Alumni’s Watch Company Earns Accolades in Open Innovation Challenge Held at Haas

Modify Industries, a company founded by Haas alumni that makes customizable watches, won honorable mention in the Zazzle Million Dollar Open Innovation Challenge launched in association with the Haas School’s Center for Open Innovation and MIT.

The finals for the challenge were held March 22 at Haas, which was joined by MIT’s Smart Customization Group as a partner in the competition. The winner was Selve, a 10-year-old German company with a factory in China, which will use Zazzle’s customization platform to sell fashionable, high-end, custom shoes in the U.S. Zazzle will invest $1 million in technology and services as it helps Selve build online configuration tools, develop a marketing plan, and launch its business on the Zazzle platform.

Modify Industries­­—led by Aaron Schwartz and Gary Coover, both MBA 10, and Liz Callahan, MBA 11—was among seven companies to receive honorable mentions from an initial pool of nearly 1,000 entrants in the challenge. Since its launch in July 2010, Modify has created customized watches for such organizations as Google, Facebook, and Major League Baseball Players Association. Modify donates a percentage of its sales to nonprofits, who also have partnered with the company to make watches as fundraisers.

The Zazzle Million Dollar Open Innovation Challenge was an outgrowth of the 2011 World Conference on Mass Customization, Personalization, and Co-Creation, co-sponsored by Haas in November. Participants in the challenge were asked to create a one-minute video demonstrating "an innovative concept for a new customizable product."

Mass customization is a business strategy closely linked and complementary to open innovation, a term coined by Haas by Adjunct Professor and alumnus Henry Chesbrough, PhD 97. Open innovation asserts firms should use external ideas in their businesses and allow their own ideas to be used in the external marketplace by others.

Chesbrough, executive director of the school’s Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation, and Solomon Darwin, associate director of the Center for Open Innovation, were the architects of the Open Innovation Challenge. Both established the criteria for winner and participated judging panel, which also included Bing Gordon of Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers; Jeff Beaver, co-founder of Zazzle; MIT Professor Frank Pillar; and Elizabeth Litten Miller, head of creative, global licensing and publishing at Hasbro.

For more information about the challenge, visit