Anne Barth: Contests have driven innovation for centuries
Did you know that margarine was invented in response to a contest arranged by Napoleon III?
Or that Lindbergh set off on his transatlantic flight in hopes of winning the $25,000 Orteig Prize?
Contests have been used as incentives for innovations of all kinds - from navigational tools used by seafarers in centuries past to advances in nanotechnology in recent years.
Contests generate excitement and promote teamwork, the competitive spirit and a sense of urgency in the application of new technologies. Prize money can help advance commercialization of new products and technologies, but it also builds immediate exposure to a range of creative and effective ideas by citizen-solvers.
These activities, combined with good work already underway in the state, will create jobs and businesses for West Virginia.
With the boom in shale gas drilling underway in our state and region, many opportunities exist for inventors, researchers, and problem-solvers of all stripes and ages to address the challenges presented in bringing this valuable natural resource to the earth's surface.
In an effort to encourage and support innovations in energy production and use, two innovation contests are upcoming.
* The TransTech Energy Conference, to be held Nov. 6-7 in Morgantown, will showcase new and emerging companies and technologies that meet the challenges of transitioning over the coming decades to a globally sustainable economy of the future.
Winners of last year's inaugural conference split a $25,000 award.
This year's event will include opportunities for entrepreneurs and researchers to pitch their company or project to investors, strategic partners, and project developers.
The term "TransTech" refers to transition technologies, strategies, apps and software. Examples include new chemical pathways for converting shale gas to low-cost chemical feedstocks, energy recycling for waste heat, new construction materials that improve energy efficiency, electricity storage technologies, remote sensors, new composite materials, and more.
Investors will see a wide range of transitional energy and environmental technology companies with near-term payback potential. Energy companies and manufacturers can develop strategic partnerships with startup companies at the TransTech Energy Conference.
For more information on attending the conference or making a pitch, visit www.transtech energy.org.
* A second upcoming contest will include West Virginia for the first time in the 2013-14 cycle.
TechConnect is helping to introduce the Shale Gas Innovation Contest to West Virginia businesses, inventors and entrepreneurs involved in the shale gas industry, thanks to support from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, in partnership with the INNOVA Commercialization Group, which works with companies to commercialize new products and technologies, and West Virginia University, which develops major energy research throughout the institution.
Originated by the Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation & Commercialization Center in State College, Pa., the aim of the Shale Gas Innovation Contest is to identify and develop shale gas technologies that enhance responsible stewardship of the environment while creating high-paying jobs.
Contest applications cover the entire gamut of the shale gas play - from exploration and extraction technologies, environmental and safety products and service concepts to water- and wastewater- focused technologies, data management concepts, and multiple downstream gas and natural gas liquids utilization technologies.
This is the third year of the competition, but up to this point it has only been open to Pennsylvania-based entrants.
While the application process will open in November, now is the time to encourage our gas industry and our innovators to begin preparing their concepts.
More than $75,000 in prize money was awarded in this past year's competition during the final round on May 7.
For more information, or to see the twelve finalists from this year's contest, visit www.sgicc.org/index.html.
Both of these prizes offer exciting possibilities for new companies, bold innovations, and added job opportunities. They can be crucial drivers for positive change, providing benefits not only to the competitors, but also to society at large by offering new solutions and forging new partnerships for growth.
If you have an idea, or know someone who does, tell them about these upcoming events.
Let the ideas flow and the healthy competition begin.
Barth is executive director of TechConnect West Virginia - www.techconnectwv.org - a statewide economic development organization dedicated to fostering and promoting innovation-based businesses and entrepreneurial activities across West Virginia.