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July 2, 2001
Volume 79, Number 27
CENEAR 79 27 p.5
ISSN 0009-2347
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InnoCentive seeks to lure researchers into solving posted chemical problems


Just-launched Innocentive is the first independent e-business venture of drug producer Eli Lilly & Co. Developers of the site hope it will expand scientific collaboration by becoming an online home for posting scientific problems that researchers will be rewarded for solving.

On June 28, if one scientist had provided solutions to all of the problems posted on InnoCentives, she would have received $961,000 in return.
"InnoCentive represents a return to the Internet's roots: an open-source approach to scientific collaboration and innovation, which doesn't depend on time or geography," says Darren Carroll, InnoCentive chief executive officer. "We are seeking to access a large number of talented minds prepared to solve specific scientific problems." These minds might belong, for example, to retirees, foreign scientists, or contract R&D organizations.

Carroll admits that the site represents a change in thinking and a willingness to accept innovation, whatever its source. "We're changing the business of science but not how science is done," he adds.

Organizations posting problems will pay financial rewards--currently ranging between $2,000 and $100,000--but only for the best solution. A reward's size is tied to the difficulty of the problem and the value to the posting organization, or "seeker." Seekers set the criteria and decide what constitutes a successful solution.

InnoCentive (http://www.innocentive.com) believes that challenging, high-quality problems will be an intellectual pull for scientists to come to the site. Most of the initial postings are clearly defined problems in organic synthesis, Carroll explains. But the company envisions branching into other areas of chemistry and other disciplines.

Simple explanations of the problems, including chemical structures, can be viewed readily. Problem solvers have to register to get more detailed information but don't have to prequalify. Full registration entails signing an agreement that covers intellectual property and confidentiality issues. But seekers and solvers need not reveal their identities until after a solution is accepted.

Lilly's own needs drove InnoCentive's creation. The company wanted a way to more easily and broadly tap into the scientific community, cost-effectively leverage its resources, increase the pace of R&D, and find answers to intractable problems. Earlier this year, Lilly created e.Lilly, a $50 million venture fund to help incubate new business ideas that has made an undisclosed investment in InnoCentive.

InnoCentive is talking to other companies and organizations to convince them to add to the postings. Although it currently isn't charging a fee for posting problems, it will take a commission on any rewards paid. "We're willing to take that business risk initially to create a viable, robust collaborative community of seekers and solvers," Carroll explains.

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