By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

One of today’s most widely used buzz words is “innovation.” Everyone’s innovating – or they want to! As Intel CEO Paul Otellini said at the recent World Congress for Information Technology, “Returning to sustained economic growth means taking a long-term view with a mindset of investment.”

He continued, “Innovation results from combining people who have good ideas with investment. These are the guiding forces that lead to ideas which spawn new businesses that create new jobs, and ultimately lead to wealth creation and higher standards of living.”

Several companies in the US and around the world are taking it upon themselves to encourage innovation. In the long run, they hope, encouraging innovation can help themselves grow and improve standards of living, as well as improve economies globally.

The Intel Challenge: Seeking Innovative Entrepreneurs

“In the next decade, another half billion people will enter the workforce, and we will need to create the conditions to generate meaningful jobs for them and for the existing workforce,” said Otellini. “Intel has been in the business of delivering amazing innovations for more than four decades and we know that some of the best ideas are yet to come. The right investments today to create the innovators and industries of the future will put the world on the path toward economic growth.”

Otellini used his spotlight at the WCIT to announce Intel’s 2010 challenge: a chance for college students to test their entrepreneurial skill. Students will submit business plans, with the best receiving money toward their own start-up venture. According to a press release, “Business plans will be judged on their potential for positive societal impact and return to investors through the commercialization of new technologies in areas such as semiconductors, mobile and wireless, nanotechnology and life sciences.”

Intel has shown strong support for science and technology education. According to Otellini, the company plans to expand its education outreach globally, through its World Ahead program, which, according to the company, aims to bring sustainable and affordable computing and connectivity to “the next billion users” in emerging economies around the globe.

Rambus’s Commitment to Passion for Technology and Science

But innovation doesn’t start at the college level. Many companies award students for strength in innovation at the high school level – or even younger. For example, Rambus, a technology licensing company based in Los Altos, California, recently awarded two high school students, Malvika Verma of St. Francis High School and Edward Gu of Los Altos High School, its annual “Innovator of the Future” scholarships.

The $10,000 scholarships are provided “to broaden the educational opportunities of students who, by virtue of their academic and extracurricular achievement, demonstrate a passion for science and technology that extends beyond the classroom.”

Harold Hughes, president and chief executive officer, said, “At Rambus, we are committed to the future of innovation and are proud to foster the next generation of innovators.”

DuPont: Awarding Innovation and Sustainability

Last month, DuPont announced the winners of its 22nd annual DuPont Awards for Packaging Innovation. Most notable about this year’s awards was that top honor went to a design prized for its sustainability.

Alcoa and Exal won the Diamond award for their lightweight, sustainable Coil-to-Can®, or “C2C”, aluminum bottle. According to Carolann Haznedar, global business and market director, DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers, “This year we focused the DuPont Awards program on the essential elements needed to drive breakthroughs in packaging. Innovative new developments, along with cost/waste reduction and improved sustainability, are what packaged goods companies and retailers are seeking to respond to consumer needs.”

She continued, “These winners demonstrate the kind of collaborative innovation that is needed to solve such multi-dimensional problems.”

The Coca-Cola Company also received high honors, receiving a Gold award for its new PlantBottle Packaging, made up of 30% plant-based materials. According to a press release, “It is the first of its kind – beverage packaging made from renewable sources that is 100 percent recyclable, like traditional PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic. PlantBottle packaging can be recycled in the existing commercial recycling infrastructure.”

The awards show that sustainability is an issue moving into the forefront of innovation drivers. As employees grow to expect innovation in their companies, finding new ways to award and foster innovation both internally and externally is growing more important. What is your company doing to encourage innovation?