Blog Post

Corporate America’s next creative consultants? College kids on MindSumo

When big companies want new ideas, they typically turn to outside consulting and innovation firms. But MindSumo, a startup backed by Google Ventures, wants them to tap the creativity of college kids.

Launched by three co-founders who weren’t in college so long ago themselves, the startup provides an online marketplace of mini competitions sponsored by companies and organizations looking for solutions to real problems. The challenges give college students a way to show off their skills (and impress potential employers in the process) and it gives the companies access to new ideas and talent.

Co-founder Trent Hazy said that as a design student at Stanford he was lucky to have opportunities to work with companies in the area on real projects, but most college students don’t get that kind of exposure.

“We’re really trying to get students thinking about how their skills can be applied in the real world to tackle some of these issues that companies are facing today,” he said.

The company, which has raised $1 million in seed funding, launched in private beta with Stanford and 14 other universities last year and this week launched in private beta with a roster of clients including Facebook (s FB), Microsoft (s MSFT), IBM (s IBM) and Chegg.

On the site, Facebook, for example, is running a challenge soliciting new applications for social search. Chegg’s current challenge involves writing an algorithm to prevent class scheduling conflicts. Smithsonian Magazine is interested in ideas in everything from how to build a human colony on Mars to a treatment for a Modern American one-act play. Most clients list challenges under the name of their company but if a client feels like a challenge might reveal too much about their plans, they can submit a challenge anonymously.

Each challenge lasts until it’s received a predetermined number of submissions and then the company awards $50 to $150 to a set amount of winners. (Students give up all rights to intellectual property.)

Hazy said they estimate that about 25 to 30 percent of clients will implement ideas contributed by students (or at least some form of them). But even if they don’t use the ideas, he said their money (it costs between $1,000 and $6,000 for each challenge) is well spent because MindSumo can help generate ideas they may not have considered. And, like online learning sites Coursera and Udacity in a way, it can serve as a new way to recruit talent.

13 Responses to “Corporate America’s next creative consultants? College kids on MindSumo”

  1. Innocentive has been doing this type of challenge crowd sourcing for years in the scientific field. I think what is concerning to some of the people commenting is the $ amount of the awards, and the fact that since it is targeting creative college students, the fear that it may be taking advantage of some naiveté. Given that all new ventures modify their approach over time, these are 2 areas that MindSumo will need to re-think in terms of changes in their approach or changes in the communication of their rules/offering. With a few tweaks this could be a great idea.

  2. Sucker-punch

    Hmm, so a student with a revolutionary idea, which could generate millions in revenue for a company, might hope to see a payout of up to $150, and lose all rights of intellectual property….where do I sign up?

    • @Sucker-punch – I think the idea is for the students to be able to gain exposure to companies they will later want to interview at. The suggested solutions on Mindsumo usually tend to be quite high-level from what I have seen. It helps recruiters see who can think outside of the box. Win-win for every party involved.

      • Sucker-punch

        I understand what you’re saying HP and can appreciate that to some degree, exposure to prospective employers in the market full of numbers is always a plus. Also, I’ll admit I don’t know the in’s and out’s of contracts between consulting firms and the intellectual property they create for another company (right’s they may retain, etc.), if they can advertise that it was their idea, if they get a cut or royalty from a grand slam success they came up with or what it actually costs for to hire a firm for various idea generation.

        One example on the site (now complete) is for a brand name for a budget hotel chain. Pick a good name that resounds with a broad spectrum of society that’s easy to generate related advertising for and it could be a veritable gold mine. With the loss of intellectual property related to an idea, does a student still get to claim the idea as their own for a portfolio? If an idea is used and as it doesn’t guarantee an interview, much less a job, it just seems like it could be a pretty raw deal for the student.

  3. Jay Connolly

    Awesome concept– I would’ve loved to see real challenges companies are facing, and especially to get out of the traditional (miserable) interview paradigm. And $160k in tuition later, I know firsthand anything that makes time in college more practical is a real service to these students. Best of luck to you guys.

  4. Stephanie Handy

    I really like how everyone involved receives benefit: college students can make some money and possibly impress a recruiter, and the company can solve problems cheaply. Great idea!