourage responsible water use, provide access to freshwater to those in need and increase awareness about the importance of water conservation. Students and faculty from around the world will develop ideas this fall and submit proposals by December 2008. Winners will have the opportunity to refine and develop their concepts with world leaders and policy makers at the Aspen Environment Forum.

Deadline: 2009-01-31
Intel’s INSPIRE•EMPOWER Challenge is calling for the best technology solutions to address four areas of global need – education, healthcare, economic development, and the environment. The contest will award seed funding of $100,000 USD to one winner in each category. The Challenge is designed to inspire developers, individuals, and organizations to innovate and empower them to deliver new ways to apply technology to these issues.

Live EDGE Global Environmental Challenge
Deadline: 2009-01-31
Entries are invited for the $100,000 USD Live EDGE global environmental challenge for 2008. Qualified entrants can compete in one of two categories: student and general/open. The general/open competition is for design engineers, hobbyists, inventors and anyone else who is not a full-time student. The designs must be original and innovative, use electric and/or electronic components, and positively impact the environment, such as by increasing energy efficiency or reducing carbon emissions.

Imagine Cup: Solve the World’s Toughest Problems
Deadline: 2009-05-20
This year’s theme is “Imagine a world where technology helps solves the toughest problems facing us today.” The United Nations has identified some of the hardest challenges in the world today in its Millennium Goals: End Poverty and Hunger, Universal Education, Gender Equality, Child Health, Maternal Health, Combat HIV/AIDS, Environmental Sustainability, Global Partnership. This year the Imagine Cup uses these ambitious challenges as a guiding light to inspire change all over the world. Deadlines vary for each category, so please visit the website for details.

PBS Launches New Global Health Site

Global Health Watch | Online NewsHour | PBS

Global Health Watch | Online NewsHour | PBS

In conjunction with a new three part series on global health, the News Hour with Jim Lehrer has launched an excellent online resource for learning about and keeping current with global health information. Developed with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the site features lots of multimedia goodies – slideshows, videos, podcasts and helpful graphics – and comes wrapped in an unconventional yellow and gray skin. The site also contains lesson plans to supplement classroom learning.

Populated with information pulled from past segments, its a great starting point for exploring the many dimensions of today’s global health discoveries, challenges and triumphs.

Ashoka Changemakers: Last Call for Health

Last call for submissions to Ashoka Changemakers’  competition ”Designing for Better Health” sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The competition aims to identify novel and effective approaches that make it easier for people to make choices and change their behavior to improve their health.

Submit your entry by  the deadline of April 1, 2009 at  to take advantage of the funding opportunities and global exposure, while contributing to the next big change!

Joost Bonson on MIT’s “Innovation Ecology”

MIT Innovation Ecosystem Presentation from nextlab on Vimeo. Joost
discusses ”our Innovation Ecosystem and how to make the most of our
time at the Institute…”

Social Media “Customer Chasm”

I found a recent article on MPDailyFix about the gap that can yawn when two PR/Marketing/Outreach units aren’t coordinating their efforts. In other words, when there is an imbalance between “new tools” of customer interaction and “old modes” at play, and they have different standards. The concern? Whether one group of “customers” is inadvertently receiving a better, more satisfactory level of service than the other.

The author, Jason Baer puts it this way: “If the way you treat your customers within the social media sphere is inherently different than how you treat them elsewhere, you’re playing with fire.”

This insight is helpful as we think about translating the IDEAS Competition online as the Global Challenge. The IDEAS Competition is a well-defined, structured experience for students that offers a very high level of support to students in developing their proposals. We’ll need to ensure that the Global Challenge is able match the high standard that IDEAS has set in meeting entrants’ needs.

Read the full article by Jason Baer here.

March Madness: We’re Not Playing Basketball

[From Business Week] “It’s March Madness time, all right. But the competition in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington had absolutely nothing to do with basketball. This annual event, March Madness for the Mind, is organized by the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), a network of more than 200 universities that promote innovation by underwriting and mentoring teams of college student inventors.

More important, the 14-student e-teams (and one high school team sponsored by a different NCIIA program) got to rub elbows with more than a dozen venture capitalists, who might help take their ideas from the lab to the marketplace.”

At least one team - Affordable Solar Thermal Microgenerator Technology for Rural Cogeneration in Southern Africa - is from MIT. Check out the great slideshow of this year’s inventions here.


A huge thanks to all of the firms who responded to our Request for Proposals – we were blown away by the response we received (20!) as well as by the thought and creativity that went in to many of them.

In late February we invited 4 firms to come in to make presentations to the full Platform & Technology working group – these were EchoDitto, IdeaCouture, Social Signal and Forum One Communications – all outstanding web development firms with an impressive track record. We are very grateful to have the benefit of their input in this process.

At this point we are ironing out details with a finalist and expect to be up and running with the build by May 1. Stay tuned for some exciting details.