November 16 I was fortunate to attend GE's event announcing the first winners of their Ecoimagination Challenge that strives to speed solutions to smarter power grids and energy technology. GE CEO Jeff Immelt, Marketing CMO Beth Comstock, VC funding partners and challenge winners were in the room
GE contributed $100m that was matched by 4 venture capital companies to invest in new smart power solutions and companies. The announcement of the first 12 winners, who will receive $55m in funding, generated media buzz including from MarketWatch, the Huffington Post and Fast Company. Meet the winners on the GE Ecoimagination site and watch the announcement video highlights here:
Beth Comstock's frank opening remarks set the open tone. GE understands it doesn't have all the best ideas and (because of it's scale) can play a convening role for smart grid innovation.
Clear too is GE’s understanding of the power of ecosystems. GE’s partnering with leading venture capital firms increases a funded companies chances of success. VC’s bring cash and business nurturing expertise while spreading the ventures reach to an extended investor network. And winners get access to "GE's army of product developers, engineers and sales people".
By crowdsourcing the pool of ideas and energy around the Ecoimagination Challenge are maximized. 4,000 concepts were submitted from across the globe over the course of the 10-week open competition.
Clearly GE is not the first to discover the power of crowdsourcing. Eli Lilly's outsourced research and development program that became InnoCentive dates to 1998; Procter and Gamble has inspired others with Connect and Develop, that CEO Lafley instigated in 2000; and IBM has been using Innovation Jams since 2001. Still GE's Ecoimagination Challenge and the announcement presentations highlight the potential in appropriate openness and the power in creating idea and talent ecosystems to drive innovation.
What's your experience with crowdsourcing for innovation? What companies and programs impress you? How impactful do you see the Ecoimagination Challenge will be?
~ Jenny Ambrozek