Published Jun-18-10

Flexible footwear made from recycled billboard vinyl.

Paper-Feet, United Kingdom

The Story:

Paper-Feet Open innovation offers social entrepreneurs plenty of opportunities to create new ways of addressing social needs or promote better business.

Recognising both this and the power of student creativity led the non-profit Sparkseed Organisation to set up and host the Sparkseed Social Innovation Competition. It aims to attract and generate the best social innovations.

Encouraging Innovation

The competition is open to undergraduates in the U.S. and offers winning ideas $11,000 cash award, plus $20,000 worth of pro-bone consulting as well as access to mentoring from entrepreneurs and executives.

“Students have the creativity, passion, and drive to address issues like climate change, poverty, and global health through novel ventures,” said Sparkseed founder Mike Del Ponte. “But they often lack the means to turn outside -the-box thinking into ideas that yield social dividends. Arming this untapped brain trust with the right resources will have untold benefits for society.”

Sparkseed points out that there’s a long list of world-changing companies that have been started by college students including Microsoft, Apple and Facebook.

Innovative Feat

The 2010 Sparkseed winner was Jimmy Tomczak for his innovative Paper-Feet, billed as the world’s thinnest and most flexible flip-flop. They are made from recycled billboard vinyl.

At least 3 million billboards are sent to landfills every year, which equates to about 10,000 tons of vinyl (according to 2008 figures). That’s about 25 million square meters that is wasted annually. So Tomczak came up with the idea of creating stylish, affordable and sustainable footwear out of this material.

Other 2010 Sparkseed winners include a process that recycles food waste and turns it into a 100% organic soil amendment, and the development of a cost-effective residential charging station and payment system for mass use of electric cars.

“Our mission is to create a sense of urgency around the idea of social entrepreneurship,” said Sparkseed’s Jenny Gottstein. “We aren’t training the leaders of ‘tomorrow’, as in ‘one day, that student will be in the U.S. Senate!’, but rather these are the leaders of today. There are students who are literally dreaming up the next Kiva in their dormroom, and our goal is to make sure they have the tools they need to make an impact right now.”

Open Innovation Insights

The Sparkseed competition, like invention contests and other open innovation initiatives are being actively considered by a growing number of companies who hadn’t previously considered using open innovation in their R&D toolkit.

The potential benefits that open innovation creates are being brought to the attention of management teams who are looking for new ways to innovate in the face of intense competition and the rapid pace of technological change.

They recognize the need for it and are turning to knowledge brokers to help them define their strategy and execute their open innovation plans.

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