In recent years, the United States federal government has created a number of initiatives to help stimulate and support American entrepreneurism. Currently, the government offers a host of unique opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs through challenges and prize competitions. Challenge.gov, which lists the available competitions, launched in 2010 and since then there have been more than 740 challenges run by over one hundred federal agencies. These government agencies have given prizes of over $250 million and there have been over 250,000 participants from all over the U.S. Here is a brief examination of some of the challenges the federal government has recently pursued to help entrepreneurs tackle their career goals.
Innovative Changes for Female Entrepreneurs through InnovateHER
Female entrepreneurship in the U.S. is on the rise. In fact, women make up roughly 40 percent of new U.S. entrepreneurs, and the overall number of firms owned by women has grown by 45 percent since 2007. However, gender biases limit the chances for female entrepreneurs to be successful, and currently only seven percent of venture capital funding goes to women-owned ventures. InnovateHER gives future female business leaders the means to compete and accomplish their career goals.
An Overview of the InnovateHER Challenge
In 2015, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) created the InnovateHER Challenge to acknowledge and reward women entrepreneurs from all over the United States. Competitors present their products and services, displaying innovations that are designed to significantly impact the lives of women, children, and families. These business ideas are also judged on their potential for commercialization and their overall marketability. Finalists for the 2016 competition met in Washington D.C. to take part in a live pitch and compete for a prize of $70,000. In 2016, the number of contestants and participating organizations grew substantially. Local competitions were hosted by 248 local organizations with forty-nine states (plus Puerto Rico and American Samoa) represented and 3,000 entrepreneurs competing in local challenges.
Challenges from other Departments
The federal government has also created a number of other challenges to help boost entrepreneurism in general. These efforts focus on increasing innovation, and they often encourage entrepreneurs to tackle issues in novel ways. The White House announced their plan in promoting innovation with problem-solving challenges as part of their Strategy for American Innovation in 2009. The events challenged participants to focus on solving problems of a scientific and technical nature with the goal of giving professionals from a wide range of industries, such as business management, engineering, and architecture, the opportunity to solve mission-centric problems.
Wearable Alcohol Biosensor Challenge – National Institute of Health
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institute of Health, issued the challenge to improve on the alcohol biosensor technology currently used by the criminal justice system. The desired outcome was to create an advanced, noninvasive technology for monitoring alcohol consumption in real-time and collecting, interpreting, and transmitting blood alcohol level data to a smart phone or other wireless device. The winning device, BACtrack Skyn, is worn on the wrist and monitors the wearer’s blood alcohol level continuously and noninvasively through the use of fuel cell technology. The company BACtrack, who submitted the prototype, received $200,000 in prize funds.
Smart City Air Challenge – Environmental Protection Agency
The City of Baltimore and the Lafayette, Louisiana Consolidated Government won $40,000 prizes each for their submitted projects as part of the Smart City Air Challenge presented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The challenge involved finding new strategies for collecting and managing data from air quality sensors and discovering analytic methods for organizing and translating the vast available amounts of data into usable knowledge. One of the winning projects was the Air Quality Sensor Network for Greater Baltimore, which plans to deploy a network of sensors using a scalable cloud plan for data management and distribute the air quality information on the City of Baltimore website. The other winning platform was the Lafayette Engagement and Research Network (LEaRN). Like the Air Quality Sensor Network, LEaRN uses a scalable cloud platform, commercial sensors, and other unique avenues for public data sharing.
Entrepreneurs and industry innovators need to be persistent and diligent when it comes to communicating their message and reaching their goal. The federal agencies that sponsor challenges not only serve to inspire creativity and business acuity, but provide unrecognized and future entrepreneurs with opportunities for competition, networking, and ultimately funding. Those just starting out in the business world could benefit from participating in challenges and putting their ideas into practice.
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