#FacesofFounders Featured Stories—Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Today we released the fifth and final featured story from our #FacesofFounders campaign. Launched in October and culminating today with the final story, #FacesofFounders seeks out and lifts up America’s dynamic, diverse entrepreneurs who are key to driving innovation and job growth. These five entrepreneurs stood out for their groundbreaking work, inspiring journeys and ability to shatter stereotypes through their commitment to inclusive entrepreneurship.

As we celebrate these five founders, we are reminded that they are just the tip of iceberg. The #FacesofFounders campaign received nearly 750 compelling and inspiring stories of entrepreneurship occurring all over the country, led by founders from all backgrounds. And we know that this is only a small subset of startup activity happening in communities from Maine to Arizona, Washington to Mississippi. These five entrepreneurs are ambassadors of the enormous stock of talent that exists that does not receive the exposure, mentorship or capital that they deserve. This campaign is designed to lift up five entrepreneurs, but to also shine a light on all diverse entrepreneurs and debunk the myth that diverse entrepreneurs are few and far between, or too hard to find.

Those featured in Fast Company include four pairs of co-founders and one solo founder, three men and six women and come from four different states and the District of Columbia. They work in a variety of sectors that are addressing innovation and social change around the world.

Meet our #FacesofFounders winners:

  • Stephanie Lampkin is a true champion of inclusive entrepreneurship who turned a denied opportunity into disruptive innovation with her Blendoor application. We were inspired by Stephanie’s holistic approach to addressing diversity and the way she uses her tech expertise to tackle hiring bias.
    See Stephanie’s complete story here.
  • Jean Sim and Irena Todd are creating solutions in the world of affordable children’s haircare products. Both working moms and immigrants with extensive corporate-sector experience, they created Fresh Monster to provide a low-cost way to safely wash kids’ hair.
    See Jean and Irena’s complete story here.
  • Anjali Kataria and her husband Vinay Bhargava co-founded Mytonomy, a health tech company that educates and informs patients through technology, ensuring they arrive at appointments prepared and fully educated on their medical needs. Anjali background working at iconic tech companies allowed her to use her previous experience and successes to advance the healthcare industry.
    See Anjali complete story here.
  • Kristen Sonday channeled her life experience into a drive to create a business with a mission. Kristen, along with co-founder Felicity Conrad, launched Paladin to tackle a problem lawyers across the country face. Her legal pro-bono matchmaking service ensures that attorneys are matched with the right organizations in need of legal assistance.
    See Kristen and Felicity’s complete story here.
  • George Ashton and Yuri Horwitz seized upon an opportunity in the rapidly changing solar energy market to build Sol Systems, a mission-driven company working towards cleaner energy through investments. They focus on innovation in the larger energy world as well as within their own company.
    See Yuri and George’s complete story here.

We are proud to have partnered with the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Google for Entrepreneurs, UBS and Fast Company on the campaign. Thank you to all the entrepreneurs who shared their stories and supporters of inclusive entrepreneurship who joined the movement.

The #FacesofFounders series on Fast Company is an example of the long-term commitment that the Case Foundation has to ensuring all entrepreneurs have access to the resources they need to build and scale a company. We will continue to support and celebrate entrepreneurs from all races, places and genders as we catalyze the movement for a more inclusive approach to entrepreneurship. To learn more about our work to support all entrepreneurs, to continue the discussion on entrepreneurship, race, place and gender and to meet more entrepreneurs who are breaking down barriers, visit FacesofFounders.org.

Getting In the Arena: The Entrepreneurial Spirit

As we announced in January, the Case Foundation is committing its 20th Anniversary year to calling on all to “Get In The Arena.” And, while most of our efforts focus on how each and every one of us can take action on the issues and challenges that matter the most to us in 2017, we also are highlighting lessons we have learned from Getting in the Arena over the past two decades.  Our hope is future endeavors of others are informed by the sharing of past learnings.

It should come as no surprise that among the most important lessons we’ve learned is the power of the entrepreneurial spirit in driving innovation and impact across the social sector.

Of course, the entrepreneurial spirit has been central to the American Experience since our earliest days as a young nation. In his book Empire on the Edge, Nick Bunker writes the following on the founding of America: “It was always eccentric, the British Empire on the mainland of America. From the time of Jamestown and the Mayflower, almost every colony came into being by means of private enterprise. They were small, experimental ventures in search of profit, in search of God. Each one was a painful exercise in trial and error, with seldom a firm guiding hand from London.”  In other words, America was born of the entrepreneurial spirit.  And it is a common belief even today, that this has been the secret sauce that has powered our economy, built innovations to improve lives and forged new political and cultural systems and frameworks that have enabled the American people to thrive in what has become the longest-established democracy in the history of the world.

Too often, the entrepreneurial spirit is perceived to be of relevance exclusively in the business sector.  And yet, as my own career has taken me from the public sector, to a career in technology in the private sector, to my current roles in the philanthropic/nonprofit sector as CEO of the Case Foundation and Chairman of the National Geographic Society, I have come to recognize the critical importance of entrepreneurial approaches across all sectors.  Indeed, given that these sectors outside of business are usually focused on the human condition or more broadly on the needs of our planet, the challenges they face can be daunting. Perhaps there is no greater need for fresh approaches, risk taking and an eye toward innovation than in those sectors.

And, over the past 20 years, we have seen the entrepreneurial spirit thrive in non-traditional settings — across sectors, across our nation and around the globe. For example:

Launching Challenge.gov: Working with the White House as our partner, we co-hosted the White House Summit on Innovation that brought together 35 U.S. government agencies using contests and grand challenges to tap “the wisdom of the crowds” across the nation in finding solutions to major challenges faced by government agencies. We partnered with experts in prizes and challenges, such as the X-Prize, and used the Summit as training ground to encourage agencies to put forth challenges to drive innovation.  Some of our favorite outcomes of this work include:

An enduring outcome of this work is Challenge.gov, a site that anyone can access to find out what contests and challenges are active.  Since its launch in 2010, 740 challenges have been run on Challenge.gov, eliciting entries from 250,000+ citizens from all 50 states and a number of foreign countries. By challenging the status quo, leveraging the creativity and innovation of new audiences and tapping the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, the U.S. government’s work was improved at a much lower than expected cost and more citizens than ever have been engaged.

Connecting frontier communities in Africa: Internet connectivity remains a major challenge throughout Africa. Yet companies like Facebook, Google and startups like BRCK* have developed non-traditional solutions to connect schools and villages that are on the edge, and past, the traditional internet and electric infrastructure. Overcoming the traditional mindset that pipes must be built and that wires must be strung to deliver access, and working around many of the government procurement barriers that have stunted growth in the past, BRCK has developed a connectivity device that can jump from Ethernet, to WiFi, to 3G seamlessly with an 8-hour battery life when the power is out.  This is why, a recent article in Forbes referred to BRCK’s innovation as a “clever confluence of technology and entrepreneurial spirit.” To overcome the connectivity problems, Facebook announced plans to lay over 500 miles of fiber cable in Uganda this year and has even experimented with drones to provide internet access to remote locations. And Google is stringing over 1,000 kilometers of fiber cable in two of Ghana’s largest cities to serve the growing number of internet provider companies in these cities. Thanks to private sector actors like Facebook, BRCK and Google, internet access can be found in hospitals, community centers, libraries, barbershops, even on buses, where it was never available before. These entrepreneurs have solved a long-standing problem by embracing the entrepreneurial spirit.

Democratizing access to information: In the past, access to complex data was often restricted to those in government or at major research universities. These restrictions were not based on national security needs, but by historical tendencies and entrenched interests. Today, across many platforms, we are seeing visionaries, using open source and crowd sourcing models to leverage wider communities to advance science, innovation and exploration.  For example, Sarah Parcak, an associate professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has broken down the wall between academia and citizens, by sharing infra-red satellite imaging from commercial and NASA satellites with citizens so they can help identify potential archeological sites for further exploration. Her work in places like Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula has been groundbreaking, but her commitment to locating and protecting hundreds of thousands — even millions — of still undiscovered ancient sites that remain buried all over the world pushes the impact of her work to the next level.

Sarah’s launch of GlobalXplorer.org on January 30 embodies the entrepreneurial spirit in non-traditional areas that is so inspiring to us. This unique platform enlists a global community and enables anyone with an internet connection to discover the next hidden burial site or community using satellite technology. The platform uses satellite imagery provided by DigitalGlobe, and highlights content from National Geographic and taps the public’s time, brainpower and inquisitive nature, to map Peru in search of archeological sites hidden due to modern human activity.

And Sarah is not the only explorer and innovator working this way. We see numerous examples in the open source world where entrepreneurs and innovators are creating new and innovative platforms that are improved and updated by the wider community.

This isn’t a new idea. Every major advancement or breakthrough across society came from someone trying something that seemed a little crazy.  Long before President Kennedy ushered in an era of entrepreneurial efforts to get us first to the moon and then beyond, major leaps benefiting mankind had been the result of someone, somewhere making a commitment to #GetInTheArena with new ideas for solving old, daunting problems.  In fact, the Challenge.gov website proudly notes that similar challenges aided Charles Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic flight and the design for the U.S. Capitol building. Risk taking, a sense of urgency, a willingness to fail and a dogged perseverance are part of the formula that has defined the entrepreneurial spirit and brought us breakthroughs.  From where we sit, we are encouraged by the growing recognition and application of these tenets across the social sector, and around the world, and believe it bodes well for the future of innovation.

 

*Disclosure: Jean and Steve Case are investors in BRCK.

Announcing the Five #FacesofFounders Featured Stories

The Case Foundation is proud to announce the results of our first-ever #FacesofFounders campaign. The effort, a centerpiece of the Foundation’s inclusive entrepreneur movement, invited entrepreneurs—particularly women founders and entrepreneurs of color—to share their photos and stories of entrepreneurship on FacesofFounders.org or on Twitter using #FacesofFounders. Launched at the White House’s South by South Lawn festival, in partnership with Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Google for Entrepreneurs and UBS, along with Fast Company, #FacesofFounders seeks out and lifts up America’s dynamic entrepreneurs who are key to driving innovation and job growth. The winners of the crowdsourced contest, who were reviewed by our panel of forty guest judges, were selected because they are bridging innovation and commitment to inclusiveness.  

Meet the winners!

  • Stephanie Lampkin, founder and CEO of the Blendoor application, has leveraged her tech expertise to tackle hiring bias.
  • Jean Sim and Irena Todd are working moms and immigrants who have built Fresh Monster to address a gap in affordable children’s haircare products.
  • Anjali Kataria co-founded Mytonomy, a health tech company that educates and informs patients through technology, ensuring they arrive at appointments prepared and fully educated on their medical needs.
  • George Ashton and Yuri Horwitz seized upon an opportunity in the rapidly changing solar energy market to build Sol Systems, a mission-driven company working towards cleaner energy through investments.
  • Kristen Sonday, along with co-founder Felicity Conrad, launched Paladin to create a legal pro-bono matchmaking service to ensure that attorneys are matched with the right organizations in need of legal assistance.

Each of the winners will be featured this week on FastCompany.com. Today, the story of how Jean Sim and Irena Todd built Fresh Monster was released, but check back each day to read the next story of barrier-breaking innovators from around the country.

We celebrate the five winners in their own right, but also for the light they shine on the tremendous talent and excitement that the #FacesofFounders campaign surfaced. Nearly 4,000 people uploaded a photo and selected a filter showing what entrepreneurship means to them. Nearly 750 founders took the time to thoughtfully and passionately tell us the story of their entrepreneurship journey—with entries from 42 states, 63 percent of whom were women entrepreneurs and 63 percent of whom were entrepreneurs of color. And these stories came from entrepreneurs building businesses across a multitude of sectors—from retail, technology, arts, health and finance industries, among others.

Thank you to everyone who has joined the movement for a more inclusive approach to entrepreneurship! Founders like Kristen, Felicity, George, Yuri, Anjali, Jean, Irena and Stephanie are proof points that innovative, successful businesses are built across the nation, by entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. Together, we are changing the narrative of who is and can be an entrepreneur.

Changing the Face of Entrepreneurship

Throughout our nation’s history we have celebrated entrepreneurship as a key to unlocking economic and technologic advancement, seeing ourselves as a country of innovators, discoverers and inventors. And each February we honor the integral role that black history has played in building and strengthening our nation. This week, I am thrilled to be in Miami for Black Tech Week and the launch of our partner PowerMoves’ recent expansion into the region. I can’t think of a better way to honor the role that entrepreneurs of color have played in making America the greatest “startup” ever!

But here’s the rub: when we talk about startups and entrepreneurship today, why is it that we are so hard-pressed to name entrepreneurs of color that made history and shaped our collective future? Why does our collective conscience go to equating “entrepreneur” with a white guy in a hoodie, toiling away alone in his garage, until he has a Eureka moment that changes life as we know it? Myths of the Entrepreneur persist and are perhaps disproportionately holding back entrepreneurs of color when our nation needs them most.

Let’s be reminded of some of the greatest innovations of our time, all led by entrepreneurs of color:

  • The carbon-filament light bulb invented by Lewis Latimer in 1881. Thomas Edison gets all the glow (no pun intended), but Latimer’s filament made it cheaper, more efficient and, therefore, more practical and profitable.
  • The gas mask invented by Garrett A. Morgan, first used in 1916.
  • Blood banks, made possible by the invention of Dr. Charles Richard Drew in 1940, which allowed plasma to be dehydrated and countless lives saved since.
  • Refrigerators, invented by Frederick M. Jones in 1940, modernized farming and shipping, and led to the introduction of modern-day supermarkets.
  • The automatic oil cup for train parts, invented by Elijah McCoy; his design was so superior to the many knock-offs that engineers ordering them asked for “The Real McCoy” (ok – really, how many of you knew that’s where that term came from?!)
  • The potato chip! Invented by George Crum in 1853, the potato chip industry became a billion dollar business, creating a massive amount of jobs and certainly changed my world.

And let’s highlight some modern-day entrepreneurs of color showcasing the power and potential of diversifying the current state of our nation’s entrepreneurship:

  • Publisher John H. Johnson who started both the Ebony and Jet brands and the first African American to appear on the Forbes 400 list.
  • Financier Melody Hobson of Ariel Investments, which today is the largest minority owned investment firm in the world with nearly $11 billion in assets.
  • Hotelier and sports team owner Sheila Johnson, who was co-founder of BET and the first African American female billionaire.
  • Entrepreneur and investor Daymond John who is founder and CEO of FUBU and a judge on the hit show Shark Tank on ABC.
  • CEO Janice Bryant Howroyd of ACT-1 Group, the nation’s largest black female owned business with more than $1.4 billion in revenue.
  • Earl Robinson, CEO of PowerMoves (disclosure: PowerMoves is a grantee of the Case Foundation), which has backed 100 minority-founded companies, raising $27 million in venture capital and creating more than 350 jobs.
  • Kesha Cash, founder of Impact America, investing in underserved communities.
  • And venture capitalist Erik Moore with five exits under his belt and dozens of investments in companies like Zappos.com.

So much history to celebrate. So much to be inspired by. And so much more to do to recognize and realize the full innovation potential of America by leveling the entrepreneurship playing field for all. Connecting social and financial capital to women and entrepreneurs of color who continue to be under-represented and whose success will serve as inspiration to a whole new set of young dreamers looking for role models to whom they can relate. Sadly, today only 3% of venture-backed companies have female CEOs and only 1% have founders of color; Project Diane’s report on the success of African American women in tech is best summarized by Wired as “embarrassing.” Making entrepreneurship more inclusive isn’t about charity or political correctness; it’s about sound business. Research shows that companies in the top quartile for gender, racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. And in many respects, it’s about restoring the American dream.

The talent, the companies and the opportunities to level the playing field are out there. There just needs to be more intentionality in the discovery and sourcing process. Over the last two days, I’ve seen some of our future nation shapers on stage at PowerMoves Miami launch. Companies like Neurtronic Perpetual Innovations, LISNR, VOO Media Group and Kairos have all each raised more than $5 million with disruptive ideas. Watch out for Virgil, a mobile-first career navigation platform, who today won the Knight Foundation’s Angel Round Pitch Competition, which I had the honor of judging. And please, let’s model the secret sauce of PowerMoves in sourcing successful black female founders – of the 11 (yes, only 11!) black female founders that have raised more than $1 million in outside investment, four of them — Lisa Dyson of Kiverdi, Kellee James of Mercaris, Cheryl Contee of Attentive.ly and Jewel Burks of Partpic (disclosure: Partpic is an investment of our founder Steve Case) — are alumna of the PowerMoves model, collectively raising nearly $50 million in capital.

Join us in our crusade to diversify the face of entrepreneurship. Tell us which entrepreneurs of color are on your radar and what’s standing in the way of unleashing their full potential. Share with us on Twitter at @CaseFoundation using #Ent4All.

Women’s Venture Xchange-Africa: Expanding Women-led Businesses in Africa

Global Entrepreneurship Network is now accepting applications for Women’s Venture Xchange-Africa!

This year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi, Kenya put a spotlight on the rising stars of entrepreneurship and the burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem in Africa. The summit showed how the people and companies of Africa are ripe for real financial investment to grow their businesses, strengthen their communities and provide solutions for some of the world’s most pressing problems. The Case Foundation was honored to join GES and get a first hand look at the individuals, communities, policies and programs driving competitive and novel business ideas to scale. And we were particularly honored to pivot the main spotlight to shine on women entrepreneurs and the economic and business case for investing in their success.

Part of that spotlight includes a new partnership with the Women’s Venture Xchange-Africa (WVXA), a pilot launched at the Summit with Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), the Mara Foundation and U.S. Department of State, WVXA will provide four African women entrepreneurs the opportunity to scale their business through access to strong mentorship and capital networks in Nairobi. The program is designed to help established women-owned businesses expand beyond the borders of their own countries—gaining access to new regional markets, research and insights into best practices.

The entrepreneurs will be selected based on their company’s likelihood of successful regional expansion, the business’s growth stage, the uniqueness of the concept and their professional ambitions for their time in Nairobi. WVXA will be focused on drawing entrepreneurs who have established their businesses locally and are poised for cross-border expansion within East Africa.

We look forward to seeing the results of the first cohort of entrepreneurs and building upon the evidence base from our own work in driving more inclusive entrepreneurship – entrepreneurship that is more inclusive of under-represented groups, more inclusive of under-leveraged places and more inclusive of businesses that shoot for financial AND social impact returns. We are thrilled to see the belief in the power of entrepreneurship continue to thrive in every corner of the world, and look forward to seeing how WVXA unlocks the huge potential in the four women entrepreneurs selected to participate this year.

For more information or to apply to the WVXA program visit the Global Entrepreneurship Week website. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until October 23, 2015. Stay tuned for more updates as the application and selection process develop!

What’s So Wrong with Nonprofits Playing by Market Rules?

Here’s the thing about markets – they have this uncanny way of being candid, sending demand signals that companies need to pay attention and adapt to in order to thrive, if not survive.

So why is it that the nonprofit sector is uncomfortable with embracing more market-based approaches to its work? This week’s feeding frenzy of articles criticizing the Council on Foundations for its experiment to host a $40,000 pitch competition to identify new organizations and approaches to drive social change is an example of this discomfort. In fact, the frenzy was so severe, that the Council decided to cancel the pitch competition and instead host a discussion on the merits and drawbacks of new approaches to grantmaking.

One of the pillars of our work at the Case Foundation is “revolutionizing philanthropy.” We believe that the practice of mobilizing private capital for public good is in need of a major reboot. In order to keep up with the pace and scope of major social challenges, the resources and tactics going into addressing these challenges and the organizations managing those resources need to be more efficient and effective. And as a sector, we need more catalytic, collaborative and creative solutions.

That’s why we’ve tested programs like the Make It Your Own Awards, the first campaign to open up a part of the grantmaking process to an online public vote. Or the America’s Giving Challenges (in 2007 and 2009), which mobilized over 150,000 donors to give $3.8M to over 14,000 causes, most of which were small and scrappy. That’s why we created the Be Fearless campaign – because we believe that in order to create more innovation in our approaches to social change, we must all take risks, embrace and learn from failure and make big bets. And that’s why we consistently provide catalytic funding to partners that are experimenting with new approaches and hoping to find breakthrough solutions and collaborations.

We’ve long championed the potential for prize and challenge programs – including initiatives like pitch competitions – to discover breakthrough innovations. We know that sometimes the people with the most innovative solutions to big problems will be found in unlikely places – just take the wedding dress designer who played a critical role in helping to dramatically improve the design of the Ebola Protective Suit worn by health care workers treating the disease, thanks to a challenge hosted by USAID’s Global Development Lab. The U.S. government has broadly embraced the use of prizes and challenges, which kicked off with the Summit on Innovation that we co-hosted with the White House in 2010, leading to the creation of Challenge.gov, which hosts hundreds of prize and challenge competitions across 50 federal agencies. And we were proud to join some of the philanthropic sector’s leading innovators – Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Joyce Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation – in publishing a 2014 report on the ways in which incentive prizes are transforming the innovation landscape.

We love to see new practices for crowdsourcing ideas, pooling resources, disrupting old ways of doing business, testing new approaches and massively publicizing – if not competing – new programs. Why? Because, quite frankly, despite a massive amount of good accomplished with billions of nonprofit dollars, the evidence base for impact remains unsatisfying. We’re not saying that we should swing the pendulum completely toward prizes, challenges and other experimental approaches – but deploying tactics that can help us discover new ideas from unlikely places is desperately needed.

We have a saying at the Case Foundation based on an old African proverb – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. What if, instead of trashing the Council on Foundations for trying something new, we embraced it as a fearless attempt to disrupt the status quo with the hope of finding a better way? Sure, we might each have our tweaks on how to make it better (e.g., having a panel of judges, not the audience, vote on the winner). But as a tactic, it brings a fresh market-based approach and has the potential to expose innovative people and ideas to a broad community of funders, who just might decide it’s worth pooling their resources for greater and faster impact.

We look forward to the discussion on the merits of new grantmaking approaches at the Council’s conference, but we’ll wistfully be wondering what it would be like with the pitch competition in full swing, tapping into the “wisdom of the crowd” and fully embracing of the idea of democratizing philanthropy, making it easier for anyone to participate in the efforts to solve big, hairy problems.

Want to continue the conversation? Tweet us @CaseFoundation with the hashtag #CFBlog

Teaming up to Share Lessons on Designing Contests for Impact

Below, Case Foundation Senior Fellow Sonal Shah and Mayur Patel, Knight Foundation’s Vice President for Strategy and Assessment write about the importance of challenges and prizes as a tool for social change. This post originally appeared on the Knight Foundation blog.

In a world where technology has opened up access to a vast pool of talent and constant change has become the norm, contests offer a path to new ideas, new players and new ways of solving problems. We have seen a revival in contests as a way to discover new solutions and bold ideas across industries and sectors.

Leading companies, including Netflix, Google and Cisco, have tapped into challenges and prizes as a way to stimulate new business and technology innovations. Public agencies have also joined in, using contests as a way to make progress on a range of social issues, from reducing obesity to conserving household energy use. Last month, the U.K. government announced in grand fashion a new £1 million “Longitudinal Prize” committee to design competitions with the aim of tackling societies’ complex problems. The U.S. federal government continues to invest in its challenges and prizes platform, Challenge.gov. The platform provides opportunities for government agencies to tap into the potential of their citizens through prizes such as the NASA Centennial Challenges and public/private challenges such as Mozilla Ignite.

Despite this growing trend, many foundations have yet to use contests as a tool to advance their work and support innovation. Apprehension and uncertainty affect the willingness of many to adopt this tool. Additionally, it is not always clear where to start and how to design effective contests. Good design is key for successful contests, prizes and challenges. Sometimes even the failures can teach a lot about the effectiveness of the challenge or provide a better understanding about behaviors.

That’s why Knight and the Case Foundation, early adopters in this space, have teamed up to share experiences on contests, prizes and challenges and offer some valuable lessons learned along the way. On Aug. 8, we’re hosting a joint webinar, “Designing Contests for Impact.” The webinar, which begins at 1 p.m. EDT, will be geared towards foundations and other organizations interested in launching their own contests. We’ll share tips and practical advice on designing, setting up and running contests.

Knight and Case have been engaged in using contests to advance our missions for more than five years. These have ranged from the Knight News Challenge to Case’s America’s Giving Challenge. We’ve used contests to tap into fresh thinking, providing simple opportunities for new people to engage in problem-solving, and to generate widespread interest and attention on social causes and challenges.

The Knight Foundation has used contests across its program areas, and recently shared their experiences in a new report, “Why Contests Improve Philanthropy: Six Lessons on Designing Prizes for Public Impact”). Knight has granted more than $75 million to individuals, nonprofits and commercial enterprises through prizes and contests. They’ve supported experimental arts projects, resident-led neighborhood improvements, tech startups and data applications.

At the Case Foundation we have made similar progress in developing contests as a tool for our philanthropy.  That work also led to a report for the industry on how contests can impact our work: “How Giving Contests Can Strengthen Nonprofits and Communities.” In addition, the Case Foundation has co-hosted several cross-sector gatherings with the White House, bringing together experts in prizes and challenges from the corporate, public and foundation/nonprofit sectors to share knowledge and explore new opportunities for collaborating.

At both Knight and Case, we believe that prizes and challenges provide an opportunity to democratize ideas and are tied to a growing movement in open innovation. The social web provides unprecedented opportunities for collaboration on a mass scale. We have been experimenting and testing ways to run effective challenges for many years—but we’re not the only ones.  Other foundations and organizations have been doing great work in leveraging prizes, including the X-Prize Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.  We believe that the potential is significant and look forward to the webinar on Aug 8.  We hope you will join the conversation.