cdiesbourg    October 19, 2015


Organization Name: Prize4Life, a non-profit organization

Industry: NPO

Web references:,,

Prize4life – An Example of The Power Of Crowd Smarts

Prize4Life is a non-profit organization that focuses on accelerating the discovery of treatments and cures for ALS – Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Prize4Life used the enticement prize model, as well as other efforts to focus attention and resources on the research challenges that, once overcome, could open the door to extensive interest and investment from drug companies and have the greatest impact for ALS patients.

In 2006 Prize4Life was looking for more creative ways to finding a cure for this heartbreaking disease. They partnered with well-known Innocentive a global crowdsourcing platform that channels innovative solutions for a variety of challenges through competitions.

Prize4Life wrote: ‘we know that the solutions to some of the biggest challenges in ALS research will require out-of-the-box thinking, and some of the most critical discoveries may come from unlikely places. We encourage creative approaches and reward outcomes regardless of the scientific discipline from which they originated.’

Priz4Life essentially launched a huge social contest to search for a biomarker (which measures the progression of ALS) rewarding the best idea for developing an affordable and user-friendly biomarker.

The challenge was posted on InnoCentive’s cloud-based open innovation and crowdsourcing platform and made available to InnoCentive’s 250,000+ reg­istered Solvers and millions of potential Solvers via InnoCentive’s partnerships. Nearly 3,000 Solvers from dozens of countries participated in the Challenge. In the end, 12 Solvers submitted solutions for the $1 Million prize.

The contest was a tremendous success that in 2011 rewarded Dr. Seward Rutkove, the Chief of the Division of Neuromuscular Diseases in the Department of Neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for his development of a technology called electrical impedance myography (EIM).


ALS Biomarker


Medicine, Biology, Genetics, Drug Discovery




108 Solutions Received, 12 Finalists



Dr. Rutkove also said: ‘[…] without Prize4Life, there’s a good chance that even four years after publishing our first paper on this technology, it would still be on the outside looking in.

Over 1000 solvers from more than 20 countries competed with more than 2/3 of active solvers originating outside of the traditional ALS research field—an influx of new minds and new ideas into the fight against this terrible disease.

The $1M prize leveraged more than $4M in outside investment from teams and companies competing for the prize, increasing the pool of resources dedicated to ALS.

Further Proof Crowdsourcing Works

Not stopping at their first forage and successes into crowdsourcing the ALS non-profit Prize4Life social team partnered with Sage Bionetworks on number of open science challenges since, called the ALS Stratification DREAM Challenge.

The Approach

The prize approach had several advantages. First, brought attention to the need for an ALS biomarker and gave researchers clear metrics for effectiveness. Second, the prize presented a novel way to get funding for the disease – donors would only pay if the Challenge was solved. This appealed to donors who want to see results from their donations. Third, the publicity around the prize – the largest that InnoCentive had ever posted – would help generate awareness for the disease.

Lessons Learned on Crowdsourcing

Innovate Better

  • Access creative minds globally from all walks of life and disciplines. You never know where the solution resides.
  • Whether you are looking for new ideas, breakthrough approaches, or a new product design, crowdsourcing can work.

Innovate Faster

  • Ask everyone! With hundreds or even thousands of problem solvers engaged in your problem, you’ll quickly have access to a viable solution faster than ever before.
  • Receive a novel idea or solution to a problem that you can act on immediately.

Innovate More Cost Effectively

  • Focused attention on the problem at hand by many minds makes for lighter work in the research stage.It exposes a problem to widely diverse individuals with varied skills, experience, and perspectives. And it can operate at a scale that exceeds even that of the biggest and most complex global corporation, bringing in many more individuals to focus on a given challenge.


This case study clearly illustrates that it ‘pays’ to look outside the four walls of your  organization, beyond geographical boundaries, in places that would likely not have been considered.

Collective intelligence can make the difference for an organization in achieving its goals and objectives. And when time is of the essence, crowdsourcing can often lead to quicker, more effective solutions. It exposes a problem to widely diverse individuals and it can operate at a scale that exceeds even that of the biggest and most complex global corporation, bringing in many more individuals to focus on a given challenge.

submitted by: Christine Diesbourg, University of  Waterloo