Study Case: Innocentive (1)

Scanning Open Innovation Marketplace:

Study Case: Innocentive (1)

Year 2016

Today, crowdsourcing is almost mainstream when it comes to solving problems in creative ways and transfer knowledge and technologies on fast forward and at lower costs than traditional ways.

By joining the open innovation revolution, your organization increases its research and development capabilities while it consistenly cuts down the risk and costs associated with research failure. You pay for solutions instead of work, failure, or trial and error. So you gain also time and a competitive advantage hard to ignore.

On the other side of this story, more and more innovators and creative professionals engage in the process of designing the world the way they see it, want it or dream about it. They come from all over the world and they end up changing their lives or forming long lasting friendships against distance and space. That’s the beauty of it.

Innocentive led my way on the open innovation realm. It is still the leader of the market or at least it has its own specific place in the overall open innovation today picture which became a little bit crowded in this area during the last 3 years.

It was back in 2010 when I discovered it, I started to solve problems imediatelly and never stopped. My story on Innocentive can be summarized like this:

  • 3 awarded solutions

  • 29 submissions

  • 40 solutions portfolio

  • rivers of feedback and hot debates in the closed LinkedIn Innocentive Winning Solvers group about motivating functions we want and need on such a platform

  • a web video production with and about wordlwide multiple awarded solvers, all of them starting their journey with Innocentive, the place we all met and many of us became long time virtual friends. The project is called We Are Solvers and you can find there some top minds you’ll probably desperately need for the next 10 years in your more and more challenging endevours.

My success rate may seem low, but taking into account that I seldom find challenges I can solve, as the platform is mainly oriented towards very technical problems, it is a good rate if we also take into account competing with the rest of the world. 

Anyway, it was a niche and far in the future land at the time. Nobody understood what am I doing and mostly, why am I doing it. To be honest, few understand also today, at least in my native country which is Romania, the country with the fastest internet in the world. A paradox, right? Loads of education about how to create a climate for innovation is needed here. Platforms like Innocentive are still a science fiction story.

Looking back, I can say that shaping my skills and knowledge in the open innovation realm led to my reinvention. So this is a topic I will talk about many years from now as it became part of the new life I built for myself.

Innocentive history on very short:

Innocentive has its headquarters just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, and it has an operational office also in Europe, more precise in London.

1998: Alph Bingham and Aaron Schacht generated the idea of Innocentive while they worked together at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company. The first versions of Innocentive were “” and later “BountyChem”.

2001: InnoCentive was launched by Jill Panetta, Jeff Hensley, Darren Carroll, and Alph Bingham, with majority seed funding from Eli Lilly. Darren Carroll was the first CEO.

2005: InnoCentive was spun out of Eli Lilly with investments led by Spencer Trask of New York.

2006: President and CEO Dwayne Spradlin took the lead and the company signed an agreement with the Rockefeller Foundation to add a nonprofit area designed to generate science and technology solutions to pressing problems in the developing world.

2012/2013 (I think): Craig Jones took over the CEO chair till present, becoming the 3rd CEO.

Innocentive in numbers (source: IC website and from my own knowledge)

  • 375.000 + registered solvers (it was about 200.000 back in 2010)
  • 59.000 solutions submitted
  • 48.000.000 $ + awards posted
  • 2000 + challenges outsourced for crowdsourcing
  • 2000+ winning solutions (and about 1000 winning solvers as many won more than once)

So, the average award goes arround 20.000$, starting from one guaranteed award of 5.000$ in Ideation challenges (which is a great thing part of their model) and going up depending on the type of challenge (implicitly the IP transfer dimension).

You can easily see that the community of winners means 1% of the registered solvers, a pool of high skilled and educated professionals overall.

You can also see that from the total pool of solvers registered, only about 15% submit a solution. I suspect the real average per cent is 10%. So, when you see 100 solvers registered for one challenge, there is a high probability that only 15-20 of them to submit a solution and about 10 or less to reach the finalists list. Of course, the number varies according with the type and complexity of the challenge.

Even if you put all the other open innovation platforms’ numbers on top of Innocentive’s, the proportions remain unchanged. See for yourself and let me know about your findings.

This is a statistic that never changed during the history of mankind. If we expand the analysis also to entrepreneurship “industry”, you’ll see that about 10% of the world’s population act against all adversities and odds, and 1-2% go to elite / olympic level.

I believe that one reason for such a low submission rate has its cause in the total absence of Solvers dedicated programs and a few critical website functions that are missing (e.g. top 10 finalists for one challenge, a strong motivator that allows solvers to evaluate and promote their market advantage). The entire system is based mainly on digital marketing, which is far from being enough for developing a Solver strategy in order to attract and maintain solvers.

Anyway, no matter the route you take, it is only 10% of the population who has the ability to turn failure, rejection and pride into excelence. Winning solvers are part of this equation. We lose and we are rejected much more often than we win.

Innocentive’s hot spots (that I also confirm):

  • proven methodology

  • unrivalled solver network

  • PhD level innovation experts

  • comprehensive innovation management software

  • trustful provider (I always cashed my awards)

Innocentive approaches knowledge transfer from two perspectives

External: through their Premium Challenge and Custom Challenge programs

Internal: through their Internally-Facing Programs

Premium Challenge Program: it is a well-formed problem whose solution has high value to an organization. It is specific, detailed, actionable, and delivers a measurable outcome.

Premium Challenge Types:

  1. Ideation: A global collaboration for producing a breakthrough idea, these Challenges rapidly engage Solvers and accumulate novel submissions.

  2. Theoretical: A Challenge posting that requires more in-depth written proposals and often includes details on potential implementation options

  3. Reduction-to-Practice (RTP): A prototype that shows an idea in actual practice (though on a non-commercial scale) and requires an artifact (e.g. physical evidence).

  4. Prodigy “Big Data”: a computational Challenge with an online scoring and feedback component, often used for statistical analysis, predictions, or optimization of computer programs.

  5. Novel Molecule Challenge (NMC): a request for various non-commercial chemical compounds, proteins, extracts, polymers, and DNA sequences.

  6. Electronic Request for Partners (eRFP): a request for a partner or supplier to provide technology, materials, or expertise.

Custom Challenges Program: It is all about runing unique innovation competitions. It focuses on high-value targets and often aim to tackle serious market failures or remove barriers or bottlenecks that may be holding up progress in a certain area or industry. 

Custom Challenge types:

  1. Grand Challenges: A Grand Challenge focuses on a large problem, often calling for radical innovations and breakthrough solutions that will have a significant impact on global well-being. This type of Challenge tends to involve some form of experimental testing of submitted solutions, ensuring that awarded innovations have objectively proven their worth in practice and under rigorous conditions.
  2. Showcase Challenges: are targeted and developed within a broad subject area or discipline.

Showcase Challenges are often aimed at entrepreneurs, startup businesses, or pioneering small- and medium-sized enterprises, giving them an opportunity to promote their businesses and enhance the profile and credibility of their innovations. The awards are generally announced during major, publicity-generating events.

Minuses (which are a general problem met also in other OI platforms)

  • There is no Solvers promotion program in place. The solvers do not really form a community.

  • There is no Solvers recruiting service in place / there is no market around them for recruiters

  • The post-Challenge collaborations are very rare. The knowledge transfer stops where paying the award stops. 

  • The awards/the monetary benefits are too small for the complexity of the work required / research need to be done. Or if the overall prize pool may seem reasonable at a first sight, the Seekers usually choose more than 1-2 winning solutions (in average 3-4) and this approach minimize the financial reward.

  • Form team” function is unnatural for this type of process. People tend to form teams with people they worked or trust, it’s less probable to form a team with people they don’t know. The payment algorythm between team members is also hard to be set as it’s hard to cuantify effectively each team member contribution. Being a model based on gamification principles, it is by its nature highly competitive, so it’s more challenging to act on your own.

Of course, forming a team may multiply chances of success or the number of challenges won, implicitly the financial rewards, so this function has its purpose, it’s ideal for stimulating collaboration. I suspect it’s being used more by people who already form a team in the real life. In order to make it work in the virtual, another kind of concepts should be developed for such a function to reach its potential.

  • It is a market which needs a better defined legal frame, it’s still hard to control what happens with your solution after the challenge is closed. The platform couldn’t come with some compensatory form for this issue (e.g. follow-up function for each challenge).

  • Feedback. This is a major problem. From some type of challenges, solvers receive feedback, but in most of the cases they don’t and this is not helpful for improving solvers performance.

  • The Anonymous function that allows both solvers and seekers to hide their identity, problem or even industry is very good from many perspectives. For solvers, though, being awarded by an anonymous seeker doesn’t help when it comes to notority and market reputation. Things that are critical for getting better contracts/jobs.


  • it is highly focused on very specific problems, mainly from engineering and chemistry. From time to time they also post more accessible challenges.

  • they have a loyal and relevant network of Seekers.

How the process works for solvers?

Enter IC website. Register. Make your solver profile or skip it for later. Enter Challenge Center and scan challenges in order to identify which one you can solve. See its details (access is granted after you read and agree with the Confidentiality and overall Agreement). Read carefully the project criteria and requirements. Solve it. Put together your solution into a document on your computer. Get back into the system. Upload it. Send it. Good luck!


For paid assistance to make compelling proposals and solutions presentations, don’t hesitate to contact me or any other experienced solver from this website.

Please feel free to complete this summary with your own insights and for the new players, find out more about crowdsourcing experience directly from its winning players by watching the video interviews on this website. 


Georgia Mihalcea