Apr 14th 2011
Do you have Intuit's next great idea? If so, the company wants to hear from you. Intuit Inc., which created Quicken and QuickBooks, is unveiling a Web site where innovators can collaborate to solve some of the company's biggest product challenges. And in the process, someone's bright idea may be worth up to $10,000.
Called the Intuit Collaboratory, the site offers individuals, academia, and businesses the chance to grow together with Intuit through open innovation and partnerships. The potential payoff for budding entrepreneurs is virtually unlimited: the chance to bring a new idea or product to market with the support of a global company with leading brands, a large customer base, award-winning products, and extensive marketing and distribution channels.
"The talent at Intuit is impressive, but we know that we don't have all the answers," said Jan Bosch, vice president of open innovation at Intuit. "Our history is built on a mix of home-grown and outside innovation. Fresh ideas from the outside are a key element to our innovation program.
"We want to break down barriers between Intuit and the outside world to increase the free flow of ideas that could lead to game-changing innovations. Collaboratory will be the place where those outside can find exciting projects and information to help them engage with us."
Challenges, Collaboration and Competitions
Collaboratory participants can respond to specific Intuit business needs, called challenges, through a more directed form of crowdsourcing. These challenges relate to new or extensions of existing products and involve mobile technology, software-as-a-service solutions, and data analysis. The opportunities span Intuit's consumer, accounting professional, financial services, technology innovation, and small business groups.
Two of the current challenges offer up to $10,000 for the winning entrepreneur.
- Ending the Paper Chase: Accounting professionals want more efficient ways to collect and organize files, documents, and other data from their clients. But the information often is not timely and arrives in a variety of formats – e-mails, text messages, hard-copy documents, and voice mails. The challenge is to solve this problem, with the winner receiving a $10,000 prize and potentially the opportunity to collaborate with Intuit.
"We are always looking for innovative ideas to solve our customers' problems," said Sanjiv Waghmare, vice president of product management in Intuit's Accounting Professionals Division. "Collaboratory is a great way to engage lots of smart people to solve this big, important problem for our customers who are accounting and tax professionals."
- No Receipt? No Problem: Tracking paper receipts is a pain, and customers often can't get a refund without them. To help solve this problem, Intuit recently created a service called QuickReceipts, which allows consumers to quickly and easily organize receipts online from participating retailers. The Collaboratory challenge is to find ways to make this service more widely available by minimizing or eliminating the work retailers need to do to participate. The idea that solves this problem is worth $5,000 cash.
In addition to the challenges, the Collaboratory site also offers information on current innovation events and video interviews with Intuit co-founder Scott Cook, Chief Executive Officer Brad Smith, and other executives discussing entrepreneurship and the role of open innovation.
Intuit's Open Innovation Program
Collaboratory is among several components of Intuit's Open Innovation program. Two years ago the company introduced Entrepreneur Day, inviting entrepreneurs and start-ups to meet with Intuit senior leaders. Attendees learned about Intuit strategies and product plans and then participated in a type of speed-dating session where they pitched their ideas to business unit leaders.
"Entrepreneur Day is an incredible opportunity for start ups and entrepreneurs," said Adam Neary, chief executive of Profitably, a New York-based firm that simplifies small business analytics. "Intuit sets up these events where all the right people are there so you can develop relationships and find out where your company's expertise and their goals match."
The Future of Collaboration
Experts expect collaborative partnerships between big and small firms to increase in the coming decade. The recently released Intuit 2020 report predicts that small firms will contribute innovative practices with market agility that bigger companies cannot achieve as easily. At the same time, big firms will offer small businesses marketing and distribution power, enabling them to penetrate broader markets more effectively.
Working with universities is another important part of Intuit's open innovation program. The company recently tapped the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab to develop an application for its TurboTax Live Community, an online forum that helps answer customers' tax and technical support questions. As a result, Intuit can now more accurately predict when customers will purchase its TurboTax products.
"University students are some of our best innovation partners," said Susan Harman, manager of open innovation at Intuit. "They see the world in a different light – not influenced by the usual business constraints, such as competitive pressure or budget limitations. Academia is leading cutting-edge work in technology that we are applying in a variety of ways, including in our social software, healthcare and mobile offerings."
Intuit recently announced the winner of its first Collaboratory prize challenge - CloudSway, a cloud computing-solutions company based in University Place, Wash., won $5,000 for answering the receipts challenge with a solution that captures receipt images using a smartphone and makes the data dynamic for uploading into an online financial system.
Intuit Collaboratory is a Web site that participants can respond to specific Intuit business needs, called “challenges,” and potentially win a cash reward plus an opportunity to enter into a pilot test with Intuit. It’s basically like a shopping list of Intuit’s tech needs, or “challenges” which are posted for 6-8 weeks and people get to submit their solutions or “answers.” If selected as a winning solution, a person or start-up can win a up to $10,000 or a partnership with Intuit.
Intuit also unveiled two new open innovation challenges hosted on IntuitCollaboratory.com.
- Make Mobile Payments Easy with QR Codes. Quick Response barcodes, those black-and-white matrixes composed of tiny squares, are popping up in store windows and magazine ads everywhere. These two-dimensional codes give consumers a way to easily make purchases and payments from a mobile device. Some large companies already benefit from using QR codes for purchasing and invoicing. The challenge asks whether the average consumer could also benefit from receiving a bill or invoice information via a QR barcode, or perhaps pay it at the same time. The prize will go to an innovator who finds a way to allow consumers to instantly pay by simply scanning the QR code with their mobile device, and have both consumer and seller receive immediate confirmation of the payment.
- Help Small Businesses Get Productive With iPad and Other Tablets. Tablet devices, such as iPads, present interesting possibilities for helping small businesses. The challenge is to come up with apps for tablets that can save time and/or money for small businesses on the go.