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TechStream looks at new technologies being developed at Lawrence Berkeley Lab. If you’re interested in knowing what tomorrow’s technology will look like, then check back here frequently.

How to Win an R&D 100 Award – the Oscar of Invention

It’s that time of year for the Oscars. Not just the Oscars handed out at the Academy Awards a few weeks ago, but the Oscars of Invention – the annual R&D 100 Awards. Every year since 1963, R&D Magazine has recognized 100 of the best technological developments coming out of research and industry. The Lab has fared pretty well with 58 R&D 100 Awards under its belt, winning its first two in 1984.

Since 1984, Berkeley Lab has won 58 R&D 100 Awards.

Since 1984, Berkeley Lab has won 58 R&D 100 Awards.

So what does it take to win one of these coveted awards? I’d like to think I know. I’ve written for two winning technologies (TEAM Electron Microscope Stage, 2009; Chemicals on Demand, 2010) and edited a few others. Two heads are better than one, so I sat down with Suzanne Storar – the Lab’s Tech Transfer Marketing Writer who’s put together more than a few winning submissions herself and manages the R&D 100 process for the Lab – to see if we could figure out a surefire formula for success.
Top 5 Tips to Win an R&D 100:
1. Master the Matrix. No, not the movie with Keanu. I’m talking about The Competitive Matrix, where you show how your technology surpasses others like it. Rita Peters, editorial director at R&D Magazine, describes the matrix and product comparison section as the most important section “where many entries fail to explain their technology and its contribution to the market in clear, objective terms.”

Suzanne takes this advice seriously, and encourages scientists to “consider how your invention is 10 times or 100 times better than the competition. Something that is incrementally better than its predecessor is probably not a good candidate.”

Chemicals On Demand, an R&D100 winner

Chemicals On Demand, an R&D100 winner

2. Looks do matter. Suzanne and Pam Seidenman, the Tech Transfer Business Development and Marketing Manager, learned from scientists who were R&D 100 judges in the past that presentation counts. Even if a technology is really impressive, “judges may overlook it if it looks like it was typed with an old Corona and has no graphics,” she says. Suzanne also recommends using the cover to promote the invention’s societal benefits, as she did with Chemicals On Demand.

3. Assume your judges have a short attention span. Suzanne advises nominees to “give the judges your elevator pitch within the first 10 seconds.“ She also recommends pumping up your application with pull-quotes from the nominee’s letters of recommendation to help the judges see the invention’s strengths right away.

I think movies are a great way to grab the judges’ attention, especially for instrumentation submissions. NCEM scientist Andreas Schmid, one of the inventors of the TEAM Electron Microscope Stage (a 2009 winner), is convinced that the animated movie of a ladybug (the stage) juggling a Rubik’s Cube (the molecular sample) helped to set the TEAM entry apart from the other microscope technologies. I tend to agree with him, but maybe I’m biased – my group produced the video:

4. Don’t forget the Wow! Factor and societal benefits. The R&D Magazine editors describe the Wow! Factor as “products that leapfrog current technology” and asks the question “how does your product benefit humankind?”

I see the Wow! Factor and societal benefits as two conjoined pieces of a puzzle: You can’t write about one without talking about the other. Take Chemicals on Demand, for example. One of its Wow! Factors was that it works two orders of magnitude faster than its competitors. But we can’t just leave it at that and expect to win. You have to ask yourself, “So what?” When we did, we realized that the COD invention could also revolutionize targeted cancer treatments with less side effects, and bring us closer to recycling electronics with self-repairing materials.

5. Commit to your writer. Suzanne makes sure the scientist understands he or she must be available to work with their assigned in-house writer. If you want to be a contender, expect up to 40 hours between November and March of reviewing at least three drafts and sending feedback to your writer. If you don’t have time, find one or two other people on your research team who do.

While it’s too late to test our winning tips in this year’s contest, it’s not too early to ask Suzanne about competing in 2013. “If a scientist comes to me directly, that’s a good sign that he or she is willing to put in the effort needed for a strong nomination,” she says.

Right now, six Berkeley Lab nominees are putting the finishing touches on their applications for this year. Will it be another grand slam for the Lab? And will yours be next?

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