An interview with Eileen Bartholemew, Vice President of Prize Development at the X Prize Foundation.
“For most of history…” notes Rachael King, “the thrill of solving life’s thorny problems has provided ample incentive for inventors. Yet the promise of fortune and fame doesn’t hurt. Over the past few centuries, governments and private interests have sought to enlist innovators and entrepreneurs against specific challenges by offering prizes with financial bounties.” (Bloomberg Business Week, 2008).
The British Government’s ‘Longitude Prize’ (1714) was responsible for one of the most important navigation tools in history (the precursor to the modern chronometer). The French Academy of Sciences ‘Alkali Prize’ (1775) created one of the most important industrial-chemical processes of the 19th century and Napoleon’s Food Preservation Prize (1795) created the fundamentals of a food preservation method that is still used today. Even in more recent history we saw the Orteig Prize (1919) for the first transatlantic flight, which spurred the world travel industry and the multitude of innovation prizes we have today including the Ansari X-Prize which offered US$10 million to the first non-government team to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks (a feat which had taken governments decades and billions of dollars to otherwise achieve).
To learn more about the role of prizes in innovation, I spoke to Eileen Bartholemew – Vice President of Prize Development at the X Prize Foundation who (in their own words) are, “…an innovation engine. A facilitator of exponential change. A catalyst for the benefit of humanity….” Since their founding in 1995, the X-Prize foundation has facilitated oil recovery cleanup at triple the standard rate. Enabled the creation of a 135 MPGe energy-efficient car. And helped launch a $1.5 billion private space industry.