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Philips looks to crowdsource new product ideas, from its North American headquarters in Andover

Posted by Scott Kirsner  June 24, 2013 03:02 PM

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Can a massive multinational tap into two of today's hottest business trends, crowdsourcing product ideas and crowdfunding their development?

The Dutch lighting, electronics, and healthcare giant Philips NV is going to find out, with a new "Innovation Fellows" competition running through mid-August. The company is laying out $100,000 in prize money — plus mentorship from company executives — for the top five product ideas related to "Living Well, Being Healthy, and Enjoying Life," according to the program's site. Inventors and entrepreneurs will be asked to run crowdfunding campaigns for their ideas on the site Indiegogo, soliciting money from interested backers, presumably to show which ones can garner the most monetary momentum. But a six-member panel of judges will choose the ultimate winners.

The competition is being led from the company's North American headquarters in Andover. (Philips has nearly 4,000 employees who work in Massachusetts, mainly in its healthcare and lighting divisions.) "We think this is one of the first attempts by a large company to do open innovation, and not think that our 100,000 employees will think of everything," says Greg Sebasky, right, chairman of Philips North America. "All of the intellectual property of the ideas submitted will remain with the inventor," he adds, though Philips may decide to forge a partnership or make an investment in one or more of the winners.

Sebasky says the company is interested in the ways that new technologies like wearable sensors and mobile apps can be integrated into the existing healthcare system, as opposed to just delivering information to an individual consumer. "We see all this information ultimately needing to get back into a patient health record," he says. Among the Massachusetts businesses Philips owns are the Lifeline medical alert system ("I've fallen and I can't get up") and Color Kinetics, whose LED lights illuminate the Leonard P. Zakim Bridge on Route 93. Elements of Philips' Lightolier products are made in Fall River.

"My best-case scenario for this competition is to find...an application or device that Philips is interested in taking forward, with some ownership or partial ownership," says Sebasky. Another goal is to "improve our ability to attract the talent we need," he says, "because we're trying to improve our employer brand as well as our consumer brand."

Winners will be announced in October.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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