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Thinking Out-of-the-Box. Global Virtual Collaboratory Tapping Brilliant Minds through the Internet to Solve Complex Scientific Problems Dr. Peter Van Voris President - Van Voris Consulting LLC 23 October 2007. A Formulation Chemist for 30 years at Eli Lilly

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Thinking Out-of-the-Box

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Thinking Out-of-the-Box

Global Virtual Collaboratory

Tapping Brilliant Minds through the Internet

to Solve Complex Scientific Problems

Dr. Peter Van VorisPresident - Van Voris Consulting LLC

23 October 2007

A Formulation Chemist for 30 years at Eli Lilly

Entered a Chemistry Chat-Room in 2000 to explore ways to manufacture a precursor to a new pharmaceutical

Realized the there was incredible

scientific power in the web

Worked with corporate officers to

established a reward to those who

could deliver prototype samples

Realization - Dr.Alph Bingham’s Idea

Global Virtual Collaboratory

A 2001 spin-off of Eli Lilly

has over 130,000 prequalified

scientists signed up as Solvers

InnoCentive -- a single purpose web site that helps

many Fortune 500 companies solve complex chemistry, biology, physics and materials sciences problems.


Open Innovation Platform

Traditional R&D Resources

  • Federal Laboratories

  • Inter-Agency Agreements

  • Universities

  • Contract labs and Consultants

  • Global Academia

  • Researchers in Russia, India, China, etc.

  • Scientists in other industries

  • Excess capacity in R&D Labs worldwide

  • Retirees

  • VC Start-ups

Non-Traditional R&D Resources

Global access to world class intellectual capacity - deal broker - focused on IT sector

TopCoder - focused on writing programming code

Gearson Lehrman Group - custom R&D

Gates Foundation Grand Challenge - focus topic areas - free searchable support for chemists - product development support

Expert Central - thousands of engineers & scientists providing free support to help answer questions of school aged children

Earth Prize- $25M prize for carbon sequestration technology

X-Prize - Focused on developing radical technologic breakthroughs - innovative company designed to reward those who can solve “challenge” problems for customers

What is out there on the Web??



Search Platform

InnoCentive Business Model



Seeker Companies

Finding One Mind to Help

Internal R&D Staff

Army of Solution Providers

The Best Solution is to Award a Cash Prize

You Only Pay if Someone Provides a Solution





Who is Involved


  • Flexible R&D Capacity

    • Dynamic flexibility to meet ebb & flow of demand

    • More highly skilled resources without fixed cost

  • R&D Risk Management

    • Fund solutions not “science projects”

    • Avoid false negatives

  • Diversity

    • Problem solving approaches and scientific disciplines

    • Access to very specific tools and labs

  • Speed

    • Avoid re-inventing the wheel

    • Marshall more minds

Solver Global Demographics

~130,000 Prequalified Scientists

Global Scientific Partnerships

Science Networks in Russia

Russian Academy of Sciences

Altay State University

Blagoveshchensk State University

Buryat State University

Chelyabinsk State University

Irkutsk State University

Ivanovo State Chemistry University

Kazan State University

Kemerovo State University

Krasnoyarsk State University

Kurgan State University

Mordov State University

Moscow State University

Nijny Novgorod University

Novosibirsk State University

Omsk State University

Rostov State University

Russian University of Chemistry and Technology

Saint-Petersburg State University

Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology

Samara State University

Saratov State University

Tambov State University

Tumen State University

Tver State Technical University

Tver State University

Yaroslavl State University

ScienceNetworks in India

Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (India)

National Chemistry Labs of India

Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers

Panjab University In Chandigarh

Sponsored the 91st Indian Science Congress

held at Panjab University in Chandigarh

Sponsored the sixth Chemical Research

Society meetings and the India National

Symposium at Kanpur

Formed and Advisory Board comprising

India’s most well-respected scientist and

Researchers to enhance global R&D in India

Science Networks in China

Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)

National Natural Science Foundation of China (NFSC)

Beijing Normal University

Fudan University

Huazhong Normal University

Lanzhou University

Northwest University

Peking University

Sichuan University

Sun Yat-Sen University

Xiamen University

Zhejiang University

>40 Scientific DisciplinesChemistry Disciplines

>40 Scientific DisciplinesBiology Disciplines

Theoretical Challenge

“Global Think Tank”

No lab work required

Deliverables: theoretical proposal

Cannot validate the solution prior to acceptance

Reduction-to-Practice Challenge

An “Extended Lab”

Requires lab work

Deliverables: validated solution (research data and/or sample)

Can validate the solution prior to acceptance

Challenge Types

Award level: $15-$50K Award level: $40-$1M

Abstract - one or two sentence description

Project or Workroom

Detailed Description of the Challenge - full page or more

Detailed Project Solution Criteria - very important

Any Prior Art and/or attempts that were not fruitful to pursue

Known literature and or patents in this area

Formats or graphic requirements or plots of information required

Lab work that must be submitted to validate approach if

a “reduction to practice”

Expectations of ownership of IP and freedom to operate

Developing a Challenge

Allows the solver to upload proposed solutions for evaluations

Allows the solver to ask questions of seeker

Links to other relevant information on the site or other sites

Allows the solver to review the terms of their agreement with InnoCentive

Private Project or Workroom


Long-standing industrial


“Programmatic” challenges

Drastically under-priced challenges or those with insufficient deadlines


Discrete scientific problems

Search for novel ideas

Extension of your lab capacity

Writing Challenges for Success

Probability of Success

Average Solution Rate is ~37%

Solution Rate Varies Among Different Seeker Clients


solution rate


Results to Date

  • Over 500 challenges posted

  • >130,000 solvers (>175 countries)

  • >185 awards to date (many under review/pending)

  • Over $3,100,000 paid to Solvers

  • Global source of solutions:

    • Argentina- Italy- Singapore

    • Canada- Japan- Spain

    • China- Kazakhstan- Sweden

    • Denmark- N.Ireland- Switzerland

    • Egypt- Philippines- Thailand

    • Germany- Poland- UK

    • India- Romania- USA

    • Israel- Russia

Sample Web Site Page

A Snapshot - InnoCentive Website

Award amount is a Paid-up License in exchange for the Technology

Meets the fundamental requirements of Inventors being paid for inventions

Outsourcing Science to overseas Scientists

All Seekers have internalized the solution into products or to further development of an instrument in house

Federal employees signing up to as solvers

This could happen; however, InnoCentive does “Due Diligence” to verify employment status at the time of the award & who would give up their pension for $25K

Seeker Steals Solvers Ideas

InnoCentive employs scientists to assist with the development of Challenges and they also prescreen proposals when they are submitted to the Seeker.

InnoCentive Business Model protects the interest and equities of both Seekers and Solvers

Answers to Four Typical Questions

Example - Pharmaceutical Intermediate

4-(4-Hydroxyphenyl)butyric acid - an early-stage intermediate

  • The current starting material, 4-(4-Methoxyphenyl)butyric acid, is available but moderately expensive ($300/kg).

  • 4-(4-Hydroxyphenyl)butyric acid a viable starting material if an economically competitive route could be developed.








  • Challenge Abstract

  • An efficient synthetic strategy for the following butanoic acid derivative is required. This molecule has been previously reported in the chemical literature but the existing known synthetic route may be lengthy, expensive and/or low yielding. Devise and execute the "best synthetic pathway".






  • Butanoic Acid Challenge



  • Solution Criteria:

    • 2 steps or fewer

    • >80% overall yield

    • >95% purity

    • 2.0 g white to off-white solid

221 Solvers expressed interest in solving the problem and created project rooms

10 Solvers (representing 7 countries) submitted chemicals for analysis

Average time to solve the problem was 45 days

Challenge Dynamics

Successful Solution Received

  • Solution Meets Challenge Criteria:

    • 2 steps

    • >80% overall yield

    • >95% purity

    • Delivery of 2.0g white to off-white solid

      Solver receives $25,000 USD!


  • The Seeker paid for success, not efforts or failures

  • The solution was reached in 1/10 of the time

  • The solution was reached at a fraction of the cost of internal resources

  • The Seeker Scientist did not have

  • to look for someone to solve the problem

  • – the solution found the Seeker

Sample Award


  • Challenge Abstract:

  • Provide a research proposal that outlines a novel research plan to define the pathogenesis and toxicologic significance of paracrystalline arrays in mitochondria in the absence of other ultrastructural alterations.

Winning Solver– a protein crystallographer from Russia


  • A new screening program resulted in a “puzzling” toxicology:

    • Toxicology experts from 6 different firms cannot make sense of it

    • “Outside” toxicology experts (consultants) cannot solve

    • Decided to post on InnoCentive

  • A protein crystallographer solves it:

    • No background in toxicology – PhD in crystallography

    • Understood the problem based on crystallography principles

    • Solved on the basis of crystallography knowledge – not toxicology

Sample Award

AWARDED!InnoCentive 2975421UV Resistance of Coating Containing Metal IonsPosted: August 25, 2005Deadline: October 30, 2005

  • Challenge Abstract

  • The Seeker is seeking additives to improve UV resistance of coating containing metal ions.

  • Result

  • 130 Project rooms

    • 17 Submissions

    • 2 Awards

AWARDED! InnoCentive 1225582Full-Length cDNA Isolation Posted: October 15, 2003 Deadline: November 15, 2003

Sample Awards

  • Challenge Abstract

    A method to isolate a full-length cDNA based on the 3' EST sequence is needed.

  • Result:

    547 Project rooms

    6 Submissions

    1 Awards

Sample Award

InnoCentive 4035417Stable Solid Peroxide(s) to Withstand Extreme Conditions Posted: September 11, 2006 Deadline: November 26, 2006$25,000 Award

  • •Challenge Abstract

  • Identification of stable solid peroxide(s) that can withstand temperature extremes during long term storage is required.

  • Result

  • 128 Project rooms

    • 7 Submissions

    • 1 Award

44 year old US polymer chemist from Texas

with 20 years experience with PVA encapsulation

methods, designed a dry storage “Alka-Seltzer”

like product that the corporate scientists had

never thought about or had proposed to them.

Sample Award

Narrow Bandwidth Optical Spectral Filter - $35,000Posted: February 23, 2007Deadline: June 9, 2007

  • •Challenge Abstract - Identified a narrow bandwidth optical spectral filter with high in bandwidth UV transmission & high out-of-band rejection ratio within the Solar Blinds Spot

  • Result - 132 Project Rooms

Solver - Retired VP of R&D PerkinElmer --

Ph.D. Atomic/Optical Physicist from

University of Wisconsin who now

lives in Norwalk Connecticut

Retired after 30+ years in

Instrument development for

PerkinElmer and has 30 US patents.

What next? This person is now a consultant

to the company who issued the challenge.

“DNA Extraction”

InnoCentive 5034503 $25,000Solvent Free Nucleic Acid Extraction Posted: March 14, 2007Deadline: May 31, 2007

  • •Challenge Abstract

  • A novel method of extraction and

  • concentration of nucleic acids is

  • needed.

  • Result

  • 216 Project rooms

    • 7 proposed solution

    • No award

“RT Oxidation Catalyst”

InnoCentive 5050499 $25,000RT Oxidation CatalystPosted: March 22, 2007 Deadline: June 22, 2007

  • •Challenge Abstract

  • Identify a catalyst or catalyst

  • system that will oxidize pesticidial

  • organic compounds at room temp.

  • Result

  • 120 Project rooms

    • 9 Proposed Solution

    • No Award

Intellectual Gold Mine


Annual Membership fee: $100,000

Posting fees: $3,500 per Challenge

Award amount + 20% to InnoCentive

$25,000 award will cost $30,000

Validate or Invalidate concept in your own Laboratories

What does it Cost?? 202-550-8500

Help is on its Way!!!


How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

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