To address our research questions, we are implementing an RCT within an innovation contest for a subset of students who are arguably most at risk of entering innovative careers. In particular, we intend to introduce an innovation contest open to all undergraduate engineering and computer science students in a top US engineering department for which participants will be required to develop a mobile phone or web application that solves a specific problem assigned by the contest. The problem was chosen by technology managers and entrepreneurs in collaboration with the authors.
Students will be invited to enroll in the contest and will have approximately three months to develop their application. To attract contest participants, in cooperation with the Engineering and Computer Science Department, we will advertise the contest through email blasts and weekly departmental digital newsletters, and hold info-session. Students will have until a pre-specified date to sign up. The application submission deadline will be set for three months after the sign-up deadline. After the sign-up deadline has past, we will email a randomly selected subsample of engineering and computer science students who did not sign up to offer them $100 for participation in the contest. We will over sample on females to ensure we have a large enough sample of females to analyze their outcomes. They will have until the end of that week to accept this offer. This incentive is our inducement treatment, which is designed to ‘create’ innovators from a sample that did not self-identify as such. After this second sign-up deadline has passed, participants will receive the problem they will need to solve with their applications. All participants will receive the $100 offered to the induced population to eliminate concerns about income effects.
When signing up for the contest, students will be asked to complete a survey that asks them their gender, study major, GPA, year of study, and whether or not they've previously participated in an innovation contest. Although we cannot collect this data from the population of students who do not sign up for the contest, we will have aggregate data gender, and GPA by major in order to determine whether students who participate look different on average than the population they were drawn from.
During the contest, a randomly selected sub-sample of participants will receive weekly confidence boosting emails. This treatment will allow us to test whether self-selected innovators and induced innovators respond differently to an important innovation management practice.
Applications submitted by the contest deadline will be evaluated by a panel of expert evaluators, including those who chose the problem to be solved by the app, to test the applications and score each on their user friendliness, novelty, effectiveness, and commercial value. The first place winner will be awarded $5,000, second place will win $2,000, and third place will win $1,000.
Based on prior innovation contests run at the school, we expect the initial sign up to be 150 students. We will then target 1,000 students with the inducement treatment from which we expect a take-up of about 15%.
Our analysis will consider whether and how induced innovators perform differently than self-selected innovators, and whether the encouragement emails affected these groups differently. We will also analyze whether these treatments affect males and females differently.