As we look back at the past year and plan for the new, one thing is fairly consistent – whether it’s to lose weight, kick a bad habit or strive for a new achievement – we always challenge ourselves to be better. Each year at NextEnergy, as a technology incubator, we challenge ourselves to develop new ways to spark and foster innovation.
On November 19 at the Michigan Advanced Lighting Conference, we officially announced NextChallenge, a new approach to encourage open innovation by crowdsourcing ideas in technology development white spaces important to our key stakeholders. Our first NextChallenge is focused on lighting and sponsored by two industry partners, Ford Motor Company and the Detroit-based urban agriculture business, RecoveryPark.
Crowdsourced, or open-innovation, technology challenges have become quite popular with companies as a means to accelerate innovation pipelines into their products and/or operations. Although NextEnergy plans to launch challenges in other areas such as advanced energy storage systems, power conversion and connected vehicles, the recent major advancements in the performance and efficiency of lighting technology made it the ideal focus for our first challenge.
Solid-state, or LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting technology goes beyond the limits of traditional lighting to integrate in new and unique ways with infrastructure and mobile systems. This has resulted in a frenzy of creative lighting products for the built environment and, more recently, automobiles. As a leader in creative adaptation of vehicle lighting to improve driver safety, comfort, and style preferences, Ford was attracted to sponsor the challenge. They understand that innovation in this area is boundless in terms of how lighting can be integrated into the interior or exterior of their vehicles. Ford expects ideas stimulated from this challenge to provide differential in their future products, which will support sales and market share goals.
LEDs are also unique in how they can be tuned to specific spectrums of light to nurture a positive impact on living systems, from people, to animals, to plants. RecoveryPark recognizes that smart lighting systems, when integrated with their greenhouse and hydroponics operations, will contribute to a more energy efficient and profitable business. They expect this challenge to stimulate ideas that will improve plant yield and allow for more frequent harvesting of various produce. The plan is to put the best ideas to test in their Detroit-based operations in 2015.
NextChallenge is the result of a goal we set for ourselves to reinvent the way we accelerate innovation, with a purpose to spur economic development. Unlike a typical business plan competition, NextChallenge does not wait to see what technologies push forward, but acts as more of a “technology pull” that is specific to current needs in the industry. Michigan headquartered companies (in this case Ford and RecoveryPark) provide high level lighting innovation needs to serve as a guide for crowdsourcing solutions from both Michigan and global entities, with the goal of providing real and tangible efforts to expand and accelerate their pipeline of innovation.
As Ford and RecoveryPark integrate these technologies into their future product platforms and operations, they not only provide product differentiation and operational efficiencies for themselves, they provide value to Michigan firms by pulling them into their supply chains. We expect this challenge will also help foster partnerships between Michigan-based universities, start-ups, small and large businesses, and global innovators – all resulting in a positive impact to Michigan’s economy.
Teams are encouraged to submit a Request for Solutions proposal by March 6, 2015. The best ideas will be selected in the spring, and teams will be called in to meet one-on-one with industry sponsors to consider the next step of product development partnership. To encourage collaboration, and ensure the best ideas are seen through to use, there is up to $80,000 of cash and in-kind funding for each challenge.
Now that we have officially entered 2015, we anxiously await the next great lighting innovations – let the challenge begin!