Looking for a few good tech ideas, for $50K


A good tech idea could win you $50,000. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Have a good, executable idea to use tech to reform government? Submit a proposal — as long as a thesis or short as a tweet — to the Merit Awards. Submissions are due by Aug. 1, 2011.

Contest judge and Internet pioneer Vint Cerf said that the point of the contest is to highlight issues in the way government operates that can be addressed with improved information technology — regardless of which proposal wins the grand prize.

“Awards have become a popular way of getting attention,” said Cerf. “Even if an idea isn’t actionable by way of this, someone may see it and pursue it independently as a result of some of these ideas.”

The rules are very open, and judges are accepting ideas from around the world. They’ll be looking at three things: how innovative is an idea, how much does it cost and how doable is it?

“Just the notion of government innovation might, to many, seem to be an oxymoron like military intelligence,” said MeriTalk founder Steve O’Keeffe. “But why shouldn’t we, as citizens of the world, come forth with our ideas?”

Judges — including Cerf, O’Keeffe and federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra — will select a winner from each of the contest’s eight categories, but only the person with the best idea will get the money to execute their proposal.

If the private sector is more in line with your interests, consider the Starlight Tech Prize, offered by local businessman Jack Beavers. He is offering $50,000 for a promising new idea and offers young inventors the chance to work with a team of proven entrepreneurs.

Beavers said he’s “been pretty inspired by (President) Obama’s call to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build.”

“We feel that our approach to team with inventors is going to increase probability of success,” Beavers said. “A lot of ideas fail not because someone had a bad idea, but because they had no experience or context to make that happen. We’d like this contest to act as an incubator.” Beavers said that he plans to select an idea, help staff up as needed and then get other investors involved.

“We’re looking for transformative ideas, big ideas that can make a difference in terms of bringing jobs to this country and reverse the trend of going to off-shore,” he said. The contest is aimed at getting young inventors to submit their ideas, but is not restricted to specific applicants. Beavers, whose background is in software, said he is looking for ideas on anything from cool new software to the next Facebook or a new machine for more efficient energy generation.

Submissions must be under four pages long and are due by July 29.

Advances in technology have made this an opportune time to act on new ideas, as infrastructure costs fall and become more accessible to smaller inventors.

“It’s a different environment from even a few years ago,” Cerf said. “Then, you could have a good idea but not the infrastructure to support the applications of that idea. Now we have the opportunity to test the theory that a significant award might stimulate more than $50,000 worth of innovation.”

Related stories:

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Q&A: Khan Academy founder says videos can help teachers, students

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

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