Intel Innovators Campaign Funds Youth Startups

Tech giant merges marketing, investment to develop new ideas

What's the difference between an advertising campaign and a startup accelerator? In the case of "Intel Innovators," there isn't much of one.

Launched by the tech giant in December, “Intel Innovators” is a Facebook marketing push in the form of a contest for young tech entrepreneurs seeking cash to bring their ideas to life. On Thursday, the brand announced the winner of the campaign's second round—a 23-year-old computer engineer whom the brand will give $100,000 to develop software that is designed to make tablets more friendly for people with fine motor disabilities like cerebral palsy.

Assistive Scanning Keyboard,” created by Chris McMeeking, is a visual aid that tracks through a tablet keyboard, highlighting rows and letters that also turns the entire screen into a trigger, so users can spell out words by touching anywhere. “With our mobile app alone we can allow [users with disabilities] to text/call their family, read a book, browse the Internet, and much more,” reads a description of the idea. The technology has already been tested with cerebral palsy patients at a school and children’s hospital, and McMeeking’s company, ASK Interfaces, is working towards releasing iOS and Android versions of the application

The idea technically won two $50,000 prizes: One from an expert panel that heard pitches from five entrepreneurs culled through fan feedback from twenty committee-selected submissions, and a second awarded by a “Top Fan.” (The “Top Fan” is a Facebook user who invested the most "Social Currency" during a given round. Points are earned by using the app, nominating friends’ ideas, sharing submissions and otherwise participating in and amplifying the campaign, and then spent to push ideas up the leader board into the five finalist slots).

The first round pot of $100,000, announced in late December, was split between two winners. One was “LoginWill,” a tool that lets users assign beneficiaries for their online logins and passwords and instructions on how to handle a Facebook account in case of death, for example. The other was “Cosmic Cart,” a video ecommerce technology that lets viewers buy products from online clips.

The campaign taps into the excitement over startups using trendy advertising techniques like crowd-sourcing and gamification. And, it appears to be working—Intel said it’s generated thousands of ideas and created hundreds of thousands of "engagements" in its target demographic, 18- to 24-year-olds. Created by youth marketing agency Noise, the campaign limits contestants to people in the same age range. While that decision was driven in part by legal considerations—Intel maintains it can’t award cash to under 18-year-olds—the upper cap has invited minor grumbling from entrepreneurs too old to participate. Limiting eligibility to those 24 and under was driven by Intel’s desire to focus on college-aged students, the brand says.

Users can still participate in the investing portion of the third round, but any would-be contestants looking to submit are out of luck, at least for the time being. So far, the campaign is only scheduled to run for three rounds. Submission for the third closed on Jan. 16th, and Intel has yet to publicly announce any plans for an extension. But, the app’s submission page does promise to inform would-be contestants when submissions open for a fourth round. So there may be hope yet—for anyone who doesn’t turn 25 first.