Ben Wiegand at Scientific American: “The process of medical research has been likened to searching for a needle in a haystack. With the continued acceleration of novel science and health care technologies in areas like artificial intelligence, digital therapeutics and the human microbiome we have tremendous opportunity to search the haystack in new and exciting ways. Applying these high-tech advances to today’s most pressing health issues increases our ability to address the root cause of disease, intervene earlier and change the trajectory of human health.
Global crowdsourcing forums, like the Johnson & Johnson Innovation QuickFire Challenges, can be incredibly valuable tools for searching the “haystack.” An initiative of JLABS—the no-strings-attached incubators of Johnson & Johnson Innovation—these contests spur scientific diversity through crowdsourcing, inspiring and attracting fresh thinking. They seek to stimulate the global innovation ecosystem through funding, mentorship and access to resources that can kick-start breakthrough ideas.
Our most recent challenge, the Next-Gen Baby Box QuickFire Challenge, focused on updating the 80-year-old “Finnish baby box,” a free, government-issued maternity supply kit for new parents containing such essentials as baby clothing, bath and sleep supplies packaged in a sleep-safe cardboard box. Since it first launched, the baby box has, together with increased use of maternal healthcare services early in pregnancy, helped to significantly reduce the Finnish infant mortality rate from 65 in every 1,000 live births in the 1930s to 2.5 per 1,000 today—one of the lowest rates in the world.
Partnering with Finnish innovation and government groups, we set out to see if updating this popular early parenting tool with the power of personalized health technology might one day impact Finland’s unparalleled high rate of type 1 diabetes. We issued the call globally to help create “the Baby Box of the future” as part of the Janssen and Johnson & Johnson Innovation vision to create a world without disease by accelerating science and delivering novel solutions to prevent, intercept and cure disease. The contest brought together entrepreneurs, researchers and innovators to focus on ideas with the potential to promote child health, detect childhood disease earlier and facilitate healthy parenting.
Incentive challenges like this award participants who have most effectively met a predefined objective or task. It’s a concept that emerged well before our time—as far back as the 18th century—from Napoleon’s Food Preservation Prize, meant to find a way to keep troops fed during battle, to the Longitude Prize for improved marine navigation.