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Success Stories: George Lee, USDA Innovation Challenge

MEET: George Lee, chief technology officer and co-founder of livestock grazing management software company PastureMap, San Mateo, California

THE CHALLENGE: The USDA Innovation Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Launched in July 2015, this challenge sought the development of apps to put USDA data into the hands of farmers, researchers, and consumers to help build a more sustainable U.S. food system. Winners were announced in January 2016.

THE PRIZE: $29,500 for winning the grand prize, open-source application, and best visualization in time and space awards

THE SOLUTION: FarmPlenty Local Crop Trends is an easy and innovative way for farmers to explore USDA statistical data about the most important crops grown in their area. The application interface shows the farm location on an aerial image; the crops grown within five miles of the farm are obtained from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service CropScape database. Economic data about these crops through time are extracted from Economic Research Service and Agricultural Research Management Survey databases to allow a farmer to make informed decisions about crop choice.




I’ve talked to many farmers and ranchers and learned how hard it can be for them to make a living. Farmers have to deal with unpredictable weather, changing consumer demand, and endless pests and weeds. And while they are struggling to stay in business, they also have to take good care of the land and soil for future generations. USDA has a wealth of data on crops and prices that can help farmers. The challenge is making it relevant for their own local circumstances.

I decided to use my own extensive experience in data analysis and app development to create a better way for farmers to visualize the crop and price information most important to them. Showing all this information on a map makes it easy to browse and understand.


Participating in this challenge and creating FarmPlenty Local Crop Trends opened my eyes to the wealth of data available to farmers and ranchers and the potential for technology to transform our food system for the better. I went on to meet Christine Su and we teamed up to create PastureMap, a technology company that empowers farmers and ranchers to be more profitable while building healthy grasslands.

PastureMap incorporates some of the same technology used in the FarmPlenty app and both apps help farmers visualize data on a map. PastureMap goes much further, however, and lets ranchers record geotagged data in the field about their pastures, animals, and herd movements. We then combine this information with rainfall data and soil maps to provide additional insights that help them better manage their ranch to increase profits and improve ecological function.


PastureMap helps ranch managers save time, make better decisions, and make the most out of their cattle and grass operations. Grasslands are one-third of the world’s land mass and represent a tremendous opportunity to store carbon in the soil while supporting a better food system. We’re also aggregating ranchers and using their collective power to shift the beef supply chain away from the commodity model, towards giving consumers what they want — healthy meat that’s raised with integrity and good for the planet. Our user community now includes more than 7,500 ranchers in over 36 countries. We are excited to continue developing the technology platform to support innovative farmers and ranchers to create a better food system.

Learn more at


Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. Nearly 800 competitions have been listed on, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.

Posted in Apps, Data, Department of Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, Success Stories, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

NIST Seeks Futuristic Ideas for Public Safety Communications

Join us to help inspire Americans everywhere in developing the Public Safety communications technology of tomorrow with a Video series about the #PSprizes Crowdsourcing Competitions.

Do you and your team have a creative approach to video design? Can you engage an audience of science and technology solvers through unique messaging and videos? The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) team is looking for innovators to develop video concepts, pitches and actual videos that will encourage a futuristic and inspirational approach to improving public safety communications technology and help first responders save citizen lives. The driving motivation of these videos will be to “excite and inform!” by using — live-action, animated, CGI, or a mix thereof — cinematography to effectively engage the audience and communicate the research opportunities at PSCR (Public Safety Communications Research).

If interested, go to the link on to register and participate in this one of kind challenge with the possibility of winning up to $100k in prize money. The PSCR Innovation Accelerator is spearheading R&D of next-generation technology over the next several years and these videos will be designed to encourage any person —  team, entrepreneur, inventor, or company — to contribute their ideas and help NIST solve public safety technology challenges.

This Challenge is also posted here on  It’s being launched by NIST and their Public Safety Open Innovation Accelerator.

Posted in National Institute of Standards and Technology, Uncategorized, Video contest | Leave a comment

Success Stories: Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, Startup in a Day – Dream Big Model

MEET: City of Los Angeles, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development | Project Lead: Frank Aguirre, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Team

CHALLENGE: The Startup in a Day Competition – Dream Big Model, sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration, was launched in June 2015. The competition was part of a broader initiative to streamline the permitting and licensing process at the local level for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Winners were announced in August 2015.

PRIZE: $1.6 million was distributed between Startup in a Day’s winners, representing cities and Native American communities across the country. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Economic Development received the largest prize called the “Dream Big Prize,” with a grant of $250,000. The grant application and the project were led by the mayor’s small business development lead, Frank Aguirre. The office used the grant to develop the LA Business Portal.

SOLUTION: The LA Business Portal is a free, open-source, comprehensive guide that provides most local small businesses and entrepreneurs with the tools they need to start a business, grow a business, utilize city resources, and navigate the local permitting and licensing requirements. An interactive startup guide was designed to provide personalized registration checklists for individual businesses. In addition, starter kits based on the most frequently opened business types in the city give further specific direction on who to contact and how to find them. Recently, the portal was translated into Spanish to better serve the large Hispanic business community located in Los Angeles.



Frank Aguirre

The portal assists small businesses that want to expand in the right direction and helps local entrepreneurs who have great ideas, but don’t know where to start. We know that small businesses and entrepreneurs – who create jobs for themselves and others – form the backbone of the Los Angeles economy, employing approximately half of the entire private workforce in Los Angeles. SBA’s Startup in a Day Competition galvanized our team to bring together resources and departments across the city, gather input and experience from the private sector, and pursue a common goal. Because the competition required us to utilize the funds within a year, our team was forced to use time wisely and efficiently.


The LA Business Portal’s purpose was to make it as easy as possible for anyone to start a business within city limits. Before the implementation of the portal, Los Angeles residents looking to start a business had to search the internet and review individual department websites for information about city resources and compliance requirements. Although existing programs to guide small businesses through city registration continue to be available, the portal complements these efforts by providing local entrepreneurs with the in-house expertise in a click-of-the-button “one-stop shop” format. Not only did the development of the LA Business Portal help residents, but by publishing the source code for the portal online, the city has provided other cities and communities across the country with the opportunity to create and implement their own business portals around the needs of local businesses and startups.

STATUS: The website went live in September 2016 and receives 5,000 views per month. Approximately 55,000 business entities register their intent to do business in the City of Los Angeles each year. The business portal does not process the transactions, but rather serves as a guide to help entrepreneurs find where to register with the city, county, state and federal government.


Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 780 competitions have been listed on, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.

Posted in Business Plan, Small Business Administration, Success Stories, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Success Stories: Debi Willis, Consumer Health Data Aggregator Challenge

MEET: Debi Willis, CEO/Founder of software development company PatientLink, Oklahoma City

THE CHALLENGE: The Consumer Health Data Aggregator Challenge, sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). Launched in June 2016, this challenge sought the development of apps to help consumers collect their health data from different sources in one, easy-to-use product. Winners were announced in December 2016.

THE PRIZE: $50,000 for first place

THE SOLUTION: MyLinks is an interactive platform that allows patients to import their medical information from all their health providers and mobile devices, transmit their records, plus link to researchers, pharmacists, caregivers, and family and friends. MyLinks is built using the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) application programming interface (API), the newest technology standard for healthcare interoperability. Patient health information is pulled into MyLinks as structured data, allowing consumers to easily aggregate data from many sources.



In 2015, ONC published a “Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap,” which included a vision for patients to be able to retrieve their own health data. MyLinks brings that vision to life.

We are on the verge of a new era in healthcare, with patients taking a more active role in their care and health decisions. Many hospital stays will be replaced with remote monitoring in patients’ homes. With MyLinks, data will flow freely to and from patients, allowing patients and providers to more easily understand and monitor health conditions. Patients will be able to share their full medical records with research – giving researchers better, faster, and less costly data – to find cures faster. Patients will be able to connect with and encourage each other in a safe and private social platform.

I believe that patients having electronic access and control of their full medical record will have more impact on health outcomes in the future than physicians’ use of electronic health records (EHR). Patients will now have their own EHR in the palm of their hand, and a network of people to encourage and help them get better and stay better!


It has been a tremendous encouragement to our team to be recognized by ONC as the BEST! Because of the win, we have enjoyed increased exposure for our company and received many requests for demonstrations of our product. This has given us an opportunity to show our technology, expand our user base, and connect with organizations who understand the value of unlocking data. We were no longer a single voice calling out the potential to change the way medicine is practiced, but we were validated by the most prestigious health IT organization in the United States, ONC!

We also received more positive collaboration with the EHR vendors. When they realized we were working to compete in an ONC contest, they wanted to show their own advancement in the use of FHIR and this pushed them further in their development and testing.


MyLinks is complete and currently waiting on the FHIR API to be installed at clinics. A new mandate, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018, requires providers to allow patients to download their health records using any application of their choice, but the application must be built according to the EHRs API specifications. The FHIR API is a new technology standard that EHR vendors are including in their new releases this year to facilitate interoperability. As the FHIR API is being rolled out across the United States, Willis and her team are working with clinics to test MyLinks with their systems to prepare them for the 2018 mandate. Most health systems are testing the FHIR API in their test environments and many expect to place the API into production in October 2017. When they are ready to start using FHIR, health systems will be sending out invitations to their patients to allow them to join MyLinks.

MyLinks is free to physicians and to patients. Contact Debi Willis at for more information.


Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 770 competitions have been listed on, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.

Posted in Apps, Data, Department of Health and Human Services, Success Stories, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Smart Design, Partnerships Make Data-Driven Farming Prize a Success

In Nepal, agriculture accounts for 34 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 70 percent of the population. Thus, shifts in weather patterns, soil content, and market prices can easily have ripple effects on the population. To track these variables, satellites, weather stations, governments, and researchers regularly capture agriculture data. Historical information on weather patterns, crop yield and market prices provides valuable insights and can predicts future trends. However, this data is rarely consolidated and made available to farmers. Recognizing this gap, The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the Data-Driven Farming Prize. The prize seeks tools and approaches that source, analyze, and translate data into actionable and timely specific information for small-holder farmers.

Creating Value for All

All 13 finalist teams were invited to a three-day co-creation workshop in Kathmandu, where they were able to interact with data experts, mentors, and end users. Representatives from CIMMYT and ICIMOD provided valuable feedback to innovators on how to leverage and analyze existing data sets to improve their products and the Microsoft Innovation Center led workshops on the Lean Start-Up model and user-centered design. A“haat bazar” allowed finalists  to share their prototypes with agriculture entrepreneurs, extension workers, and farmers, who offered feedback on  product applicability. Evenings were also filled with opportunities to network with investors, government officials and agriculture entrepreneurs. During the co-creation workshop, local agribusinesses approached the innovators about their products and offered to test their prototypes on their farms. Additionally, CIMMYT, ICIMOD, and USAID identified a handful of innovations that can support their  programs.

Following May’s co-creation workshop, finalists have 10 weeks to further refine and test their prototypes. This will be supported by $2,500 of seed funding, testing support from CIMMYT, a virtual accelerator led by the Microsoft Innovation Center, the support of designated local mentors, and access to the various experts involved with the prize. Leading up to September’s awards ceremony,the finalists will have the opportunity to share their final products with farmers, investors, agri-businesses and development agencies. Ultimately, only four prizes will be awarded: two at $100,000 and two at $50,000. By establishing connections between the innovators and other ecosystem actors throughout the process, the intent is for many of the finalists to use the networks formulated via the prize to establish new client relationships and secure additional funding sources. As the prize offers a chance for finalists to refine their products, network, and build evidence for their efficacy, all finalists benefit from this prize regardless of outcome.

Designing with Partners

Partnerships are a core part of USAID’s DNA. That is why the agency, working with the Challenge Prize Centre at Nesta, collaborated with local research institutions such as CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, ICIMOD, the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, and GODAN, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, as well as the the Kathmandu-based Microsoft Innovation Center Nepal, to design the prize. In an effort to “free the data,” the prize platform made a number of relevant data sets available, and created an interactive geonode platform. Finally, the prize was grounded within the Nepal Feed the Future program and its prioritized agriculture value chains. These partners used their networks to amplify the prize call, leading to 143 applicants from around the world, including 83 from Nepal. They were all also involved in the judging process, leading to the 13 finalists, six of which were from Nepal. The strong response from local applicants is a testament to a simple application process, Nepal’s’ strong  ecosystem of innovators, incubators and researchers, and the tremendous reach of local partners.

The prize clearly succeeded in incentivizing innovations. For example, Db2map, a Nepali company using satellite data had not previously thought about expanding its services to the agriculture space – until they heard about the prize. Farming Online, a UK-based commercial entity was already using satellite and machine learning to identify crop types and crop help with small-holder farmers. The company had previously thought about expanding their operations into East Africa, before learning about the prize and realizing that Nepal was an ideal market for expansion. Team Spero, two University of Toronto engineers, decided to created a soil moisture meter in their local maker space after learning about the prize.


The Data-Driven Farming Prize demonstrates that a smart design process and strong partnerships can ensure all stakeholders benefit in the  implementation of a prize. By engaging with a wide range of partners at the beginning of the design process, and working with innovators to improve their products throughout the process, the Data-Driven Farming Prize ensures that all the finalists, partners and ecosystem actors will see value throughout and beyond the lifetime of the prize.

Posted in Data, U.S. Agency for International Development, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Success Stories: Dr. Harold Jonas, Opioid Recovery App Challenge

MEET: Dr. Harold Jonas, Founder and CEO of Sober Network, Inc., Delray Beach, Florida

THE CHALLENGE: Opioid Recovery App Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Launched in March 2016, the challenge encouraged solvers to create apps to help patients receiving outpatient medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder maintain their recovery and avoid relapse. Winners were announced in July 2016.

THE PRIZE: $15,000, which was used to further development and make the app available to people nationwide in recovery for opioid addiction.

THE SOLUTION: FlexDek MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment) Edition provides a method of tracking, connecting and providing accountability for those in recovery. Built upon the FlexDek technology for wellness management, the app is free for those in recovery and is data-driven, precise and scalable, making it affordable for insurance and treatment providers as well as other stakeholders burdened by increasing costs. FlexDek MAT Edition empowers both clients and care managers by allowing for customized levels of clinical involvement.



Our goal is simple yet crucial: use our smartphone app to reduce relapse, re-hospitalization and ultimately overdose for those addicted to opioids. FlexDek MAT Edition is designed to help people receiving outpatient medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder maintain their recovery and avoid relapse.

Numerous studies show drug overdose deaths are rising faster than ever. If you look at the statistics showing the extent of the drug overdose epidemic just last year alone, you realize you’re witnessing firsthand a modern plague. Sober Network Inc. is here to combat that, and FlexDek MAT Edition is our first line of defense.


These funds enabled us to further development and roll out FlexDek MAT Edition nationwide.As a first-of-kind adaptable smartphone app, it increases client compliance by introducing rewards for usage, and reduces relapses which often require re-hospitalization  or, sadly, lead to overdose.

STATUS: By June 1, 2017, FlexDek MAT Edition has had more than 10,000 downloads. The company is preparing to privatize the app in order to serve the public in a more efficient manner since the goal is to reach the most people possible and broadly penetrate the market in the most efficient manner. Interestingly, the app was used as a springboard to launch Wrestling Legend and Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle’s new recovery management mobile app “Anglestrong” in February 2017. Dr. Jonas designed and developed Anglestrong, which is powered by Sober Network Inc.’s FlexDek platform, in conjunction with Mr. Angle, who has been in recovery for four years for opioid addiction. Anglestrong, designed to help addicts stay in recovery and avoid relapse and rehospitalization, is free to download and available from the App Store and Google Play.


Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 770 competitions have been listed on, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.


Posted in Apps, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Success Stories, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cities Get Smart About Air Quality

The cities of Baltimore, Md. and Lafayette, La. are helping their residents learn more about air quality in their communities as winners of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Smart City Air Challenge. The two cities are deploying hundreds of sensors to measure local air quality and will share those measurements with the public.

EPA sponsored the challenge, which was hosted on GSA’s platform, to help communities investigate the best ways to collect, store, and distribute sensor data. Communities across the country submitted plans for collecting data and sharing it. As challenge winners, Baltimore and Lafayette each received $40,000 in seed money to implement their plans.

While both Baltimore and Lafayette are engaging local residents as part of their projects as they strive to collect and manage large amounts of air quality data, the focus of each city’s project is different.

Baltimore is part of an area that has had difficulty meeting air quality standards for ground-level ozone in the past, and community interest in monitoring and improving air quality is high, the city said in its Smart Cities application.

Baltimore’s plan is to deploy a low-cost, open-source wireless sensor network that will transmit ozone and nitrogen dioxide measurements via Wi-Fi and mobile phone networks to the Amazon Web Services cloud service. From there, the city plans to make the data available in real time on the city’s website so citizen scientists, academic researchers, and government decision-makers can use it.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University are working with the Baltimore Office of Sustainability and a nonprofit called B’More Cool to work with residents to set up the 300 sensors, which will be paid for using a combination of grants, donations, and crowdfunding.

Baltimore reports that many residents have offered to participate in the challenge by placing sensors in their communities. Residents wrote letters in support of the city’s application to participate in the challenge.

“It’s very important for us to have a quantitative understanding of the air quality in our area,” one resident wrote. “And, it’s important for us to know in real-time when unsafe levels of pollution are affecting our area so that we can react appropriately.”

St. John’s Cathedral in Lafayette, La.

In Louisiana, job growth in the Lafayette region is attracting more people: the city’s population, now about 100,000, is expected to double in the next 20 years. As the city grows, local leaders want to make sure air quality remains protected.

The local government has teamed up with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and CGI, a major employer in the area, to create an engagement and research network to carry out plans for deploying 300 air quality sensors. The team plans to measure particulate matter and ozone across the region. They want to store the data they collect in Microsoft Azure, providing a data management platform that displays real-time data and provides data analysis tools that will enable people to view air quality status and trends.

Local libraries, schools, businesses, and nonprofits are all playing a role in the effort, dubbed Lafayette Engagement and Research Network (LEaRN). This project seeks to allow the community to more easily collect, analyze, and share data that show the relationship between air quality and traffic congestion. The collected information could be used to schedule traffic signals and redesign intersections to lessen the impact of traffic on air quality. Local leaders say the data also could be used to develop policies to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips and increase walking, biking, and the use of public transportation.

The Baltimore and Lafayette projects have tested and installed their first sensors and are working with local community groups to decide where to place them. By the end of the year, each community hopes to have 300 sensors installed with data streaming. At that point, EPA will evaluate the projects and award up to $10,000 to each challenge winner based on their accomplishments and collaboration with other communities. Community projects like these can help other cities that want to manage data from many sensors and use it to inform citizens about their air.

Posted in, Data, Environmental Protection Agency, Public-Private Partnership, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NIST Challenge Creates Breakthrough in First Responders Technology

The time has come for the $50,000 NIST Virtual Public Safety Test Environment Challenge – we have the winners!

It’s been a whirlwind of a competition. In just 60 short days, a community came together around a very technical and specific ask: Design a physical measurement environment that uses immersive virtual reality tools for testing new first responder technologies. By the submission deadline, we had received 21 completed entries to the challenge and built up a following of over 700 people. Impressive work for any crowdsourcing project, and even more so given a tight timeline!

And now, after careful review by our judging panel and a public vote, the top award recipients are as follows:

$20,000 Prize

Jason Jerald’s solution – FirstSimVR:Measuring Future Tools Using Today’s VR

A reconfigurable VR platform for evaluating and refining future technologies to be used for different first-responder scenarios.

$12,000 Prize

Zach Huber’s solution – Reconfigurable Vehicle Training System

Training system including a virtually reconfigurable vehicle and physical mannequin with environmental factors (smell, weather, etc.).

$8,000 Prize

UNSN’s solution – MultiVRse – Parallel Physical and VR Universes

Auto VR visualisation matching the physical space, untethered & unbounded VR, interaction with real & VR objects, no cameras needed + more!

$5,000 Prize

Kirk McKinzie’s solution – Augmented Reality Emergency Response System

Multi-sensor based, indoor positioning technology to simulate a first responder emergency situation through a wearable SMART device..

Crowd Voting $5,000 Award

Variablelabs’s solution – The Future is Hidden in the Successes of the Past – A system which leverages interoperable standards to test educational curricula with a wide variety of stakeholders.

Honorable Mention

John Quarles’s team’s solution – PerSim™: Realistic, Portable, Low Cost Simulation

PerSim trains first responders using augmented reality simulation. It is more realistic, portable, and lower cost than current solutions.

The award winners were invited to participate in the PSCR Annual Public Safety Broadband Stakeholder Meeting, June 12-14, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. ( Dereck Orr, PSCR Division Chief, announced the winners at the conference during his presentation, Monday, June 12. $50,000 in total prize money will be distributed among four finalists and the popular vote award winner.

We would like to take this opportunity to give a special thanks to all of the innovators who entered the challenge. While only those listed above are receiving the prizes and recognition, there were many other robust submissions that demonstrated notable potential. We are confident that all participants, no matter the final placing of their submission, will go on to find success in the rapidly expanding world of public safety technology and AR/VR.

Since February of this year, the whole challenge community through its varied roles and talents brought the NIST Virtual Public Safety Test Environment Challenge to life. Whether it was through continued interest, support, voting, or actually crafting a solution, the community helped demonstrate the power of crowdsourcing to critical stakeholders. Each time the crowd rises to a challenge in this way, it helps secure a future rich in innovation and open access to ideas. Our deepest gratitude to all who took part. Whatever you do next, don’t let this be your last experience with a crowdsourcing competition!

This post originally appeared on the challenge page at HeroX.

Posted in National Institute of Standards and Technology, Technology, Virtual reality, Winner Stories | Leave a comment

Q&A: JUMP Innovation Series Helps Innovator Take Giant Leap With Invention

No organization has all of the answers, and the next big idea could be germinating out among the American public.

With this understanding, the Department of Energy launched a new crowdsourcing campaign that teams government labs with industry partners in search of new and exciting clean energy concepts.

It’s called JUMP, which stands for: Join the discussion; Unveil innovation; Motivate transformation; and Promote Tech2Mkt (technology to market).

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has issued several JUMP calls for innovation, which are open to a growing community of citizens.

One of those citizens is Benjamin Knopp, 31, of Richmond, Va.

Knopp is a building science consultant who used his expertise to win a JUMP competition last year with an idea for new water heater technology.

ORNL has now issued two new JUMP challenge. One is for more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly building envelopes, the part of the house that separates the inside from the outside — walls, doors, roofs, floors, windows, etc. The other is for innovative roofing solutions that minimize moisture.

Cash and priceless technical support await the winners.

With these new calls for innovation, PrizeWire reached out to Knopp to discuss his experience with JUMP and how it is helping him turn his idea into a marketable product.


PrizeWire: How did you hear about the JUMP challenge? Was this your first experience participating in an open crowdsourcing competition?

Benjamin Knopp

Benjamin Knopp: I was attending a Better Buildings Summit hosted by the Department of Energy when I heard about a similar crowdsourcing competition the day after it ended. I immediately subscribed to several Department of Energy email newsletters and later saw the initial JUMP program announcement through one of these newsletters. This was indeed my first experience with an open crowdsourcing competition and I was surprised at how simple and accessible it was

PW: In layman’s terms, what was the problem you were asked to confront and what was your solution?

BK: A.O. Smith [the water heater manufacturer] was looking for a new water heater technology that would allow them to pack more heat into a smaller space. I proposed a solution that incorporates a substance called a “phase change material” which allows a smaller water heater to deliver more hot water.

PW: How did the format/structure of the challenge help your innovation process?

BK: It was helpful to have a clean website to host the competition. Also, the informational webinars included a Q&A portion with the program administrators and corporate partners, allowing me to get further clarification right at the beginning.

PW: What developments have happened with your solution since/because of the challenge? How have you continued working with ORNL and/or A.O. Smith since the competition?

BK: I submitted a preliminary document to the U.S. patent office before posting my idea online, then later converted it into a full patent application. The financial support allowed me to purchase the tools, materials, and data logging equipment I needed to build the initial prototype. Every month since winning the competition I have had a conference call with ORNL and A.O. Smith for technical support.

PW: What did you do with the prize money?

BK: I used the prize money for the patent application fees and for renting a garage where I am building and testing the first prototype.

PW: What did the in-kind technical support from ORNL consist of? How crucial was it to your solution?

BK: The ongoing monthly calls with ORNL scientists and A.O. Smith engineers have played a key role in the steady progress towards proof of concept. I am grateful to be able to have my questions answered and get advice from these scientists and industry experts.

PW: Any advice you would give to someone considering taking part in a crowdsourcing event like this one?

BK: This is unique opportunity with a low barrier to entry. For anyone with a creative mind and entrepreneurial spirit, a crowdsourcing event like this is a chance to get the support you need to turn your ideas into reality.


For more information on current JUMP challenges, visit the Building Envelope Call for Innovation website or the GAF Roofing Systems Call for Innovation website.

Posted in Department of Energy, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Open Innovation, Public-Private Partnership, Scientific, Technology, Uncategorized, Winner Stories | Leave a comment

The conundrum of counting sea lions

Calling all computer scientists and citizen innovators – we need your help with counting an endangered population of Steller sea lions.

Here’s the backstory.

Counting the Steller sea lion population is vital to monitoring the species and staying informed about how population are doing. Each summer, NOAA Fisheries biologists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center head up to Alaska and gear up for weeks in the field to conduct abundance surveys. These surveys are conducted from research vessels or survey aircraft.

The Steller sea lion ranges throughout the North Pacific Ocean but the Alaska Fishery Science Center biologists conduct abundance surveys only in Alaska (United States). The species is comprised of two distinct populations divided at the 144 degree north longitudinal line in the Gulf of Alaska. While the “eastern population” along the west coast of North America is doing quite well, the “western population” that extends along the Alaskan coastline out to the Aleutian Islands is another story.

The western population in the United States began to decline in the 1970s with the steepest declines observed in the mid-1980s. Because of persistent declines, this population was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1997. While the eastern portion of this population began to recover in 2003, the area to the west has continued to decline. Sea lions have decline almost 95 percent in the western Aleutian Islands region in the last 30 years.

Our annual abundance surveys means NOAA Fisheries can monitor this population and use this abundance data to inform population models. One of the main ways we collect these counts is to capture aerial imagery of sea lions hauled out on land during our survey window. It takes two biologists up to four months to look through those aerial images and count each individual sea lion. As we count the tens of thousands of sea lions, we identify the age and sex of each individual.

We hope computer scientists will connect with us on Kaggle to create an innovative algorithm that can recognize sea lions in aerial photos. Automation, or partial automation, would make counting more efficient and give us biologists more time to focus on other important Steller sea lion research studies.

Katie Sweeney is a biologist at the Alaska Ecosystem Program at the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Posted in Algorithm, Engineering, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Scientific, Uncategorized | Leave a comment