How to Run a Successful Innovation Challenge — Step by Step Guide

Master the art of running a successful innovation challenge and collaborating with emerging companies! Our comprehensive, step-by-step guide offers actionable insights to drive change and catalyze growth within your organization.

In today’s landscape, where ideas are as valuable as capital, how do you keep your coffers stocked? The key isn’t solo brainstorming but tapping into collective intelligence. An innovation challenge, whether it’s a startup pitch or a hackathon, acts like a catalyst, transforming raw creativity into tangible opportunities. So, how do you kickstart this process? Let’s dive into a no-nonsense, step-by-step guide on running a successful open innovation challenge.

What is an Innovation Challenge?

An innovation challenge is a structured competition or event where participants – employees, students, startups, or the general public — are tasked with developing novel solutions to specific problems within a set timeframe. These challenges can be broad, targeting industry-wide issues, or specific, addressing particular hurdles a company faces.

The main objective? Leverage diverse viewpoints and creative energy to uncover revolutionary ideas that propel your company or industry ahead. Simple as that.

Why do Corporates need Innovation Challenges?

  • Cost-effective R&D: Instead of investing heavily in in-house research and development, you can source innovative ideas at a fraction of the cost. Think of it as innovation on a budget.
  • Tapping into Diverse Perspectives: Expanding the challenge to a wider audience lets you access a rich blend of perspectives, skills, and experiences you might not find in-house.
  • Fostering an Innovation Mindset: Such challenges stimulate creativity, encouraging participants to think beyond conventional boundaries and come up with out-of-the-box solutions.
  • Solving Real Issues: Put your actual business challenges on the table and receive practical, diverse solutions in return. No hypotheticals, just actionable insights.
  • Engagement & Branding: Running these challenges not only elevates your brand but also engages a broad community—be it customers, future talent, or industry colleagues. It positions you as a thought leader in innovation.

What are Examples of Innovation Challenges?

1. NASA’s Space Poop Challenge

In one of the most unique and attention-grabbing challenges, NASA sought innovative solutions to address a very human problem — how astronauts could manage human waste while inside a spacesuit for up to 144 hours. This challenge aimed to find methods that would replace the diapers astronauts currently use. The winning solution proposed a system that uses air flow to direct waste away from the body and into storage.

2. Iberdrola’s Sustainable Agri-Livestock Innovation Challenge

Recently, Iberdrola used our Startup Program Service to launch an open innovation drive aimed at electrifying and decarbonizing agriculture and livestock. The challenge sought solutions for renewable energy integration in rural areas, among other key criteria. Using our AI-powered Discovery Platform and expert team, we delivered 68 high-quality applications from 30 countries to Iberdrola. This was achieved through targeted direct outreach to 2,000 relevant startups and a focused, SEO-optimized promotional campaign.

3. IBM’s Call for Code

This annual competition invites developers from around the world to create solutions that significantly improve preparedness for natural disasters and accelerate relief when they hit. By leveraging cloud, data, artificial intelligence, and blockchain, participants develop solutions that make a real difference in times of crisis.

4. Starbucks’ My Starbucks Idea

Starbucks launched a platform where customers could submit their ideas to improve the coffee giant’s products, services, or even store designs. This crowdsourcing effort led to the introduction of several new offerings, including the addition of non-dairy alternatives and the “Cake Pop” to their menu.

5. LEGO Ideas

LEGO’s community-driven platform allows enthusiasts to submit their own designs for new sets. If a design garners enough support from the community, it undergoes a review process, and winning designs are turned into commercial products. This initiative has led to popular sets like the “Ship in a Bottle” and “NASA Apollo Saturn V.” This initiative not only drives product innovation but also fosters immense brand loyalty.

Read more on this — How 5 Leading Companies Implement Open Innovation

Guide: How do You Organize an Innovation Challenge?

Creating a successful innovation challenge requires meticulous planning and clarity. Here is a step-by-step guide:

1. Define Your Objectives

Start by pinpointing what you aim to accomplish with this innovation challenge. Are you seeking solutions to specific problems, generating fresh product ideas, or refining existing processes? A clear goal sets the direction for everything that follows.

2. Identify Your Participants

Decide on your target audience for the challenge. Are you focusing internally on your employees, or are you extending the scope to external innovators, startups, students, or even the public at large?

3. Establish Guidelines & Criteria

Clarify the rules, submission guidelines, and evaluation criteria. This eliminates ambiguity, ensuring you attract relevant and quality submissions aligned with your goals.

4. Determine Incentives

What’s the prize for winning? While cash rewards are common, other perks like mentorship programs, partnership opportunities, or even equity stakes can be equally compelling.

5. Choose the Format

Based on your audience and challenge scale, decide on the event format. Will it be completely online, on-site, or a hybrid model? The format can impact participation and engagement.

6. Leverage Partnerships

Think about collaborating with academic institutions, industry leaders, or innovation platforms to boost the credibility and reach of your challenge.

7. Amplify Your Reach

To get the word out and attract top-notch participants, utilize various channels like social media, press releases, and also consider leveraging the StartUs Insights Startup Program Service. This service can help you tap into a global network of startups, scaleups, and innovators, effectively widening your pool of quality contenders.

8. Ensure Transparent Judging

Maintain an open and unbiased judging process. Make evaluation criteria explicit and, if feasible, incorporate a feedback loop for participants.

9. Celebrate & Share

After the challenge concludes, announce the winners promptly and make a splash about their achievements. Share key insights or learnings from the challenge with the broader community to add value and keep the innovation momentum going.

You might like this — How to Implement and Promote Open Innovation

Bonus: Tips to Make Your Innovation Challenge Successful

  • Clear Objectives: Know your aim—whether it’s a new product, a specific solution, or a process improvement. This guides participants and streamlines evaluations.
  • Attractive Rewards: Offer rewards that resonate—monetary prizes, internships, or the chance to implement the winning idea can boost participation.
  • Transparent Communication: Keep participants in the loop with updates, timelines, and a dedicated communication channel, like email or forum, to foster engagement.
  • Training & Resources: Offer workshops, expert access, or useful tools to enhance submission quality and participant value.
  • Celebrate Milestones: Acknowledge small wins and innovative ideas throughout the challenge to maintain high morale.
  • Post-Challenge Engagement: Keep the momentum going with feedback, collaboration opportunities, and implementation plans for winning ideas.
  • Leverage Open Innovation Services: Use external services for data-driven promotion and direct outreach to attract relevant participants.

Wrapping It Up

Running a successful innovation challenge involves more than just a good idea; it requires meticulous planning, targeted outreach, and robust evaluation. From defining your objectives to celebrating your winners, each step contributes to the challenge’s success and potential for lasting impact.

While leveraging tools like the StartUs Insights Startup Program Service can amplify your reach, the real value lies in the quality of ideas generated and the relationships formed. So here’s to your next innovation challenge—may it bring forth groundbreaking solutions and foster a lasting culture of ingenuity.

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