SPOTLIGHT- The Northern Rift Innovation Games: WATER

Welcome back! It is time for our Spotlight series. Today we will be featuring a Los Angeles based online idea building platform, Northern Rift. We had the pleasure of interviewing Robert DePinto, the founder of Northern Rift and got to ask a few things surrounding their new Innovation Game: WATER.

Without further ado, let’s go right to the interview.


Tell us a little bit more about Northern Rift and how the Innovation Games started.

Northern Rift is an online idea building platform where people share their “hunches” & ideas and the community contributes to rapidly move those ideas forward to a better yes, or faster no.

We all have ideas – the problem is, we rarely know what to do with them. Sometimes we don’t even share them, and we think that is a waste of human creativity, and great ideas may never see the light of day because of it. Our mission is to unlock the hidden potential in every hunch & idea.

The Innovation Games started because “innovations” have to win a battle between competing ideas. That “battle of ideas” has rules, is time bound, and there are different outcomes. i.e. it is a game, hence The Innovation Games was born.


What is your roll in the organization and what interested you in wanting to create an idea building platform?

I’m the founder of Northern Rift. I’ve always been interested in human potential and especially how much of it is wasted / not fully utilized.  In the late 90’s I built, (arguably) the first crowdsourcing platform in the world. We harvested the excess intellectual capacity of people from around the world to solve “specific” problems. From a business point of view, we made mistakes and after a few years of operation, ended up closing down. So i know what failure looks and feels like. Ouch! But importantly we learned a lot.

So, after 15 years and even with the many crowdsourcing & crowdfunding platforms, I still felt there was a lot more opportunity to value people’s creativity and ideas, so i came back to build Northern Rift. We’ve actually got 4 of the team from my first startup back. We “put the band back together” – it’s great!


Why the focus in water?

First, given SoCal is in a severe drought and we need ideas “now”, we felt it was a good fit for what we do – i.e. rapidly unleash the hidden potential in every idea.  We felt we could actually make a difference to Southern California by engaging a wider audience in the discussion; to surface new ideas and drive them to a better yes; and accelerate innovation in water conservation.

Second, water is a global issue that touches everything from the oceans, through to the health & security of every living creature on the planet – it is all connected. (In January 2015, the World Economic Forum, named water as the number 1 risk factor, in terms of social devastation, in the world today.)

With our digital platform, we hope to tap into global resource pool, and have an impact where its needed around the world.


The drought has easily become the number one topic in the media. How does the Innovation Game bring to life this ever so talked about subject? 

The average person can actually get involved in generating solutions. You dont have to be an “expert” to help create a solution.  Anyone can submit an idea, or they can contribute purely by using their skills, experience, and perspectives to make an existing idea better.

We’ve already seen ideas that started as a simple 2 line “hunch” get contributed to by people who share the same frustration, and quickly that 2 line idea takes a life of its own and people contribute to make the idea more robust by adding tips on marketing, competition, pricing etc.

We are also seeing ideas are getting cross-connected. i.e. there is overlap in some ideas, and when you combine them, the value proposition gets even better and more compelling for people to test & adopt the idea.

The more people that contribute the better, because you start to get all types of interesting cross-connections, sparks of imagination, and even some truly crazy ideas – and we do need those as well 🙂


When all is said and done, will the ideas submitted by players come to life?

Great question. As part of the game, we are offering several things to improve the chance ideas getting into market and having an impact:

  • the winners of each round (top idea generators and top collaborators) get a short masterclass in “hunch-to-innovation” i.e. the path to take that seed idea and turn it into an innovation in market. It is not a silver bullet – however it does contain valuable tips and a high level “map” of what lay ahead for new innovators which can save time and a lot of pain.
  • the top ideas will get a visual prototype done. it is about visual storytelling, which significantly improves the idea and its ability to get noticed.
  • as the game builds we are getting interest, from government agencies, corporates, incubators & other startups. All of which might be able to take these to the next stage.
  • and finally, all the ideas are viewable on, and our facebook page, so people can engage, discuss & share into the future, so perhaps an idea will get picked up then.


Thank you so much Rob for taking the time to answer the questions and for being building a space were everyone can share ideas and help address a pretty important issue – the drought! If you want to take a look at some 80+ ideas already submitted, check out their Facebook page here. If you want to learn more about how to join visit their website here.