The best ideas for new products and businesses often come from outside a company's walls. Now, those companies have a Website called Fellowforce.com to help them try to tap into the business smarts of strangers.
On August 1, the Amsterdam-based startup launched its consumer-facing site where people can sign up as "fellows" and answer challenges posed by companies large and small. There are only about 20 challenges so far. Some have been posted directly to the site itself, like one startup's plea for a "blockbuster TV-format for a new website." While others are links to existing crowdsourcing efforts elswhere on the Web, such as Nokia's invitation to consumers to help design an N76 phone, or the Motion Pictures Laboratories quest to "develop a theatrical projection screen" that can handle both 2-D and 3-D movies.
Like InnoCentive or NineSigma, what Fellowforce fosters is a form of open-source innovation. People who submit the best ideas can get paid by the companies anywhere from $250 to $10,000. Fellowforce itself is offering 1 percent of its stock to the person who comes up with the best tag line for the site. (How about: "Where it pays to have good ideas"). Fellows can submit unsolicited brainstorms to specific companies as well, such as one member who came up with a novel type of door hinge. Fellowforce charges companies $295 to $1,000 to post a challenge. The site is free for Fellows.
And in a few days, the company plans to release an "Innovation Box"—essentially a widget that companies can place on their own Websites or blogs to solicit suggestions from customers, vendors, or whoever. It's a Suggestion Box 2.0 (with the suggestions being digital and coming from outside the organization).
Jeff Crites, Fellowforce's director of North American operations (which consists of his laptop in Virginia), explains what the company hopes to achieve:
We all have those ideas ... why doesn't such and such company do this, or what if they just did 'that' with a product, or maybe we come up with a variation on a product, but we know there's no way we'll try to start a business. Our Innovation Box will free up millions of ideas that are just wasting away in people's brains because they're afraid to let them go, that they'll be used with zero compensation or recognition.
It's smart for companies to accept terms on idea submissions, to reward people, to celebrate consumer creativity. It just breeds more innovation. And the whole Open Innovation process is more than innovation and ideas ... it can be a vast PR machine for companies, celebrating consumers and their passion for products and services.
For instance, Crites has his own idea for a manly tissue called "Manex" (I'll spare you the details). He is sure that if he could just pitch his idea to someone at Kimberly-Clark, this rugged line of tissues could one day hit store shelves. I kind of doubt it. But if Kimberly-Clark could solicit 100 such ideas, chances are that one or two of them might be worth commercializing.
Ideas are only worth something if somebody puts them into practice. So what's the price of a good idea? That depends both on the idea and who you tell it to. Fellowforce wants to match the best ideas with those most likely to implement them. To do that it needs to lure a critical mass of both idea generators and implementors to the site. While that concept might sound straight-forward enough, making it happen won't be easy.