Keep Cool and Carry On: Innovation Contests and Hershey

By Eloise Young, Ph.D., Senior Program Manager, NineSigma

Innovation contests, and their bigger counterparts, grand challenges, have become increasingly popular over the past few years. This is because they offer a way to find solutions from a global community while simultaneously positioning the sponsor as a player in the field and reinforcing the sponsor’s brand.

One example is the Cool Ship Technologies Contest, sponsored by The Hershey Company and administered by NineSigma. Currently, chocolates that are shipped in warm weather months or to warm climates are wrapped with frozen gel packs using a thin insulating layer and packaged in a corrugated shipping box. This process gets the job done: chocolate arrives at its destination without melting. But the frozen gel packs add weight to the package, may cause condensation that can damage the product packaging, and can be problematic to dispose of properly.


Hershey would like to develop a lightweight, affordable shipping system that will keep chocolate at the ideal temperature, 75°F or below, for at least 48 hours. The ultimate goal is to develop a system affordable enough that it can be used year round as standard packaging.

This is a great topic for an innovation contest because everyone understands the problem: melted chocolate. Potential contestants can easily see how their technology may or may not be a good fit. Since this is a public-facing effort, Hershey will reap ancillary benefits in addition to technical solutions. The contest promotes awareness for the Hershey brand and signals to others that Hershey is part of the larger group of companies and organizations that practice open innovation. So how do these contests produce a desired result?


An informational webinar is being held tomorrow, January 14, at 10 AM EST regarding this contest, register to attend. A recording and transcript of the information conveyed during this webinar will be available 5-10 days later

Part of what makes an innovation contest successful is attention to the award structure and its alignment with the sponsor’s objective for running the contest. What is the award and how many awards are there?  Money is always a strong motivator, but there are other types of awards. The opportunity to work with a major company, access to resources and/or expertise, or the possibility of developing a business relationship with the sponsor are all excellent examples of non-monetary awards. Having multiple awards is another approach that is very successful. People are more likely to participate if they feel there are more chances, and sponsors benefit through higher participation levels.

In the case of the Hershey contest, Hershey is interested in novel shipping systems that are mature enough to be prototyped within the next 6-9 months. The phased structure contest being used by Hershey offers up to 5 contestants the opportunity to develop funded prototypes for Hershey to evaluate. The prototypes will be evaluated against each other and against a minimum performance threshold. The group producing the best-performing prototype that exceeds the minimum performance threshold will receive additional funding from Hershey for further development. This setup allows for multiple technologies to advance, providing benefits to both Hershey and to the multiple winners.

In comparison to Hershey’s contest, NineSigma administered a BASF Energy Contest last year. BASF was interested in identifying novel approaches to chemically-based stationary energy storage. They awarded four groups €100,000 each for their proposed approaches. In addition to the cash prize, each of the winning groups received public recognition for their achievements and have developed a technical relationship with BASF.

As is demonstrated above, a range of approaches are available for those interested in utilizing innovation contests, but innovation contests aren’t the right approach for every problem. When properly used, they can provide the sponsor with a wide array of new ideas and/or approaches and enhance the sponsor’s brand awareness.


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