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Prizes can find innovation in places that grants can’t reach

By rewarding performance, not proposals, challenge prizes can make research and innovation more diverse, says Olivier Usher.

The Olympic games has two mottoes: the macho, “faster, higher, stronger”; and the more gentle, “the most important thing is not to win but to take part”. Challenge prizes, like Olympic sports, also have these two contrasting sides.

They accelerate progress through competition and incentives, including money, but also recognition, publicity and opportunities to test and gather data. The winners emerge battle-hardened, well-placed to thrive in the market and bring their innovation to scale.

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