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Verizon Rewards Innovation: The Envelope, Please

Mari Silbey

LAS VEGAS -- Verizon's presence was low key at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but the telecom giant did highlight the importance of applications innovation when it held a press briefing to announce the winners of its Powerful Answers contest.

While Verizon Communications Inc. believes its network can support vast innovation, the company also knows the industry needs entrepreneurs to build applications and solutions on top of that infrastructure in order to solve some of the world's most difficult problems.

The Powerful Answers competition was designed to encourage innovators in sustainability, education, and healthcare to submit their products and services for a chance to win cash prizes from Verizon. The winners announced at CES, each of which won $1 million, were:

  • Mosaic, a company with a platform allowing individuals to invest as little as $25 at a time in solar energy projects.
  • TinyTap, the creator of a system for making personalized, tablet-based educational games.
  • Smart Vision Labs, the inventor of a device that can automatically diagnose a person's level of vision impairment and determine the right glasses prescription.

    The awards ceremony was a small but lively affair hosted by Mo Rocca, a comedian and journalist of CBS and public radio fame, and Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam. After highlighting finalists in each category of the competition, Rocca and McAdam brought representatives from the winning companies on stage for a panel discussion. Asked what he thought success for his company would look like, CEO Yogev Shelly said he wanted TinyTap to be the "Wikipedia or YouTube for education content."

    Yaopeng Zhou, the co-founder of Smart Vision Labs, joked that he was going to spend all his company's winnings while in Las Vegas, but then seriously added that he wants to invest more in hiring engineers for continued research and development.

    CEO Dan Rosen added that he's hoping to turn Mosaic into a "sort of Kickstarter for solar," referring to the popular crowd-funding platform that allows any consumer to invest in startup projects.

    McAdam explained at the end of the panel session that Verizon is offering to help the winners in any way it can to commercialize their products. During the next 30 days, the company will also gather feedback from participants in the contest so it can begin planning Powerful Answers 2.0.

    Complete information on all of the finalists in the Powerful Answers contest is available right here.

    — Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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    Sarah Thomas
    Sarah Thomas,
    User Rank: Blogger
    1/10/2014 | 1:11:51 PM
    Re: Verizon v T-Mo
    I agree, and his approach to customers is totally different from any wireless CEO. I love that he interacts on Twitter with customers and the media. The sh*t-talking makes things interesting, but sometimes I think the whole act seems a little forced. He's definitely playing a role with his Red Bull on stage, publicity stunts, and language. It's working so far though!
    User Rank: Light Sabre
    1/10/2014 | 1:03:31 PM
    Re: Verizon v T-Mo
    Though I kinda like this Legere guy. Yea he is a bit unpolished and brash and keeps the guys who hit the "bleep" button on their toes, he is a real guy that relates to most people and is going to shake up the mobile industry. The bell heads of AT&T and VZ are going to have to start being more creative and less focused on number crunching to win.
    User Rank: Blogger
    1/10/2014 | 12:30:52 PM
    Meanwhile, reporter showed no class in Q&A
    Speaking of the T-Mobile news, there was one awful moment at the end of the press conference. A Reuters reporter was given the microphone for the first audience question and used the opportunity to change the subject of discussion to the announcement T-Mobile's CEO made about offering to buy out anyone's cellular contract in exchange for switching carriers. It was completely off topic, particularly with the winners of the Verizon award on stage.

    When the reporter asked what McAdam thought of the offer, the CEO deftly responded that this was not an appropriate question for the setting, and that he was sure the reporter could speak with Verizon's public relations people about the matter. Ouch. 
    Sarah Thomas
    Sarah Thomas,
    User Rank: Blogger
    1/10/2014 | 11:26:58 AM
    Re: Verizon v T-Mo
    AT&T's presence may not have been that big either if it weren't hosting its developer conference in conjunction with it. But yeah, Verizon seems to be staying out of the fray, which I think makes it look good.
    User Rank: Light Sabre
    1/10/2014 | 11:24:55 AM
    Re: Verizon v T-Mo
    I think VZ's network shows itself enough that a huge presence at CES is not needed. This show is more focused on end user devices. Being here would just be a waste of advertising dollars that can be better utilized. The network is always needed regardless of what new devices are out there. VZ CEO is more professional and has better things to do than crash competitor parties and spout off crap like someone we know...
    User Rank: Blogger
    1/9/2014 | 7:35:13 PM
    Re: Verizon v T-Mo
    Why do you think Verizo was so low-key at CES? That's not like them, is it? Was it just the wrong show for them?
    Sarah Thomas
    Sarah Thomas,
    User Rank: Blogger
    1/9/2014 | 1:11:07 PM
    Verizon v T-Mo
    I felt bad for Verizon, timing its event at the same time as T-Mobile's cuss-word laden, crap-talking, crazy press conference next door. Verizon was definitely a lot more low key, but I think that works in its favor. Legere even called AT&T out for giving into his antics. That's exactly what T-Mobile wants, of course. It's free PR. Verizon isn't giving it as much, if at all.
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