You need deep pockets to launch an XPrize: Google will award $20 million to whoever comes up with its photo-transmitting moon rover, and the first tricorder will win $10 million from Qualcomm. The crowdsourced innovation model can work–the first XPrize led to a new spacecraft–but it’s out of reach for those of us who want to tackle more local problems. Now a new spinoff of the XPrize Foundation, called HeroX, is for those who want to crowdsource solutions but might not have quite that much spare cash.
“HeroX is basically a platform for a do-it-yourself XPrize,” says Christian Cotichini, who co-founded the new site with XPrize founder Peter Diamandis and former XPrize employee Emily Fowler. “It’s almost like a reverse Kickstarter. If you need an innovation, and you’re prepared to crowdfund the money for it, you can use this platform.”
It’s also meant for those who have money to create a prize but aren’t necessary working at the scale of one of the XPrize Foundation’s handful of global, internally-selected challenges. One upcoming HeroX challenge, for example, will offer $1 million to solve a major challenge in San Diego, after San Diego citizens weigh in on the problem they think most needs solving. Another offers $75,000 to come up with a solution for involving more cancer patients in clinical trials for new treatments.
If you want to sponsor a challenge–asking for anything from ideas for reducing homelessness in your neighborhood to something as mundane as a better way to sync your digital calendars–you can use the platform to crowdsource prize money. If there isn’t a winning idea, everyone who backs the prize gets their money back.
“It’s almost like you’re making a dare: I dare someone to solve this problem, and if you solve it, I’ll give you $50,” says Cotichini. “If you don’t solve it, I get my $50 back. It allows people to be very courageous with funding causes that they care about. Because they’re only going to pay for success.”
The crowdfunding model has the potential to dramatically increase prize money so more people are interested in participating. “If the prize is $50, that’s not that interesting, but if you get 10,000 other people to make the same dare, all of the sudden you’ve got a half a million dollars,” he says. “And nobody’s put more than $50 up.”
Like any social platform, the success of the new site will ultimately depend on participation–an increasing challenge as more and more nonprofits and governments launch contests of their own. But maybe the fact that anyone can launch a challenge will help; just like Kickstarter campaigns start with personal networks, so could a challenge to design better local bike lanes or a new way to reduce food waste. If people don’t want to participate by coming up with ideas, they can also help by giving a little money to raise the value of the prize.
“The vision that we have is that everyone will be able to tackle problems and translate complaints into action in any way that they can,” says co-founder Emily Fowler. “The crowdfunding component is another way for people to be involved in solving a problem if perhaps they’re not an innovator, or the person who brings the problem.”
The startup believes that crowdsourcing can lead to better solutions than traditional attempts at internal innovation from expert teams. “If you look at where real breakthroughs happen, if you do a lot of analysis on how breakthroughs happen, they overwhelmingly come from non-experts,” says Cotichini. “They come from amateurs tinkering with crazy ideas.”
“It’s like what Peter, our co-founder, says: The day before something is a major breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea,” he adds. “The traditional methods of kind of trying to pick a winning team and then fund them does not allow for the crazy tinkerers, the misfits, the amateurs to come up with the crazy ideas. So the prize model is really amazing because it lets anybody participate. And it only pays for results.”