The Challenge

Here’s a contest model for spurring innovation that I’d like to explore:

  1. 50 participatns ante a pre-determined amount of money
  2. Each participant submits original work (of a pre-determined type)
  3. Each participant votes for one winner (other than themselves)
  4. Winner gets the money

This is similar to other contest models such as biz plan competitions and screenplay competitions, however there are key differences: (1) you put up your own money (2) you judge the winner.

Here are some optional rule variants:

  • Allow public input (and originality vetting) before voting
  • Money put up by: participants, organizer, or outside sponsor/investor
  • Determining winners
    • Allow more than one winner
    • Use multiple rounds of voting to determine winner
    • Bracket tourney (random draw, or use voting round for seeding)
  • Administrative fee for organizer (who should never be allowed to participate, BTW)
  • Winner gets non-monetary benefits too
  • Winner has obligations to fulfill

Depending on the subject matter of the challenge, and the  rule variants chosen, you can incentivize a wide range of activity.  For example:

Business Plan Competition: Ante $1000; Submissions are one-page exec summaries; Winner gets $50K of seed funding; 5% of equity in the winning startup goes to the other participants as a group.

Social Entrepreneurship: Similar to above except plans are judged on social good as well as profit potential, and participants don’t get equity in the winner.

Charitable Endeavor: Ante is $100, but instead of starting a new organization, the goal is to deploy the funds to existing efforts or individuals or groups in need.  Variant: participants volunteer 10 hours of their time in addition to the cash ante.

TED Prize Wish: The magic of the TED Prize Wish is that in addition to getting a cash prize, the winner gets to express their wish and have the audience help make it come true.  But why should such wishes be eligible to only a select few and judged by a select few?

Creative Endeavors: Here’s your chance to get paid for your brilliant {artwork, photography, original music, musical performance, short story, poetry, youtube video, etc}.  Separate challenge for each discipline, $50 ante.  Remember, you don’t know what piece your fellow participants will submitted before you ante…

Organizational Improvement: Lots of companies ask their employees (who often know the ins and outs of the business better than top management) to submit ideas on how to improve, with the best ideas being financially rewarded.  Here the company provides the prize pool, but the employees themselves vote on the winner(s).

What I like about The Challenge is that it’s flexible and can be organized spontaneously.  In fact, I will organize one next week and announce it via this blog, so stay tuned!