Sunshot Catalyst

U.S. Department Of Energy

Rapid Application Exploration through a Structured, Crowdsourcing-powered, Innovation Program


Business Prototypes and MVPs Delivered


Weeks to Complete the Work for All Teams


Members Worked on These Projects


Countries Across the Globe Represented

About the U.S. Department Of Energy

The mission of the Energy Department is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.

The Challenge

Not enough Americans have adopted solar energy and it is believed that soft-costs, combined with myriad barriers to adopt solar have hindered overall uptake. As part of its ongoing mission to boost adoption of solar energy, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a competition series called SunShot Catalyst to help cutting edge companies to speed time-to-market for innovative new solar solutions. Participants were challenged to submit problem statements that can be solved through automation, algorithms, data, and software.

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The Solution

Through an open call for ideas that generated hundreds of submissions, the DOE and NREL curated top ideas for business models into a grouping of 17 unique finalists. These 17 teams were each given access to the Topcoder platform and a budget of $25,000 per team, enabling them to execute quickly on design concepts, prototypes, and MVPs (minimum viable product).

At the conclusion of the building phase of this managed innovation program, the teams showcased their apps live in front of a panel of judges, and five startups were awarded cash prizes to kickstart their businesses–and help boost the number of Americans using and benefitting from solar energy.

The Result


For the U.S. Department of Energy, the SunShot Catalyst program was a true business accelerator, helping their agency first identify, and then explore and validate digital business concepts at a much faster rate than traditionally possible.

This program received the ISPIM Grand Prize for excellence in innovation management and led to sequel programs, building on the success of the first SunShot Catalyst.

“Crowdsourcing has been a force multiplier for sunshot catalyst – a $1m prize program on a lean operational budget. We have raised the bar across the U.S. Federal government for what can be accomplished with crowdsourced software development of rapid prototypes. ”

Michael Contreras
PhD former AAAS Science &
Technology Policy Fellow –
U.S. Department of Energy

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