idea contest

How to launch your company's idea contest in three easy steps

What could be better than getting free ideas from your customers, partners and every literate smart puzzle solver who ever sits in front of a computer? By running an idea contest, you can achieve several important things: (1) You can be known as the type of company who accepts feedback from its customers. (2) You can get some ideas that might take your company into new and profitable places. An idea contest is a great program and just a few practical steps can get yours launched.

At the center of this endeavour are three elements.

  1. First you’ll need an idea management software system to act as the process infrastructure. With software like this you can create challenges that engender responses from your audience. The challenges can have a time frame associated with them, collect ideas, use a combination of algorithmic science and votes to promote and rank ideas and provide reporting on activity…all in an easy-to-manage, automated fashion.
  2. Second you’ll need a user interface or invitation web page. Here the public can register and log in. They can post new challenges (if you let them), ideas, comments, links, videos, images, opinions, discussions and all the things you would expect from a collaborative tool. A persuasive design will lure viewers to act on the activities you encourage: to vote, to discuss, to opine.
  3. Third and lastly, you have to provide an alluring reward. For most people, the act of becoming part of an innovative environment is a satisfactory reward.

People like to participate; to address challenges. Some might suggest monetary prizes, recognition or those good old reliables like T-shirts and iPads. Remember if the reward is too enticing, you’ll get responses merely triggered by the reward instead of by the activity. The best comparison is when companies advertise their product using the word “free”. Instead of getting responses from folks interested in the product, you’ll get responses triggered by people who are attracted to things that are free. Your best bet is to use a philosophy of persuasive design. A well designed set of web pages will encourage people to jump in.

Open Innovation

Henry Chesbrough and others have taught us how a corporation’s traditional product funnel benefits when they incorporate ideas from a broader set of people. Chesbrough suggests that the innovation process can be more successful when ever increasing numbers of people contribute, even when they are from outside the organization. He calls this Open Innovation. In 2004 James Surowiecki wrote The Wisdom of Crowds, where we learned large groups of people can reflect a collective intelligence and exhibit better results than smaller, internal groups.

Successful Idea Contest

A number of organizations have launched innovation or idea contests. Some companies and institutions have nurtured the submission of challenges that others can respond to with solutions. These include Cisco (the I Prize), Pepsi (Refresh Project), and Netflix. The results are widespread exposure for their brand (or program) and an influx of good ideas for new products, new approaches and more. An endeavor like this deserves the same treatment as any marketing program. The challenges have to be finite in scope and duration. The program has to be well marketed, primarily by using the latest web tools, postings on web sites, traditional press releases, Twitter, Facebook, etc.


When you launch YOUR idea contest, you’ll not only benefit by engaging closely with the public, but you’ll have deployed an idea management system that might prove perfect for internal use, as well. An innovation system can make it easy for your company to tap into the hidden potential of ideas from YOUR organization, currently staying undiscovered and therefore not yet proving profitable. When you solicit and refine those ideas, you’ll find real value is just waiting to be exploited.

By Ron Shulkin


CogniStreamer offers a contest environment via the Nimble Bee platform. It assists in solving R&D challenges with an international community of young potential. A Nimble Bee competition is an online collaborative event, connecting the innovation challenges of global businesses with the fresh ideas from students from universities around the world.

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