Climate Action

Marcius Extavour on how XPRIZE aims to drive technological solutions for sustainable development

At the Sustainable Innovation Forum 2019, Climate Action caught up with Marcius Extavour, Executive Director, NRG COSIA Carbon at XPRIZE, to discuss how they aim to drive technological solutions for sustainable development.

  • 17 January 2020
  • Rachel Cooper

At the 10th annual Sustainable Innovation Forum 2019, Climate Action caught up with Marcius Extavour, Executive Director, NRG COSIA Carbon, at XPRIZE, to discuss how they aim to drive technological solutions for sustainable development.


1. Let’s start with some background on XPRIZE and its most exciting competitions to date.

Since 1994, the XPRIZE Foundation has launched 17 competitions with prize purses worth more than $150 million in aggregate. We have fully or partially awarded 13 of those competitions and have three active competitions with six more prizes set to launch in 2020 with prize purses totalling more than $65 million.  our prizes produce outsized returns on philanthropic dollars, driving 10-50X in investment and spending by competing teams. Examples include:


  • The $20M NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE has leveraged investment in excess of $170M so far, and finalist teams have raised nearly $100M collectively to date. The $10M Ansari XPRIZE resulted in $100M spent by competing teams
  • $420M has been invested or spent by teams in the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a 60X return on $7M in awarded prizes
  • The $4M grand prize in the Shell Ocean Discover XPRIZE drove $52Min investment and spending by competing teams
  • More than $105M was invested in teams competing for the $2.25M Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE
  • The $7M Adult Literacy XPRIZE has led to the development of companies 


2. Can you tell us about the importance of competitions in driving technological solutions for sustainable development? What are the keys to their success?

Prizes can be used to incentivize many types of innovation – technological innovation, process innovation, social innovation, etc. XPRIZE tends to anchor our competitions around technical breakthroughs since those are often the simplest to measure objectively. It’s clear that sustainable development goals cannot all be achieved through technological innovation alone, however, tech innovation can be a powerful and important enabler for reaching those goals more quickly, cheaply, and equitably. The keys to strong prize competition in sustainable development are to identify those aspects of the problem that can be addressed through technology, and to define the clearest and simplest possible set of criteria and metrics for success for competitors.


3. What role does cross-sector collaboration play in competitions and how valuable is it?

Incentive competitions are great catalysts to build and expand innovation ecosystems. By allowing anyone to compete, they create spaces for innovative solutions to come from anywhere, including non-traditional individuals and institutions. Cross-sector collaboration is a natural outcome of this process, especially when prizes can serve as catalysts for entire innovation ecosystems. In particular, by asking for demonstrations of working solutions that go beyond proofs of concepts or proposals, cross-sector collaboration becomes the fastest and most efficient way for competitors in a prize to maximize their chances of winning.


4. This year has seen calls for climate ambition reach an all-time high, where do you think competitions can play the biggest role in responding to this? Do you see their role evolving and/or expanding in the future?

The world is now awake to the challenge of climate change, but the conversation remains dominated by re-statements of the problem, its severity, blaming and shaming of those perceived to be most responsible, and public calls for action. The next frontier needs to focus on practical solutions and plans to implement them as soon as possible. This is where prizes can play an important role – in helping to accelerate and identify solutions, accelerate them to the point when they are ready to be scaled and ultimately deployed.


5. What is the importance of events such as the Sustainable Innovation Forum in supporting the goals of XPRIZE?

The Sustainable Innovation Forum is the type of event at which XPRIZE looks to inspire others collaborate with us, and at which we can connect our prize work to broader innovation and change-maker communities. Innovation is about more than gadgets and breakthrough ideas. It is also about the hard work of implementing solutions, and building partners across industry, government, and civil society to make those solutions real and viable.


XPRIZE was a Strategic Partner of the 10th annual Sustainable Innovation Forum which took place alongside COP25 on the 10-11 December in Madrid, Spain. To learn more about the Sustainable Innovation Forum 2020, visit the event's official website here.