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An X PRIZE For Jobs: Can We Radically Reinvent How We Create, Finance And Find Jobs In America?

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We are living in extraordinary times, where technology is allowing small teams of individuals to accomplish what were once only the province of governments. Empowered by smart phones, the internet, artificial intelligence, ubiquitous networks, cloud computing, robotics and digital manufacturing, small teams are building platforms and companies that are touching the lives of billions, and solving problems once solely the domain of the public sector.

Burt Rutan and a small team of 30 engineers built a spaceship able to fly twice into space within two weeks; the winners of the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X PRIZE quadrupled the rate of cleaning up oil spills on the ocean surface; an area where a trillion dollar industry had failed to make improvements in 20 years. Three co-founders of Kickstarter built a crowd funding platform that will raise $150 million by the end of 2012, providing more funding than the National Endowment for the Arts. The two co-founders of Kiva created a global lending platform that has made more than $330 million dollars in loans to 817,000 borrowers with little or no collateral and achieved a 99 percent repayment rate.

How we solve today's problems and who solves them are both changing in a dramatic fashion and this is a very good thing. We have a lot of challenges and one of them (the topic of this blog) is job creation in America. You know the stats: Over 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed; More than 50 percent of our recent college and high school grads fall into this category. At the same time we have 3 million jobs that aren't being filled because applicants don't have the proper training.

Who is going to solve this problem? Government? Perhaps, but frankly, I'd also like the smartest most passionate thinkers and entrepreneurs across our great nation all competing to beat this problem into submission. I'd love to have a lot of ideas tried in parallel with the hope of some true breakthroughs.

The challenge is that the day before something is truly a breakthrough it's a crazy idea. And crazy ideas are very risky to attempt. If governments try and fail, there's a congressional investigation. If a company fails, its stock price can take a hit and executive compensation follows next. One answer to this conundrum is incentive competitions. Put up a prize with an audacious goal, have lots of teams (large and small) attempt to solve it and only pay the winner in success.

Recently, an extraordinary organization called the Robin Hood Foundation raised $19 million to develop, launch and operate a series of Robin Hood X PRIZEs to combat poverty in New York, with the hope that what we learn in New York might be replicated in cities throughout the U.S. What prizes we develop and launch is yet to be determined. The goal is to aim at the root causes of poverty. Issues like education and literacy, reducing high school and college dropout rates, job skills training, and many others.

This blog is a request to crowd-source ideas for a series of Jobs X PRIZEs. My question to you is the following: What should the competition look like? What are the rules?

A great incentive competition (what we call an X PRIZE) has rules that are clear, measurable and objective.

  • In 1919 to promote aviation, Raymond Orteig offered up25,000 (now worth about5M) for the first person to fly from New York to Paris (won by Charles Lindberg). The Orteig Prize inspired nine teams to spend400,000 in their efforts and launched today's500 billion aviation industry. Any person could enter, and the only thing being measured was where they took off and where they landed.
  • In 1996 to stimulate a vibrant commercial spaceflight industry, the X PRIZE announced the10 million Ansari X PRIZE offered to the first team to build a private spaceship able to launch 3 adults to 100 kilometers (62.5 miles) altitude twice in two weeks. This competition attracted 26 teams from 7 countries who spent100 million pursuing the goal. The winning spaceship, built by Burt Rutan and funded by Paul Allen, won the competition on October 4th, 2004 and lead to the creation of Virgin Galactic which is now selling seats on sub-orbital flights into space. Any non-government team could enter, and what was measured was the altitude reached, the days between flights and the number of people the ship could carry.

Given these as examples, what would your rules be for an X PRIZE intended to incentivize new ways to create, finance and find Jobs in America?

Here's a quick primer in prize creation: In designing an X PRIZE, you'll need to answer the following seven questions.

  1. How much is the prize purse?
  2. What's the name of your proposed prize?
  3. Who can compete? Who are the teams? (Individuals, companies, high schools, church groups, anyone?)
  4. What specifically (in a clear, measurable and objective fashion) does the winning team need to achieve?
  5. What exactly are you measuring? How do you measure it in a way that is easy and in which results can't be falsified (i.e. no cheating!).
  6. How long would the competition run for? Is the first to achieve this? Or the team that achieves the highest score in a set amount of time?
  7. Can you imagine a telegenic finish that generates publicity as teams demonstrate their winning solution?

If you have ideas for the rules around a Jobs X PRIZE, we would LOVE to have you submit them here. This is a special Prize Submission form created jointly by the Huffington Post and X PRIZE to get your ideas. The best ideas may be used for a future set of Jobs X PRIZEs.

To read more from the X PRIZE Foundation on The Huffington Post, visit their blog archive here.