Verizon seems to have caught the startup competition bug.
Last year, the company launched its first-ever Powerful Answers award, which awarded $1 million prizes to innovative startups working on education, healthcare, and sustainability solutions. Now the contest is back for 2014, and it’s adding a new startup category: transportation.
If you’ve got a startup that’s focused on those four categories, you can submit an entry in the competition here. The winners in each category will once again receive $1 million, while two runner-ups in each category will receive $250,000.
“Last year was just us beginning from a standing start,” said John Doherty, senior vice president of corporate development at Verizon, in an interview with VentureBeat.
“It was just absolutely phenomenal; we expected wonderful things; but we really didn’t know what would come out of it.”
The original contest was announced by Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam at last year’s CES as proof that the company was getting serious about using LTE for social good. And with the winners for last year’s competition, Verizon seems to have proved his point: Smartvision Labs is developing a way to conduct eye exams using smartphones; Lavamind developed the fantasy business simulation game Zapitalism; and BridgingApps is developing ways to use technology to help people with disabilities.
“One of the things we absolutely learned is that if you do something like [put on a competition like Powerful Answers], amazing things happen,” Doherty said.
As for the new focus on transportation, Doherty noted, “It made the most sense to us at this point in time. This contest is very much about innovation. We are a commercial institution; we want to make sure there’s also some relation to our business as well.”
“In transportation, we also have some use from companies that offer machine-to-machine products, and there are some things that connect back to our core business.”
Of course, while Verizon’s focus on social good is praiseworthy, the contest is also clearly a way for the company to ingratiate itself with the startup community. The company’s court case against the FCC ultimately led an appeals court to decide that the FCC couldn’t impose net neutrality restrictions on businesses. That’s a move that could have far-reaching implications for the way the internet works in the future.
The Powerful Answers Award also gives Verizon a way to promote its Innovation Centers. Located in San Francisco and Waltham, Mass., the centers feature tools for companies to test their technology on its network. Technology from Powerful Answers Award winners will also be featured in Verizon’s Innovation Centers.