University News

U. partners with crowdsourcing site

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

 

The University is soliciting ideas for innovative ways to develop technology invented by Brown researchers through a partnership with Allied Mindstorm, a crowd-sourcing website that allows public “thinkers” to brainstorm ideas in exchange for a monetary reward. In its first posting on the Allied Mindstorm website, the University sought ideas for profitable uses of a paper-thin plastic battery developed in 2007 by Tayhas Palmore, professor of engineering, and Hyun-Kon Song, a former postdoctoral research associate.

Allied Mindstorm was developed last fall to more efficiently discover profitable ideas that could be applied to technology coming out of universities, said Sara Toussaint, university relations manager for Allied Minds. 

In the past, Allied Minds, an equity firm that facilitates the growth of startup companies, did not fund certain novel technologies because it could not think of profitable applications for them, Toissant said. An open forum such as Allied Mindstorm allows “thinkers” to generate ideas that could aid Allied Minds’ efforts to develop technology companies, she said.

The University began talking with Allied Minds about several projects they could work on together when the firm became a sponsor of the University’s Life Sciences Technology Fair in 2011. 

“We thought it was an interesting idea,” said Katherine Gordon, director of Brown’s Technology Ventures Office. “We thought looking for new applications would be really important.” Brown became one of the first universities to have a winner selected for their submitted idea on March 31.

Danny Liu of Chengdu, China won the contest for his idea to use the plastic battery “with carbon-based nano-coatings or conductive fabrics applied to winter clothes and shoes” in order to provide more heat in winter months, especially for those in developing countries, according to his submission. Liu, chief executive officer of Tranztech, a company that helps green technology companies enter the Chinese market, will receive a $500 reward and could earn $25,000 if his idea leads to the creation of a company, in which he would have a formal role. 

“To build companies, that’s always our goal,” Toissant said. Allied Minds also wanted to create an independent site that would not burden university technology transfers offices. Thus, the Allied Mindstorm challenge was born. The site allows the public to offer ideas for applications to technologies coming out of several universities, and its only requirement is that the thinkers have LinkedIn accounts. After the deadline for submissions is reached, Allied Minds and its investment board decide on the winner.

Though the winning idea for the plastic battery was selected from a pool of 14 submissions, there is no guarantee that Allied Minds will be able to form a company around it, Gordon said. If a company is formed, the University will still hold intellectual property rights, so it would be able to negotiate a licensing agreement with the firm. 

 “The (Technology Ventures Office) is interested in novel ways to stimulate innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization,” Gordon said. “We’re interested in working with the broader community of thinkers to share ideas about innovation.”