Crisitina Jimenez has an interesting piece on ‘open innovation’ – where problems are shared publicly and rewards offered for suitable solutions. Jimenez’s piece highlights how students and faculty are using ‘open innovation’ challenges to find funding, work on interesting problems, and make meaning.
InnoCentive, an organization based in Waltham, Massachusetts, that uses the Internet to link ‘seekers’ — client companies struggling with pressing scientific or business problems — with ‘solvers’ — more than 250,000 problem-cracking minds around the globe, InnoCentive claims. The company is one of several, most of which are based in the United States, that are engaged in ‘open innovation’. The motivating principle behind open innovation is that companies and other institutions should take full advantage of widely distributed knowledge in a wired world, finding products, patents and solutions — scientific, technological or social — outside the confines of their own organizations.
Later Jimenez explains,
Scientists who moonlight as solvers can use novel means to explore long-standing problems. Chris Wilmer, a PhD student in chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, solved a challenge that involved the lack of access to clean water in poor villages of developing countries. He found inspiration in the success of a mobile-phone business run by the Grameen Bank in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The bank would lend phones to a local entrepreneur in a poor village, who would pay back the loan by charging others in the village to use a phone. It was a profitable and self-sustaining model. Wilmer described how a similarly structured safe-water business could yield humanitarian benefits. “I enjoy solving social problems, so it was fun,” says Wilmer, who has also won a second challenge involving programming a software tool to help characterize synthetic DNA strands.
For some, pursuing open innovation is a way to achieve career independence and flexibility. Grace Kepler, part-time associate research professor at the Center for Research in Scientific Computation at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, sees the challenges as well suited to scientists who, like her, are not employed full-time and have family responsibilities — as well as those who need more money or are unencumbered by intellectual-property issues.
While some entrepreneurs have developed open and crowd sourced businesses (Redhat to Kickstarter) we should expect to see more open innovation and crowd sourcing on campus (beyond technological innovation) and this presents opportunities for entrepreneurs.