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This quarter, Starbucks launched an initiative to bring a fully recyclable and compostable cup to the market within three years; Starbucks’ current coffee cup is only partially recyclable. Working with sustainability company Closed Loop Partners and its Center for the Circular Economy, the USD 10 million NextGen Cup Challenge seeks a global solution to the problem by awarding accelerator grants to entrepreneurs, along with other resources. All of the projects will be open-source, to promote the development of recyclable and compostable cups around the world.

If you’re trying to reinvent something – whether it’s internal or (if you’re as ambitious as Starbucks) something that impacts us all – then tapping into the collective intelligence of the world’s innovators makes sense. After all, as Joy’s Law states: “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” However, as anyone with a corporate accelerator / incubator knows, bridging the gap between corporate needs and startup energy isn’t easy. Starbucks’ framing it as a competition – with USD 10 million at stake – is a tried and tested route to surfacing innovative solutions, as pioneered by the X Prize.

Of course, we can’t discuss an innovation from Starbucks and ignore the elephant in the coffee shop. In response to the Philadelphia incident the coffee giant will close all 8,000 of its US shops for half a day of racial bias training. However, even this can’t possibly hope to solve the underlying social challenges. What if Starbucks could take a cue from its eco-cup initiative and not just partner with existing experts, but turned to the crowd for answers?

In the same vein, consider whether you could launch a challenge to ‘solve’ a thorny internal issue? If so, could you also go one step further and share your progress with society at large?

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