In Conquering Innovation Fatigue, we emphasize that many innovators are motivated by the desire to make a difference in the world rather than merely obtain personal profit. We also discuss the concept of innovation competitions as a great way to fuel innovation success and access new talent. We also emphasize the importance of collaboration across disciplines and organizational boundaries as the future of innovation success. All these concepts are nicely illustrated by an organization seeking to cure ALS, Lou Gherig’s disease. Prize4Life, Inc. (Prize4Life.org) makes an interesting case study of what can be achieved in the realm of altruistic innovation using collaborative models and innovation competitions.

Meghan Kallman, Marketing & Communications Manager of Prize4Life, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, kindly shared some information with me about their inspiring innovation efforts. Here is the information she provided:

I would like to share with you the case of Avichai Kremer, co-founder and CEO of Prize4Life, Inc. Then a student at Harvard Business School, Kremer discovered in 2004 that he had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

A computer-science engineer and ex-captain in the Israeli army, he had planned to graduate, work as a manager in a hi-tech company, and raise a family. Those plans changed drastically when he was told he would have 2-5 years to live, and that the medical establishment could do nothing for him. Kremer’s business perspective sparked his interest in the economics of ALS therapies, and inspired him to use his Harvard training to work for a cure.

Little is known about what causes ALS and only a few companies develop ALS drugs, so Kremer and two of his Harvard colleagues queried scientists and industry executives about the gaps that have prevented researchers from finding a cure. Companies said that they needed some basic research tools to reduce the cost of the development, like a biomarker – a better way to track disease progression. So Kremer and his classmates began Prize4Life, Inc., a non-profit organization employing business theories to stimulate research, which announced in 2006 that they would give $1 million to anyone who could come up with such a biomarker. The ALS Biomarker Prize program recently awarded $100,000 in progress prizes, and the organization’s second prize, the Avi Kremer ALS Treatment Prize, hits its one-year anniversary in October 2009.

While prizes are the visible core of our results-oriented model, we are also conscious of the need to create a vibrant and supportive arena in which our participating teams can effectively compete. Prize4Life has thus created a series of innovative projects and partnerships, piggybacking on its groundbreaking prize model, to ensure that all competing teams equal opportunity to be successful.

As one example of such partnership: in June 2009, Prize4Life and the Alzheimer Research Forum announced the launch of a new ALS-focused internet portal known as the ALS Forum (http://www.researchALS.org). Initial reaction to the new web portal has been swift and positive. The site offers ALS researchers around the world a one-stop access point for cutting edge research news and unique web-based resources. We also have designed and developed a manual to help researchers design their animal trials, and are currently designing and developing a database of genes associated with ALS that we intend to make available to researchers.

About Prize4Life
Prize4Life was founded by a group of Harvard Business School students when one of them, Avi Kremer, was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 29. Prize4Life works to accelerate the discovery of a treatment and a cure for ALS by using powerful incentives to attract new people and ideas, and to leverage existing efforts and expertise in the ALS field. Among other program initiatives, the organization currently administers the ALS Biomarker Prize Challenge, the Avi Kremer ALS Treatment Prize, and the ALS Forum.

THE NEXT ALS BREAKTHROUGH COULD BE YOURS

Meghan also shared with me an example of a successful outreach effort using the competition model. “We actually awarded $50,000 to a dermatologist who had never studied ALS before, and who was intrigued by the prize model, and who submitted a winning entry, which is a testament to the potential of the prize model itself.” For the complete press release with much additional information, see the press release, “Prize4Life Awards Prizes for ALS Biomarker Challenge to InnoCentive Solvers: Extends $1Million Challenge Seeking ALS Biomarker” (PDF).

Further examples of great collaboration can be seen in their press release, “Prize4Life and The Jackson Laboratory partner in fight against ALS
Non-profits join forces to provide researchers with new preclinical resources
” (PDF). This describes a partnership with The Jackson Laboratory (JAX®), the world’s leading provider of mouse models, to provide preclinical resources for ALS research. Together, Prize4Life and JAX® have prepared a comprehensive training manual to enable researchers to more effectively use the SOD1 mouse model in the fight against ALS.

Their website is http://www.prize4life.org.

Want to Help?
If you would like to help, Meghan told me that there are many opportunities. “We always need donations and fundraisers (this is the link), but we also have folks who host events for us, who blog on our behalf (on their blogs or on ours), who reach out to scientists who may want to compete for our prizes, to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, to link to us on their sites, the list goes on! We have an exciting event coming up here in Boston, for those who are local–Boston’s pro lacrosse team will be featuring us at ‘Heroes Awareness Night’ at the Boston TD Garden on February 6, and donating a percentage of the proceeds to our efforts. If anyone is on the east coast and wants to attend, they should click here:http://bit.ly/512shV. Anyone interested can contact me directly, mkallman at prize4life dot org.

A great example of collaborative innovation in action, with bonus points for using innovation competitions and having altruistic goals. ALS is a terrible disease and needs more attention in the quest for cure.

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