Becoming Heroes: Harvard’s Crowd Innovation Lab Meets Crowdsourcing Project Winners

BY MAUREEN MURTHA | 7 min read


What motivates people to join a crowdsourcing community? Why do people work hard on challenges?  Is it the opportunity to tackle interesting problems? Or a taste for being in a competition with equally motivated or engaged people? Or the awareness that each individual effort might have an impact on the society?  Or simply to win some cash?

As a part of an ongoing research on the motivating factors of the crowd, researchers at the Crowd Innovation Lab at Harvard University have been asking these questions to the challenge winners on HeroX. We asked 18 people to respond to questions about their own motivations to join the HeroX community and participate by submitting solutions. Here is what they said:

Mariannewon an award in the  Super Hero Challenge and took part in Space Poop and Xprize Visioneers Challenges on HeroX. She is now an entrepreneur trying to find new ways to improve lives of those who go through treatment for breast cancer. As a response to Harvard's question about her motivations, she says that what brought her to HeroX was the opportunity to work on  "initiatives about how to make the world a better place."

Also, Eva, one of the winners of the Future of Food challenge, says that the opportunity to help others and make a difference was the main motivation to join the community. For her,  HeroX "is an exciting project where people get together to do what we humans do best and what has gotten us this far -- cooperate for the benefit of everyone."

Marta is a law student working on a global banking and financial services company. She reached the community because she was interested "in projects made for having a positive impact on society" and found HeroX  "a really interesting place to know people who are willing to share ideas." She judges her experience on HeroX very positive: "I participated and won in an HeroX Prize named `Blockchain for social good' and that experience was really a chance of growth. Even building the application form I felt that the work we were all doing was an awesome way of share ideas and values."

For members, such as Rob, the main motivation lies in testing one's abilities on a demanding problem.  When Rob saw an article about the Space Poop challenge on the Internet he found that the project was funny, interesting, and a good fit for a mechanical engineer, like he is. So he swiftly decided to sign up for the challenge, form a team with other HeroX members,  and work on the problem. The net result was that he and his teammates won an award in the very popular Space Poop Challenge.

Cliff participated in five challenges, winning an award in the Smart Guide Wheel challenge. He is a serial crowd innovator."I enjoy crowd innovation challenges because I love doing a deep dive investigating new domains of knowledge and exercising my ideation thinking process and proposal document writing. [...] I've worked on projects on four platforms so far and investigated others as well. HeroX has much more connection between the organization and the solvers & much greater interest in promoting solvers which are very different than Innocentive, for example." His expectations from the HeroX community are "to access a variety of interesting challenges with reasonable awards."

Born in the rural area of Brazil, Evaldo has always been a very creative person with about 20 patents under his name.  He joined HeroX because he wanted to explore new projects that "contribute to the good of humanity," but also with the prospect of winning some money for his work. As of today, he has taken part in 7 challenges winning an award in the Super Hero Challenge.

Sreeja holds an MBA and is currently a Human Resources Manager in Bangalore, India. She learned about HeroX while following closely the work of Peter Diamandis, founder, and chairman of the XPrize Foundation. "I subscribed to his blog posts and used to wait impatiently for his opinion on the exponential technologies which will be a part of our future." By joining HeroX, she wanted to keep herself "updated on the next big thing, keeping abreast with the developments around the world where innovation is harnessed by the power of the crowd." She said that learning different approaches due to the diversity of HeroX innovators was also an important motivation to join this community.

Georgia has been solving open innovation problems for several years now. On HeroX, she received 2 awards (in the Super Hero and Patterns of Success challenges). She thinks of HeroX community as "a unique type of community led by a unique mindset who changed very much on the crowdsourcing road and who can contribute greatly to organizations."

Bright runs a startup that focuses on innovative learning systems. The encounter with HeroX community was casual. "I went online to search for opportunities on innovation, a link to HeroX popped up, I followed it, and registered as a member." Despite the casual meeting, his motivations to work and collaborate on the projects of the platform are strong now: "Of all the platforms of opportunities, HeroX is so far the best and most legit. I expect to get more opportunities from HeroX and collaborate with fellow innovators in diverse projects which advance are the world; socially and economically."

Lata holds an MBA and has received an award in the Patterns for Success challenge. She said that being a member of this community may "let emerge one's Hidden Hero." She seems to share many of the core values of the platform like being courageous, having a positive attitude, and trying to be successful but humble.

Stephanie is a film director, producer, and screenwriter with already multiple awards for her work, despite the young age. This is her story with HeroX: "I stumbled upon HeroX one day at 3:00 AM, not even looking for anything. I guess one Facebook post led to another, then another, then before I knew it, I was browsing through a list of different challenges on the HeroX website. While most of them were geared towards science and innovation, one challenge, in particular, caught my eye. I found myself signing up for a chance to pitch a concept to a Canadian family who had just finished a journey to 80 countries around the world. They were looking for a filmmaker to tell the story of how they raised money and awareness for orphaned and abandoned children, and I immediately connected to the essence of it all. I posted my submission and, within a couple of weeks, I was hired by the Everitt family to take on the project. We began pre-production in September and are now putting the final touches on the film. As I have told them, HeroX made it possible for us to find one another. It provided a platform for like-minded individuals to come together and create something like nobody has ever seen before."

Jeremy is a physician. He won an award in Infrastructure 2050 challenge. Why join the community and contribute?  One simple reason: "I love sharing ideas and enjoy getting paid for it. My only expectation is for the contests to be fair and legitimate."

Ovidiu is a computer engineer. He has been in 4 competitions so far, receiving an award in the Fact Check challenge. Here, he reveals what leads him to join the platform. "I have discovered HeroX through [...] HeroX was promoted at that time on XPrize through one challenge called the `Cognitive Computing Challenge.' This challenge had an audacious and appealing goal: `Imagine if computers could read and interpret documents.' I have registered for this challenge and during the challenge period, I produced a solution to meet the required goals. No prize was finally awarded for this challenge, as no solution was considered satisfactory enough to meet the judging criteria. However, this challenge has opened the appeal to try solving other puzzles. Challenges are not lacking diversity; they involve all fields of engineering, programming, but also social sciences. I am always looking forward to the next challenge. Recently, I have been contacted by HeroX staff to take part in the judging panel for a specific challenge. Overall, it has been a great journey so far and it gave me this chance to take part in this community of problem solvers."

Rasool is a singer and songwriter. He received an award in the Super Hero Challenge, making submissions to the Space Poop Challenge as well. "I started my participation with HeroX by entering in the Space Poop Challenge. It was a fun challenge and required a lot of creative problem-solving. I wasn't the winner but the experience was amazing, as a fledgling inventor and I'm proud to have attempted to solve that issue. My expectations of the HeroX community are that we continue to find new and thought-provoking challenges, that we support each other's aspirations to improve the world we live in, and that every now and then I can take a prize home! Can't wait until my next contest."

Christopher's main occupation has  an important goal: "taking hunger off the table as a barrier to advancement in life for everyone, everywhere by decentralizing, demonetizing and democratizing food, energy, water and education." He came to HeroX "during my work in creating competitions on my own to solve challenges. My work, in general, has been based on finding people, groups, and programs that are exceptional at their core competency, and recognize that they are not automatically exceptional at everything." He recognizes that "Herox has a great team, with excellent tools, and the right sort of transparency/visibility I need."

Hugo studied Physics and Philosophy at the University of Oxford which might have helped him win an award in the Space Poop Challenge. What brought him to HeroX: "I originally came across HeroX through following the various competitions run by the XPrize Foundation. The emphasis on community that HeroX provides is part of what drew me to it. [...] On the one hand it's exciting to support each other and share ideas, and on the other, you're in a competition with a focus on unique solutions and individuality. There isn't really a framework for it!"

Sourabah is a student in Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad, India, with major in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He defines himself a "wantrepreneur,"  as he is  "passionate about designing new stuff that could ease out human effort."  He seems to like the competitive edge of HeroX. "It is the competition among the participants that really make things more interesting and challenging. I expect a healthy competition among the Herox community which should lead to betterment of every individual."

Cory is working in sustainability management consulting. She noted: "I learned about HeroX through a circular economy pitch competition I participated in. The platform allowed me to work alongside my geographically dispersed team to develop our concept, and build on the problem-solving approaches by other teams as well."


In conclusion, different factors motivates people to join a crowdsourcing community. Some people seem to be primarily motivated by the opportunity to help the others and make a difference. Others seem to have a liking for the competition side of projects. Others seem to view crowdsourcing as an opportunity for learning,  having fun solving hard problems, or even the prospect of winning money.

Information about the Crowd Innovation Lab at Harvard University can be found here.


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