Five years ago I was asked to be an adviser to a new business being incubated within the walls of the London Business School: the Global Security Challenge, an annual competition to find the world’s best security startup and provide it with funding and mentoring to accelerate its growth.
Fast forward to 2010. The Global Security Challenge (GSC) has proven that its competition model for funding innovation works. A total of $2.5 million has been awarded to winners and the collective group of finalists has attracted more than $80 million in funding.
GSC has now morphed into OmniCompete, an organisation that runs competitions across a wide range of sectors all over the world.
OmniCompete’s CEO, Simon Schneider, had an article published earlier this month in New Scientist in which he talks about how competitions can be a cost-effective way for solving large, global problems by boosting innovation.
He starts the article with the premise that the current systems for funding commercial science often do not create the kind of short-term wins required by government. And he goes on to urge us to find a model for attracting private investment that gives investors greater comfort “buying into science”.
I believe GSC has hit onto one part of the winning formula.
Another organisation that is leading the way is New Zealand’s Foundation for Research, Science & Technology. They have shifted focus and as a result they are starting to see a definite improvement in the quality of both research and its translation to market.
Over the last few years the FRST has changed its mindset from being a funder to being an investor and this has fundamentally changed the way they work.
As a funder, they were only able to support the best research proposals submitted to them – a substantially reactive model that brings with it a plethora of administration and administrative-style thinking.
As an investor, the FRST can actively help shape the direction of research proposals. And as they say, “This makes it more likely we can invest in research that will produce tangible benefits for New Zealand.”
This is the crux of what Simon, the GSC and the FRST have done in terms of shifting focus: they have empowered investors to actively help shape the direction of innovation.
I believe they are onto something significant here.