Innovative Challenge Contest

Published Oct-16-10

An open innovation technology competition to hunt for the best ideas in the U.S. to accelerate technology commercialization and entrepreneurship.

U.S. Economic Development Administration, United States

The Story:

Innovative Challenge Contest Entrepreneurs, investors, non-profits, foundations and universities were all invited to take part in a US-nationwide open innovation competition designed to support the most creative ideas to drive technology commercialization and entrepreneurship in six different regions of the US.

The $12 million i6 Challenge competition was a kind of government-sponsored X-prize contest for whip-smart ideas. It was launched in 2010 by the Economic Development Administration (EDA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF).

Big Prize Money

To encourage teams to accelerate their innovation goals the EDA put $1 million in prize money on the table for each winning side. The NIH and NSF provided an additional $6 million in supplemental funding. By rewarding groundbreaking ideas the ultimate purpose of the competition was to strengthen regional innovation ecosystems to help drive economic growth and job creation.

Applicants were invited to propose ideas and mechanisms that would leverage existing infrastructure and institutions in new ways so as to eliminate road blocks that slow down commercialization.

Electrifying Ideas

One of the most exciting parts of the i6 Challenge was that it was not overly prescriptive about the criteria that applicants had to fulfill. It was a genuinely open enterprise in the way that the best open innovation contests are; it did not designate who can do what and how.

The field was left wide open so that anyone could apply with whatever ideas they might have, which allowed room for genuinely fresh and electrifying ideas. It brought experts in science and academia together with public and private sector business and entrepreneurs.

Winners Announced

In September 2010, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced the winners of the competition in each region.

“Each of the winners exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit that drives innovation and will help move America forward by increasing our competitiveness around the world,” he said. “The i6 Challenge represents a key component of President Obama's innovation strategy — to move great ideas from the lab to the marketplace to create jobs and economic growth."

The winners were:

Atlanta Region

The Global Center for Medical Innovation - will implement three major initiatives to accelerate the development and commercialization of next generation medical devices and technology.

Austin Region

New Mexico Technology Ventures Corporation - will create an infrastructure to turn technologies developed under a small business innovation program into commercially viable enterprises.

Chicago Region

University of Akron Research Foundation and Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron – ideas to minimize the time from ideation to commercialization by bringing together scientists, physicians, engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs in the biomedical device and polymer science industries of northeast Ohio.

Denver Region

BioGenerator, Washington University in St. Louis, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri at St. Louis, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis County Economic Council, and the St. Louis Development Corporation - will build a market-based entrepreneurial infrastructure around the needs of existing bioscience firms and investors.

Philadelphia Region

Innovation Works, Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University - will create a system to accelerate the commercialization of developing technologies within the region’s universities and small businesses.

Seattle Region

The Oregon Translational Research & Drug Development Institute, the Oregon Nanoscience & Microtechnologies Institute, and the Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center - all are joining forces to create the Oregon Innovation Cluster.

For more information about the winners visit

Turbo-Charged Innovation

Though still very much in its infancy this big money open innovation contest is being hailed as a great success for providing the stimulus and support to drive technologies to market more quickly.

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