InnoCentive is an "open innovation" company that takes research and development problems in a broad range of domains such as Engineering, Computer Science, Math, Chemistry, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Business, frames them as "challenge problems", and opens them up for anyone to solve them. It gives cash awards for the best solutions to solvers who meet the challenge criteria.
In December 2006 the company signed an agreement with the Rockefeller Foundation to add a non-profit area designed to generate science and technology solutions to pressing problems in the developing world.
InnoCentive is based in Waltham, Massachusetts. InnoCentive calls the scientists who attempt the problems "solvers" and the companies these problems come from as "seekers". As of 2005 InnoCentive had 34 of these "seekers" (including Procter & Gamble, Dow AgroSciences and Eli Lilly), which have posted more than 200 "challenges" in 40 scientific disciplines, of which more than 58 had been solved by over 120,000 "solvers".
The problems listed are categorized as biology or chemistry problems, but use a very liberal definition of these disciplines, for example challenges have been posted in the areas of system network theory, manufacturing engineering, design, materials science and nanotechnology.
Solutions have come from US, Europe, Russia, China, India and Argentina; the cash awards for solving challenge problems are typically in the $10,000 to $100,000 range. To date, over $3 million in awards have been awarded to solvers.
InnoCentive provides a consultancy service to enable its clients to make the most of its "solver" network. "Science advisers" and "problem definers" help clients to identify a challenge appropriate for posting on its network. They then estimate an appropriate award fee by determining the complexity of the problem, the resources required find a solution, and the value transferred to the company. InnoCentive reserves the right to reject the award amounts that are deemed too low and its experts provide a solution vetting service to screen out ideas that do not meet the challenge criteria.
InnoCentive forces its "seeker" companies to agree to intellectual property audits so that once a solution is provided to the company it can guarantee that the intellectual property is not used if the company decides not to award it. The company may also force the "seeker" company to award the solution if it deems that it meets the requirements of the challenge.
InnoCentive also provides a consultancy service to its network of "solvers". Its "science experts" provide feedback to explain the terms of the challenges as well as why submitted solutions may be deficient. It provides the logistic and legal framework for maintaining their control over the intellectual property until its sale to the seeker company. All communication and submitted solutions remain confidential.