Using prizes and challenges to drive innovation

Wednesday’s sessions kicked off PopTech 2010! Some of our bloggers dropped in on a couple of them. What follows is a sample of what took place today.

Dr. Erika Wagner, executive director of the X Prize Lab@MIT, and Brandon Kessler, founder of ChallengePost, got things started Wednesday with a session on “Using Prizes and Challenges to Drive Innovation” at the Camden Public Library. 

Erika discussed the importance of prizes to encourage the kinds of disruptive innovations that lead to breakthrough solutions to big problems, while Brandon spoke about the ChallengePost model in which challengers, supporters, and innovators collaborate in a self-sustaining system that relies on a combination of smaller and larger donations for support. 

Both emphasized that it is rarely the actual prize, which ranges from millions of dollars at X Prize to as low as hundreds at ChallengePost, that drives competitors.  “The prize purse is a tiny part of why teams choose to compete,” Erika said. “People are much more motivated by the chance to solve a big problem and work with interesting people.”

PopTech Board Member Andrew Rasiej emphasized PopTech’s commitment to encouraging innovation through incentives.  “We believe this is a milestone moment, a tipping point, in getting government and corporate interests to think about these kinds of challenges as a way to drive innovation.”

Andrew challenged attendees to Wednesday’s session to workshop together with Erika and Brandon to come up with breakthrough incentives centered on American public education.  He even offered his own prize: any particularly good ideas could potentially be revealed onstage during the conference.

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