The MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy has launched the first annual Inclusive Innovation Competition. The contest will award $1 million in prizes to organizations whose innovations will improve economic opportunity for middle- and base-level income earners.

The competition stems from a movement that began last summer, when Silicon Valley leaders and prominent academics published an Open Letter on the Digital Economy. The goal was to draw attention to the digital economy's warts: the disappearance of jobs and the reduction in median family income.

The first two signatures on the letter came from Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, faculty members at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Since their 2014 book, "The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies," the authors have repeatedly made the following point: The digital era has led to remarkable benefits for business and the economy, but not done enough for people earning middle- and base-level incomes. The competition was a natural outgrowth of the book and open letter, says Brynjolfsson, who is also the director of the MIT initiative. 

The competition welcomes applications from companies and nonprofits of any size or age. Organizations are welcome to apply in four categories:

Skills: How do we re-skill members of our workforce to prepare them for opportunities of the future?

Matching: How do we connect qualified individuals with open opportunities for work? How do we better match labor supply with demand?

Humans + Machines: How do we use technology to augment human labor so that the outcome is greater than what either human or machine could achieve alone?

New Models: How do new operational practices and business models revolutionize the existing labor market and thus create new economic opportunities?

Four grand prize champions--one in each category--will receive $125,000. Sixteen other winners--four per category--will receive $25,000 awards. (So, all told, each category will have five finalists, one of whom will be chosen as the grand prize champion.)

"We refined the categories and tested them with other professors, entrepreneurs, policymakers, labor leaders, folks at think tanks, and ultimately settled on this list," adds Brynjolfsson.

Applicants must register for the competition by June 1 and complete applications by June 15. The judges will announce finalists August 10 and the grand prize champions September 26-29, at the MIT Solve Conference. You can learn more about the contest and application process at the MIT Inclusive Innovation Competition site

Published on: Mar 7, 2016