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Picnic Green Challenge: Half a Million Euros to Win

Contributed by Bruno Giussani:

If you have an idea for an innovative, executable consumer product or service that can "contribute to an eco-friendly lifestyle," help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and which "scores high on convenience, quality and design,"then get ready to jot down descriptions, prepare blueprints, and fill in participation forms: it could be worth 500,000 Euros (or nearly $670,000 USD).

That's the scope and the reward of the Picnic Green Challenge, which was just launched by Picnic, the Amsterdam annual conference and week-long idea festival that will take place this year from September 22-29 (full disclosure: I'm a member of their advisory board). The best ideas will win 500,000 Euros in capital to execute the winning plans, with some extra add-ons such as free coaching and door openers.

The prize money is being provided by a sponsor, the Postcode Lottery, the largest Dutch charitable lottery ("charitable" meaning that half of the price of the tickets they sell is redistributed to non-profit organizations). There could be a single winner, or a few that will have to share the money, depending on the jury's decision about the quality of the submissions.

The deadline to submit entries is August 15, 2007, and the award ceremony will take place in Amsterdam on September 29, the closing day of the Picnic07 conference.

As previously stated, ideas and projects entered into the challenge should be executable (the required entry documentation is basically a business plan). Organizers are looking for products and services that are "convenient, well designed and of overall high quality" and can "enable large numbers of people to effortlessly reduce their personal impact on global warming."

The proposition is obviously compelling, and not only for the amount of money on the table. The Picnic Green Challenge brings together two powerful concurrent ideas: the social-change catalyzing award (à la TEDprize) and the competition-fuels-innovation approach (à la X-Prize).

Credibility is key for the success of this kind of competition. Some of it will be provided by the partners of the Challenge, which include VCs investing in cleantech, environmental activists, designers, and even the Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen -- a politician who gets it. But the organizers face some serious challenges of their own: short lead time, the need to internationalize both the applicants and the jury, and the risk inherent in what is possibly too much prize money for a first-year contest that may not be able yet to attract stellar projects.

Bruno Giussani is a Switzerland-based commentator and blogger, innovative content developer and tech entrepreneur. He is the European director of the TED Conferences. He writes the EuroScan column for BusinessWeek.com and his writing has appeared in the International Herald Tribune, the New York Times, the Economist and others. He has co-founded three Internet companies and authored several books on the social and economic impacts of technology. He was a 2004 Knight Fellow at Stanford University. His blog is at LunchOverIP.com.

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