Several months ago, MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy launched its first annual Inclusive Innovation Competition (IIC). MIT is one of the world’s top research universities, renowned as well for its entrepreneurial culture. But the objectives of the IIC are quite different and unique. Instead of competing on creating the most advanced technologies or compelling startups, the IIC is focused on innovations aimed at improving the economic opportunities of middle- and low-income earners around the world.
Applicants competed for $1 million in prizes to be awarded in four main categories: Skills, - how employees were re-skilled for new types of jobs; Matching, - how qualified people were connected to new types of jobs; Humans + Machines, - how technology is used to augment human labor; and New Models, - how new business models revolutionize labor markets and job opportunities. In each of these categories, the grand prize winner was awarded $125,000, while each of the four runner-ups received $25,000. In addition, four additional $25,000 Judges Choice Awards were given to organizations deemed by the judges to be uniquely inventive.
I’m a Fellow of the Initiative on the Digital Economy, and served as one of the judges in the competition. 243 applications were received from around the world, from which we selected 24 finalists. I personally reviewed around 20 applications, and was really impressed not only by their innovative ideas, but also by their courage and determination as they addresed some of society’s toughest problems.