… or an undergrad:
In a previous post, I mentioned Innocentive (wikipedia), a company that posts industrial science challenges with cash rewards for a solution. As full disclosure, I have previously had a solution bought by Innocentive, so I am a fan boy. To put it another way, it allows anyone with the skills, degree or no, to sell good ideas for thousands of dollars and maybe do some good in the process. Not a lot of good probably, but in the industrial chemistry world that’s maybe a better outcome than average.
The challenges come in all shapes and disciplines, from full-on ‘provide a solution to a major disease’ ($1M+) to ‘help my company think of a way around this issue’ ($5K). The ‘thought’ challenges are a great resource for undergraduates with an interest in chemistry. You’re provided with a small, well-defined industrial problem, all the time in the world, and through the internet the resources to tackle the problem. ]Here’s a list of the current chemistry challenges … take a look, I’ll wait.
See anything that piqued your interest? In my case it was a $10K challenge for a replacement material for cyclododecane (nasty stuff). A few nights of ‘after-dinner research in the stacks’ later, I found a cheap replacement material with some related sources to back me up. The new material was even cheaper than the original, which had to help my case … this is for industry after all. In the process I learned a ridiculous amount about the various definitions of solvent properties, their limitations, etc. which actually turned out to be useful later on in life.
Once you’ve got an idea (congrats, by the way) the hard, fun part is over. Now comes the writing of a (semi-)formal proposal (admittedly another good experience for an undergrad … coherently explaining your clever idea to someone who isn’t an oblivious friend or family member) … by the way, Innocentive provides a template for solution proposals that makes the process very clean.
Next comes the unending waiting … most Innocentive projects have submission windows of weeks, followed by evaluation periods of even more weeks. During that time frame, they may contact you for more information about the proposal … though I don’t recall that ever happening, honestly. At the end, and well after you’d forgotten you had ever taken a few hours out of your life for that particular project, you get an email informing you if your solution was accepted.
If it wasn’t, you take an extra swig of beer and go back to Mario Cart … if it was, well, it’s time to find a notary public fast to sign over the IP rights, and get your check in the mail … it’s also a good time to yell and scream, depending on the value of the award.
Common questions I’ve received since having a minorInnocentive solution bought:
- Can you loan me $10K?
No, in retrospect it’s a surprisingly small amount of money which I blew quickly on strippers and student loan payments … ironically both were named ‘Sallie Mae’.
- What’s to keep Innocentive from stealing my ideas?
Well, one, you have a contract with Innocentive. Two, Innocentive was founded by people from Eli Lilly and has P&G on the client list … if those two companies are out to get you, you should probably just give up.
- Can’t I just start a company myself with the idea I came up with?
Well, again, you have a contract. Also, your idea is mostly a small piece of a very complex process which you couldn’t hope to replicate, even after getting funding to build a new chemical plant in-between taking finals.
- Will I actually get my money?
See 2. Yes, once you send in the IP transfer, you’ll have the slightly oversized check in a week or two.
- Will you help me answer an Innocentive challenge?
No, I hate you. Die in a fire.