Some crowdsourcing competitions, like the X-Prize, ask people to come up with technological solutions to a problem. Marblar, a startup launching this month, is doing it backward—asking people to come up with problems that a given technology could solve.
Cofounded by three PhD students in the U.K., Marblar is a platform that aims to help universities commercialize new inventions and resurrect dusty old patents. The company is working with about half a dozen U.K. research institutions, such as the Medical Research Council and Imperial College London, to seed its website with discoveries. These range from a novel form of foam to a new kind of oxygen sensor to a probe that can drill into hard surfaces in new ways.
The crowd is assigned the task of finding market applications for such inventions. Marblar is cultivating a base of knowledgeable users who would just love to submit ideas in exchange for a cash prize (from hundreds to thousands of dollars), points on the site (marbles), and of course, bragging rights.
"There's a massive pile of unused innovation that just isn't going anywhere," says CEO Daniel Perez, who estimates that 95 percent of patents filed by universities never make it to the marketplace. University technology transfer officers and, often, researchers themselves can't know all of the potential applications for a discovery, he says. "There are too few voices in that conversation."
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