Staples Announces Invention Quest Semi-Finalists...Sort Of

Staples Invention QuestStaples Invention QuestIf you entered the 2007 Staples Invention Quest, you should have been notified by now if you made the cut of potential semifinalists. Stories are popping up all over the place from what Staples is calling "Nominees"...entrants from which the final pool of 15 semifinalists will actually be chosen. While this seems on its face to be an exciting thing, it turns my stomach a bit and I really feel bad for these people...and here's why:

In a previous post , I bashed Staples a little bit based on my own experience as a 2005 IQ finalist (the contest seems to be running every 18 months or so). The gist of my experience was that despite the promotion of the contest as being by the people and for the people, and with the winner getting a shot at having a product on Staples' shelves, it was pretty clear during and after the experience that Staples had little interest in the inventors or even the products themselves, and much more in the publicity generated by the event.

Unfortunately, this whole notion of "Nominees" does little to curb these impressions. For those of you who didn't enter the contest, here's the deal. Thousands of people entered (exact number isn't clear from the current wave of press releases, but 14,000 entered last year)The event promotion firm narrowed those down to 200. Staples reviewed the 200, and narrowed those down to 30 Nominees. Those 30 Nominees get reviewed again, and narrowed to 15 semifinalists, who then get to jump through the hoops of presenting their products to Staples with the hopes of making it to the finals.

Why, you may ask, don't they just narrow it down to 15 semifinalists to begin with? Why make a point about having this extra round of "Nominees"? After all, there's nothing new that happens between narrowing it down to 30 and narrowing it down to 15. It's like making it to Hollywood on American Idol but with the final 24 selected without anyone singing a single note. Why create this extra, arbitrary layer of the competition?

The answer is simple...publicity. Staples hires a PR firm that works with those who progress in the competition so they can be put in contact with local media outlets. While this seems positive on its face, I know from personal experience that there's some manipulation going on under the pretense of success which may not really be there. What makes me feel horrible about this is that these people don't even know they're just being used as media pawns. Half of them won't even get as far as pitching their ideas to Staples, so they're not really any degree closer to having their products on store shelves than if they never even made the first cut.

Is it surprising? No. Disappointing? Definitely. Unlike reality TV shows, where you know going into it that the publicity value is more important than the actual value, you would hope that a contest like this...a contest designed to tap into the creativity of everyday workers, teachers and just average people...would act like the people actually mattered. I can say from experience that a lot of emotion and energy gets invested when you make it this far in a contest like this. Rightly or wrongly, you place an inordinate amount on every word, every product detail, every single aspect of your product idea. Behind it all is the thought that this could be "your shot", your way out, your chance to live the American dream. So it's disappointing that Staples would be so cavalier about that level of emotion.

We'll get more into the Invention Quest when the actual semifinalists are announced in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully that will be a little lighter fare and we can actually talk a bit about the merits of the products themselves (to the extent that the public gets any details!).

One more thing that concerns me about the direction of this year's contest...go to the contest main page ( ), click on the link for Press Materials, then try to click on anything on that page. Can't do it? That's because the page is one giant JPG, it's not even a functioning page. So at the height of their media blitz the contest press page doesn't even work. Not a good sign.

So I'm really curious with all the inventors reading this site...did anyone get the call? Or do you know anyone who did? I'd love to get the thoughts of someone who's in the middle of it all! And yes, you can remain anonymous, because I know you don't want to do anything to jeopardize your me, I know!

Tim Whitney
Featured Blogger

Mar 8, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

hey brother, im one of the

hey brother, im one of the 15 semifinilist for the far ill be getting the 100$ gift card..and this year new rule for judging have asked all the semifiinalists to submit a DVD/VIDEO..of their invention, ive submitted it for my invention...judging is on the 14th of this month...just curious...u were a finalist..what was ur product..

Mar 9, 2007
by Tim Whitney

Congratulations, and have a

Congratulations, and have a blast. Don't stress out too much about the process (read my V for Vendetta post) and whatever you do, don't see this as your "one shot". You've obviously got enough practical creativity do come up with useful product ideas, so don't let the results of this contest change how you feel about that.

Not sure what I think about the video vs live presentation. With the video you can probably let a little more of your personality show through, and it's less stressful. You also don't have to pay taxes on the trip! I liked the live presentation because I could play off of their reactions, and I ended up adding a product to my "line" based on their comments. Of course, I still didn't win and they still didn't pick it up :) The live presentations did give the finalists a chance 

My product was a reusable recording device called the uNote that you could attach to a doorframe or a memo or anything you wanted to leave a brief voice message vs a handwritten one. It was based on existing technology, but I think it was too pricey overall for them to consider.

Let me know how it goes!

Apr 2, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Tim, I was one of the

Hello Tim,

I was one of the semifinalist in staples Invention quest of this year. I just wanted to say Thank You for all your advice and input in this contest. It really helped me prepare myself through the steps in this contest, which by the way was very stressful lol.

 Thank You