GE Logo

GE Harnesses Open Innovation To Make Power Grid Technology Smarter

“I’ve never seen that many ideas processed with such due diligence as in this event.”

Steve Vassallo

General Partner, Foundation Capital


GE Logo



$55 Million

The Challenge

Ranked one of the world’s largest businesses with revenues of $160+ billion, GE is a giant global conglomerate constantly searching for new areas of opportunity. With this in mind, GE’s CEO Jeffery Immelt launched Ecomagination, a corporate initiative to develop new power grid technologies; a market estimated at $200 billion over the next decade.

Committed to investing $10 billion into Ecomagination from 2010 to 2015, GE realized that the program’s success would be critically tied to leveraging knowledge and ideas beyond the company walls and to collaborating with small businesses around the planet.

The Solution

At a large launch event on July 13, 2010, GE announced the Ecomagination Challenge, a global open contest that called for ideas on how to improve the existing power grid using innovative 21st century technologies.

Together with top venture capital firms Emerald Technology Ventures, Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Rockport Capital, GE committed $200 million to help entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world develop their ideas and bring them to market. $100,000 awards were offered for each of five winning ideas along with the potential to partner with GE or its VC partners.

GE Body

GE selected Brightidea’s cloud-based innovation management solution as the online platform for the contest. Built on Brightidea’s WebStorm software, the Ecomagination Challenge website offered visitors a dynamic, friendly user-experience with dozens of ways to participate and stay informed. GE leveraged the full capabilities of the Brightidea software including:

• Idea Submission by Individuals and Teams, Voting and Collaboration
• Public and Private Submission Fields
• Integrations with Google Maps and a data visualization application
• User-Friendly iPhone App
• Promoting ideas on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube

GE prominently featured the challenge on its homepage and reported on developments in a dedicated blog. Custom features, like a data visualization app and an interactive leaderboard of the top 100 ideas, provided visibility into the best and brightest ideas.

User votes determined the community’s most popular proposals on the challenge website. At the same time, ideas were routed to subject matter experts at GE and its partner VC firms for quick but thorough evaluation and further development. Brightidea’s Switchboard software was used to streamline and accelerate this process. Finally, a panel of judges – Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine, Bob Gilligan, VP of Energy Services/Digital Energy at GE, and Mark Little, Senior VP and Director of GE Global Research – determined the final winners.

Steve Vassallo, general partner with Foundation Capital said: “I’ve never seen that many ideas processed with such due diligence as in this event.”

The Results

By the end of the 10-week challenge, the site garnered 70,000 users from over 150 countries, contributing 3,844 ideas and 80,000 comments and casting over 120,000 votes.

At a press event soon after, GE announced the winners of the Ecomagination challenge: twelve projects were selected to partner with GE and received funds totaling $55 million. In addition, the contest’s most voted on submission received a $50,000 award.

GE also went beyond the $200 million already pledged by granting $100,000 each for five promising product ideas in their early-concept development phase. In addition, as 15% of submissions came from students, GE promised to invest $10 million a year in academic partnerships to promote technological advancement through education.

In 2016, GE’s innovation initiatives continue to thrive. Over 85,000 users from 150 different countries have submitted 6,900 ideas, 8,600 comments and 94,000 votes towards the open innovation challenges.

GE Stats