Social enterprises are often searching for sustainable breakthrough innovations, but lack the resources to invest in large-scale research and development. One creative, and increasingly popular, solution to this problem is open innovation. The basic concept is to utilize the collected knowledge of experts from around the world to solve design challenges.
One such tool is Innocentive, which has become the premier global marketplace for open innovation. The website connects corporations and non-profits with thousands of brilliant minds from around the world. The best solution is awarded a cash prize by the sponsoring organization.
Social enterprises in India and around the world have posted numerous challenges on Innocentive and met with great success. In an interview with Fast Company, Dwayne Spradlin of Innocentive discusses the growing trend of non-profits turning to open innovation. He also explains how non-profits are able to generate interest even with small rewards,
We’re doing more in the non-profit space than ever. We’ve all come here to change the world and you do that by helping organizations of all types really address their challenges. It’s particularly rewarding to work in a challenge realm that can impact human life like people’s ability to drink clean water in sub-Saharan Africa.
Not-for-profit challenges, where there’s clearly some sort of a global good associated with it, tend to draw the attention of globally-minded solvers. That means that a $10,000 or $20,000 prize—which could be quite a bit for a not-for-profit to offer—is amplified dramatically because the dividends to the solver are not only the money.
Some of successful projects to come out of the Innocentive model include:
- Solar-powered wireless routers developed for ASSET India (covered by TC-I here), which runs IT training centers for victims of sex trafficking. The routers played a key role in helping ASSET expand their project to rural areas. The solution was presented by Zacary Brown, a software engineer from Texas.
- A cost-effective and efficient method to manufacture a Phase II Tuberculosis drug candidate. The solution was devised by two scientists from India and China for the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development.
- A low cost mosquito trap developed in response to a challenge launched by SunNight Solar. The solution uses paraffin wax and human sweat as the main ingredients and has the potential to curb the spread of malaria, which has become rampant globally.
- An inexpensive machine to grind grain in India developed by Tom Kruer.
One of the exciting unsolved challenges on Innocentive is the development of a safe and effective AIDS vaccine. The challenge is sponsored by the Rockefeller foundation and the International AIDS vaccine initiative and offers a reward of $150,000 plus a one million dollar research grant.
Innocentive has also launched some major initiatives in India such as the India Advisory Board, which is comprised of India’s top researchers and scientists and partnerships with Ranbaxy, the IITs and the National Chemical Laboratory. It also sponsored the 91st Indian Science Congress. These initiatives are aimed at enhancing global research and development and present a great opportunity and resource for social enterprises in India.