Beyond the brilliance of their innovations, innovators need to have characters made of steel. Implementation and scaling of an innovation requires cash,which is often in short supply when most needed. The word out is that an innovation without a working prototype is simply an idea. And everyone has a bright idea right?
Most people do not have bright ideas.
On the topic of cash, due to this warped idea that assumes everyone in the world to be a passive brilliant innovator, real innovators have to jump through hoops time and time again in their struggle to get funding to show the ‘idea’ is in fact doable, through the all allusive proof of concept in a working prototype.
Welcome to the vicious cycle faced by innovators every day.
The newest kid on the block, attracting innovators by the droves is the Innovation Competition ilk. Luring innovators into a bevy of competitions with attractive irresistible prizes ranging from USD 2,000 to USD 1,000,000! . Naturally this is an extremely attractive proposition to someone who otherwise is unable to raise funding to develop the ‘working prototype’.
And this is where innovators are either propelled into success or failure, baring their souls in the process to an ecosystem and environment that is often on a different wave length. And this is where I recommend innovators need to be cautioned into going into these competitions with guts of steel.
Innovators the world over have one thing in common. They and their innovations are often not understood by the average layman (the one with all the bright ideas). These competitions however, pit them into a process where they will be judged by the same. And perhaps this is where the dilemma lies.
I have a few tips for innovators entering these competitions.
1. Do not be afraid to ask the competition organisers for a bio on each of the judges.
2. Ensure that at least one of the judges is an expert in your field
3. Enquire how many hours of due diligence will be given to each entrant
From experience I have seen that this is critical in ensuring that your innovation gets equal viewing as well as understanding. Judges often do not understand the subject matter nor do they investigate fully the innovative claims of entrants. They are mortals like you and me and they have a day job.
If you are unable to extract this info from the competition organisers and are still attracted to the prize money, making a few judgements of your own will at least give you an idea of what to expect.
1. Look closely at the time between the competition closing and the finalist being announced. When the dates are very close together, be ready for some interesting shocks. This competition is as good as entering the lottery. And your guess is as good as mine on protection of your IP
2. If the competition is an annual event as many are, search for info on past winners. Have they disappeared into oblivion or are they now budding enterprises? Your choice
In a nutshell, some competitions should be avoided or at least entered into with eyes wide open and guts of steel. Many companies and organisations use competitions for their own agenda, marketing, advertising, CSR etc.
So why the cockroach and rat analogy. ?
In a recent themed competition I entered,there were 458 entrants. The competition sought to highlight and promote scalable and replicable solutions to Africas burning problems. Entrants ranged from solar solutions, education solutions, green tecnologies, solutions in agriculture etc etc.
I am still wondering if the Africa I know and the Africa known by the judges were two different continents considering one of the top prizes went to a solution to eradicate cockroaches and rats from our awesome continent. This implies one of two things, 1) Africa is indeed infested with cockroaches and rats or 2) The judges failed to do their due diligence.
I suspect the latter.
Going forward with eyes open and guts of steel, I will ask the questions next time. If I feel I have an innovative solution that can create impact for my continent and am prepared to spend time and effort filling in documents, attending interviews and days in competition conferences as a dedicated innovator, then frankly I expect, and am prepared to demand the same professionalism from the judges.