The X Prize Foundation recently hosted its 2011 gala at the Regency Theater in San Francisco, bringing together an eclectic mix of international entrepreneurs, philanthropists and celebrities for an evening that raised $2.7 million for the Foundation’s bold vision for the future.
Founded by Peter Diamandis, the X Prize awards millions of dollars to innovators who compete to create tools that address global issues of energy and environment, ocean and space exploration, life science, development and education.
I spoke with Wendy Schmidt before the presentation, and she said “When I had the opportunity to step in and fund this prize, it was a no-brainer. I said, let’s find out how to do this better. So our competitors not only did better, they exceeded the industry standard four times over in oil recovery.”
This year, the event honored the winners of the $1.4 million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Prize.
Elastec/American Marine was the winner of the $1 million grand prize for developing a more efficient petroleum skimmer technology, and second-place went to a company called NOFI that built a boom to collect oil and then separate it from the water.
For Mrs. Schmidt it’s vital that technology be funded for dealing with the terrible environmental damage caused by oil, and creating better alternatives.
“The key to our future is in the chemical and biological systems on this planet, not in dead fossil fuels,” she said.
I also caught up with Brian Binnie, who deals with matters quite far from sea. He won the first X Prize in 2004 for manning the first private spaceflight in history.
“To win the X Prize you had to go to space twice in a two-week period with the same vehicle. And I did that and won the prize. Now we’ve moved on to building the second generation vehicle,” he said.
Sir Richard Branson is funding Binnie’s second space effort, called SpaceShipTwo. “We’re about probably 6 months out from starting powered flights of that vehicle. It’s interesting times for us,” said Binnie, who mentioned that $1 billion has been invested in SpaceShipTwo.
Richard Branson wasn’t at this year’s event, but Virgin Galactic was still well represented by CEO George Whitesides with wife Loretta Whitesides (a Bay Area native) and VIP sales exec Dave Clark with his girlfriend, Princess Beatrice of York.
Notables such as director James Cameron (a co-chair for the event), model Amber Valletta, Bebo founder Michael Birch, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley, and actress Goldie Hawn (a guest of Intelius’s Naveen Jain) could be seen checking out all of the technological presentations on display.
Goldie Hawn said “It’s my first exposure to this and I’m really enjoying it. It’s building consciousness. It’s exciting.”
As founder of the The Hawn Foundation, she uses Twitter a lot to communicate about her work, so we chatted about social media.
“There are different avenues now for distributing information,” she said. “In the past we were out protesting. We didn’t have all of this available to us. It created the Arab Spring. Change has been created because of social networking.”
The evening was designed to inspire the guests to think about the future, and what kind of X Prize prizes they would like to see. Shawn Golhar, a Vice President at Barclay’s Capital in New York, didn’t hesitate in coming up with an idea.
“I think college tuition is too expensive!” Golhar said. “When the average American income is $50,000 a year, and tuition is $40,000 — I’m sorry, that does not work. You’re going to decimate the middle class.”
He has some novel ideas on how to fix the problem, and perhaps some day it will happen. The ongoing relevance of the X Prize is that it inspires people to think progressively in all areas of life, whether it’s environmental, cultural, technological or even political.
Founded in 1995 by Peter Diamandis, the X PRIZE Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization solving the world’s Grand Challenges by creating and managing large-scale, high-profile, incentivized prize competitions that stimulate investment in research and development worth far more than the prize itself.
Nick Bilton, Zach Bogue, Ron Conway, Dennis Crowley
The X PRIZE Foundation conducts competitions in four Prize Groups: Education & Global Development; Energy & Environment; Life Sciences; and Exploration (Ocean and Deep Space). Prizes won include the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for private, suborbital space flight; the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE for creating safe, affordable, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 MPG energy equivalent (MPGe); the $2 million Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X CHALLENGE for advanced rocket development; and the $1.4 million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE for highly effective oil spill cleanup methods. Active prizes include the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE and the $10 million Archon Genomics X PRIZE presented by Medco.
For more information, go to www.xprize.org.