Spotlight Chat: Planning a Federal Prize Competition

Recap of a Spotlight Chat event with members of the Lab-to-Market Inclusive Innovation Ecosystem Prize Competition.
Sep 2, 2021

On June 8, 2021 the Challenge and Prize Community of Practice held a Spotlight Chat with leaders of the Lab-to-Market (L2M) Inclusive Innovation Ecosystem Prize Competition. Spotlight Chats are moderated discussions with government innovation leaders. Panelists shared their experience of designing and implementing a federal prize competition, and documented the lessons learned.

The panelists included members from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI)—one of three federally-funded research and development centers of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a non-profit corporation that assists the federal government in addressing national security issues.

What is Lab to Market?

The purpose of the L2M Inclusive Innovation Ecosystem Prize Competition was to recognize the most impactful organizations, programs, and ideas that support research and development (R&D) innovation ecosystems, particularly those focused on underrepresented communities and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

OSTP White House Leadership Development Fellow Dr. Katherine Tyner explained, “Lab to market is a whole government approach to facilitate federally funded inventions and innovations to get to the marketplace … The pathway to get an invention to a product is not easy and the innovative ecosystem is that complex community of participants and resources that is needed to move an invention to a product.”

For some communities, this complex system may be challenging to navigate. According to the official prize competition page, “Entrepreneurs may lack knowledge about available ecosystem resources or have difficulty navigating and finding them, posing significant barriers to entry, and keeping the best minds and ideas from reaching their full potential. Additionally, resources and capital are not reaching all Americans evenly, and the economic impacts of COVID-19 could increase this inequality.”

Planning a Prize Competition

The team considered various options for meeting the need outlined above, and decided on a prize competition. “Prizes allow for unique flexibility, benefiting not only the federal agencies holding the competitions, but also for the community of innovators and individuals that end up getting involved,” said Brittney Stickler, senior innovation policy advisor for the SBA Office of Investment and Innovation.

In order to plan a successful competition, the team needed feedback and expertise from the field. “As we were doing the research to understand prize competitions in the federal government, we reached out to other prize administrators to understand their experiences,” said Vanessa Peña, a research staff member at IDA STPI. In order to understand the community, the team researched the community of innovation ecosystems. “It helped us tailor our competition…and helped us achieve our goals,” said Science Policy Fellow Talla Babou at the IDA STPI.

Participants submitted a short presentation and video for consideration. Of the 174 submissions, a total of 18 prizes were awarded across three categories. From an entrepreneurs’ network in Puerto Rico to a start-up fellowship program in rural Maine, the submissions represented diverse lab-to-market R&D innovation ecosystems. “Many of the submissions that didn’t get a prize had clever, creative ideas,” said Tom Olszewski from IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute. The winners’ submissions can be found here.

Find Out More

Throughout the process, the team discovered their learning could help other federal employees seeking to plan a prize competition. As a result of their research, the team published the case study “Lessons Learned: Implementation of a Federal Prize Competition on Innovation Ecosystems.” Read the full case study to find out more.

If you’re a federal employee with a great idea or if you want to learn more about federal prize competitions, the Challenge.Gov team is here to support you. Contact team@Challenge.Gov, sign up for our newsletter, or follow us on social media: Twitter @ChallengeGov, Facebook @ChallengeGov.