By: Geri Stengel
For some large corporations, the idea of partnering with the little guy sends shudders up their spine. Not so for GE who believes there is great value in collaborating, no matter how big or small you are.
Why? Money, of course, but they want to solve some of the world’s most important problems, too. For GE, that means increasing energy efficiency, decreasing emissions, and making people healthier. GE recognizes they can’t do it alone. They need your innovative ideas.
So GE put together a process for sourcing, funding, and nurturing the best ideas. It started in 2010 with Ecomagination Challenge, which they will be doing for the third time in 2012. This fall they added Healthymagination Challenge. Applications are being accepted until November 20, 2011.
Winners will get money, access to markets, the ability to pilot test projects with customers, and connections — VCs, universities, other corporations, and even governments. Let’s face it: GE is very connected.
Like many competitions, GE’s have a scorecard and multiple rounds that become increasingly more rigorous. Judges rate applicants not just on the feasibility of the idea and commercial viability, but how good the leadership team is. Judges include technologists, market development people, and VCs.
Beth Comstock, GE’s CMO, provided some advice to those thinking of applying:
- Trust that GE will not steal your idea. It’s not their business model. Partnership is.
- Learn to tell your story. It will make your idea more compelling.
- Be prepared for an iterative process, not a one-shot application.
- Be open to collaboration.
- Chemistry is important.
- Go for it.
There was a concern at GE that some of the best ideas might not get noticed because, no matter how hard judges try to be impartial, everyone has biases.
Comstock emphasized that GE is challenging itself to look at ideas differently, to sometimes look at things sideways or inside out. You can’t use the same viewpoint when evaluating ideas for developed markets as you do when evaluating products for the bottom of the pyramid.
Providing money is the easy part. Winning companies have experienced growing pains, Comstock said, which is why GE now supports winners with a dedicated team of scientists and project managers. When a company hits a road block, GE is there to provide a helping hand.
To date Ecomagination Challenge has resulted in 22 investments and commercial partnerships, one acquisition, and seed funding for 10 start-ups and innovators. Ideas include smart-grid technology, renewable energy, and energy-efficiency for homes and buildings.
Solving the world’s problems, making money, and creating jobs, what could be better?
Geri Stengel is founder of Ventureneer, which connects values-driven small business owners with the knowledge they need to make the world a better place and to thrive as businesses.