Innovation Through Market Stimulation

Nutrient Sensor Challenge logo
Crowdsourcing and prize competitions can take many forms, which makes them a great open innovation tool. A large group of federal agencies and other partners has launched a competition that also involves a secondary crowdsourcing element.

The Nutrient Sensor Challenge is a market stimulation prize competition to accelerate the development of affordable, accurate, and reliable sensors for measuring nutrient levels in water.

Nutrients are a natural part of ecosystems, but too much nitrogen and phosphorus causes big problems: harmful algal blooms can make pets and children sick, green water can shut down recreation, and species kills can result from impaired water conditions.

Improved sensors will help to understand how nutrients move through the environment and help to measure nutrient levels in waterways with more accuracy.

But this is not a typical prize competition, where the winners get a check at the end for hitting specific criteria. The Challenging Nutrients Coalition—a broad group of federal agencies working with states, universities, and private sector organizations—has worked to define the market, which will be the big payoff for winners.

In the Nutrient Sensor Challenge, the top developers will have the best shot at the people who will buy and use those sensors to help track nutrients. Sensor users range from international groups to U.S. federal agencies to local watershed alliances.

The water sensor market is fractured—one of the biggest barriers to innovation identified in a discussion paper released by the Brookings Institution and Stanford University. The Nutrient Sensor Challenge represents one of the best efforts to quantify and understand the market. We’ve done good work so far, but gaps remain. And that’s where targeted crowdsourcing comes into play.

We think the crowd can help this effort. We want input from sensor users—just how big is the sensor market in your state? The United States? The world?

Stay tuned for more information on how you can get involved!Dustin Renwick works in conjunction with the Innovation Team in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Office of Research and Development. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.