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InnoCentive, Inc.
Industry Crowdsourcing, Cloud Labor, Open innovation, R & D, innovation management, product development
Founded Indianapolis, Indiana (2001)
Headquarters Waltham, Massachusetts, US
Key people
Products Innovation management, inducement prize contest, crowdsourcing, open innovation

InnoCentive is a Waltham, Massachusetts-based crowdsourcing company that accepts by commission research and development problems in engineering, computer science, math, chemistry, life sciences, physical sciences and business. The company frames these as "challenge problems" for anyone to solve. It gives cash awards for the best solutions to solvers who meet the challenge criteria.[1]


The idea for InnoCentive came to Alpheus Bingham and Aaron Schacht in 1998 while they worked together at Eli Lilly and Company during a session that was focused on exploring application of the Internet to business. The company was launched in 2001 by Jill Panetta, Jeff Hensley, Darren Carroll and Alpheus Bingham, with majority seed funding from Eli Lilly and Company. Darren Carroll led the launch effort and became the first CEO.

In 2005, InnoCentive was spun out of Eli Lilly with investments led by Spencer Trask of New York. In December 2006, shortly after Dwayne Spradlin took the helm as CEO, the company signed an agreement with the Rockefeller Foundation to add a non-profit area designed to generate science and technology solutions to pressing problems in the developing world. Between 2006 and 2009, The Rockefeller Foundation posted 10 challenges on InnoCentive with an 80% success rate.[2]

In 2006, Prize4Life partnered with InnoCentive to launch the $1 million ALS Biomarker Prize, which was a Grand Challenge designed to find a biomarker to measure the progression of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in patients. In February 2011, the $1 million prize was awarded to Dr. Seward Rutkove for his creation and validation of a clinically viable biomarker. In early 2011, InnoCentive launched four more Grand Challenges on behalf of Life Technologies.

In February 2012, InnoCentive acquired UK-based OmniCompete, Europe's leading open innovation and competition start-up.[3]


InnoCentive is a privately held, venture-backed firm headquartered near Boston in Waltham, Massachusetts, with a European office in London, UK. The company has posted more than 1,950 Challenges to its Global Solver Community, in addition to thousands of internal Challenges—those targeted at private communities like employees, customers and suppliers. InnoCentive currently enables Challenges in a wide variety of disciplines, including Business and Entrepreneurship, Chemistry, Computer/Information Technology, Engineering and Design, Food and Agriculture, Life Sciences, Math and Statistics, and Physical Sciences.

InnoCentive's solver community consists of over 355,000 people from nearly 200 countries,[4] with an added reach of 13+ million through strategic partnerships with organizations including The Economist, Nature Publishing Group, and Scientific American.[citation needed] The cash awards for solving challenge problems are typically in the $10,000 to $100,000 range.

InnoCentive's customers include commercial, government and non-profit organizations, from AstraZeneca, Procter & Gamble, Dow AgroSciences, Eli Lilly and Company and Thomson Reuters to the Air Force Research Lab, NASA, The Department of Defense and the Lumina Foundation.

The following table gives some company stats as of August 2013:[5]

Revenue[6] $10 million+
Total Registered Solvers 355,000+ from nearly 200 countries
Total Solver Reach 13 million+ through strategic partners (e.g., Nature Publishing Group, Scientific American, The Economist)
Total Challenges Posted 1,950+ External Challenges & thousands of Internal Challenges (employee-facing)
Total Solution Submissions 40,000+
Total Awards Given 1,500+
Total Award Dollars Posted $40 million+
Range of awards $5,000 to $1 million+

Business model[edit]

InnoCentive adopts a crowdsourcing model known as Cloud Labor. InnoCentive crowdsources innovation solutions from the world’s smartest people, who compete to provide ideas and solutions to important business, social, policy, scientific, and technical challenges. Their methodology is called Challenge Driven InnovationTM, an innovation framework that accelerates traditional innovation outcomes by leveraging open innovation and crowdsourcing along with defined methodology, process, and tools to help companies develop and implement solutions to their key problems, opportunities, and challenges.

From idea creation to idea management to solutions management, InnoCentive offers user friendly innovation platforms to assist companies and government agencies with their current innovation needs. InnoCentive allows companies to tap into the wisdom and innovative capacity of a problem Solver network of more than 355,000 Solvers in order to find solutions to a company's difficult problem(s), or "challenges" while the Solvers can focus on a range of challenging problems with the hope of receiving a financial reward.

Companies, organizations and government agencies post Challenges, along with the associated financial award, by paying InnoCentive a fixed fee depending on the type of Challenge. Companies are allowed to post Challenges anonymously to avoid competition related issues. InnoCentive's Solver community can view the Challenges and submit solutions to any Challenge without being charged for their submission. If the company is satisfied with the workability of the solution to a Challenge provided by a Solver or Solvers, then the Company provides the winning Solver/Solvers with the pre-specified award in exchange for the acquisition to the IP rights to the winning solution. InnoCentive ensures Intellectual Property protection for both Companies and Solvers and facilitates the transfer of Intellectual Property rights from the Solver to the Company who ran the Challenge

Included in their methodology, is InnoCentive@Work, a collaborative SaaS-based innovation management software platform that enables a company to engage diverse innovation communities such as employees, partners, or customers to help rapidly generate novel ideas and solutions. Many CEOs and Innovation Departments in corporations and government agencies tackle the problem of how to increase the total innovation quotient of an enterprise's workforce and imbue a culture of internal collaboration and risk-taking. @Work is InnoCentive's innovation management platform offering to provide a means of encouraging, recording, and evaluating these ideas and solutions from the workforce. In 2014, InnoCentive released a major upgrade and update of @Work, labeled @Work 2.0 and the Company is in the process of multiple additional releases.

InnoCentive also provides Custom Challenges that offer substantial professional services to craft and execute on large often worldwide problems needing multiple approaches and often multi-year staged solutions. Custom Challenges aim to focus considerable attention on a specific issue and mobilize a motivated community of problem solvers.

Solutions of note[edit]

"Prize4Life Awards $1 Million Prize for Major Milestone in ALS Research" In 2006, Prize4Life partnered with InnoCentive to launch the $1M ALS Biomarker Prize with the goal of accelerating the development of a biomarker—an inexpensive and easy-to-use tool that can accurately measure the progression of ALS in patients.
Oil Spill Recovery Challenge Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) posted three Challenges in 2007 dealing with recovery of spilled oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez Disaster.
Lighting Up African Villages SunNight Solar wanted to develop a dual-purpose solar light that would function as a lamp and a flashlight to be used in African villages and other areas of the world without electricity.

User base[edit]

As of January 2014, there was a total of 355,000 users from nearly 200 countries. Aside from traditional science PhDs, the user group includes technicians, students and engineers. More than 50% of registered solvers come from Russia, India, and China. Most of the problem solvers are well-educated, with a majority (65.8%) holding a PhD. InnoCentive has also signed agreements with the Chinese and Russian national science academies. As motivation for Russian universities, for example, a solver’s academic department can get 10% of any award.[7]


Karim R. Lakhani's paper "The Value of Openness in Scientific Problem Solving" is commonly cited for its examination of InnoCentive's effectiveness.[8] Lakhani and Lars Bo Jeppesen of Harvard Business School studied the company’s data along with two InnoCentive scientists. They analysed 166 challenges between June 2001 and January 2005 and also surveyed about 350 of its solvers. About 80,000 scientists from 150 countries reviewed those challenges, and 49 were solved, an impressive rate according to Lakhani given that most of the problems perplexed well-funded research and development companies.

The biggest and most surprising finding was that the further the focal problem was from the solvers’ field of expertise, the more likely they were to solve it. Furthermore, there was a 10% increase in the probability of being a winning solver if the problem was assessed to be completely outside of their field of expertise. For example, a firm’s research and development laboratory did not understand the toxicological significance of a particular pathology and had consulted the top toxicologists without success. They broadcast their problem via InnoCentive and it was solved by a scientist with a PhD in protein crystallography using methods common in her field. She had not been exposed to toxicology problems before.

Other significant findings were discovered with respect to what motivated the members to use the website. Intrinsic motivations like enjoying problem solving and cracking a tough problem were found to motivate participants more than extrinsic motivations such as desire to win reward money. Also, having free time to actually participate in the problem-solving effort significantly correlated with being a winning solver.

Similar organizations[edit]

  • Quirky – an open-source invention and product development company
  • Ideaconnection - a global resource for open innovation, specializing in confidential collaborative problem solving for companies through problem solvers across areas of science, technology and business
  • – a platform for social innovation projects, which runs on the OI Engine software platform.
  • OI Engine - OI Engine is an Open Innovation software platform created by IDEO that helps organisations engage their communities internally or publicly to solve problems together. Communities solve challenges using a highly collaborative, structured approach based on Design Thinking.
  • SBV IMPROVER – a crowdsourcing method for the verification of scientific data and concepts in systems biology research. The SBV IMPROVER methodology[9] could be applied in a variety of fields, wherever a clearer understanding of biological mechanisms is needed to help solve important problems, such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, nutrition, environmental safety and consumer product development
  • Coursolve – a matching service for students to work on real-world problems
  • Betterific – a platform that crowdsources innovation by connecting brands with customers over their innovative product ideas.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Prizes for Solutions to Problems Play Valuable Role in Innovation" Wall Street Journal, 25 January 2007. Retrieved 12 March 2007.
  2. ^ "Accelerating Innovation for Development: The Rockefeller Foundation and Inno-Centive Renew Partnership Linking Nonprofit Organizations to World-Class Scientific Thinkers". Rockefeller Foundation. 23 June 2009. Retrieved 29 September 2014. 
  3. ^ "InnoCentive Acquires OmniCompete Limited". InnoCentive. 6 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Lehrer, Jonah (2012). Imagine: How Creativity Works. Boston / New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-547-38607-2. 
  5. ^ "InnoCentive". Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  6. ^ "Glassdoor". Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  7. ^ Travis, John (28 March 2008). "Science and Commerce: Science by the Masses". Science 319 (5871): 1750–1752. doi:10.1126/science.319.5871.1750. PMID 18369115. 
  8. ^ Lakhani, Karim. "The Value of Openness in Scientific Problem Solving" (PDF). 
  9. ^ Stolovitzky, Gustavo (8 September 2011). "Verification of systems biology research in the age of collaborative competition". Nature Biotechnology 29: 811–815. doi:10.1038/nbt.1968. 

External links[edit]