An inducement prize contest (IPC) is a competition that awards a cash prize for the accomplishment of a feat, usually of engineering. IPCs are typically designed to extend the limits of human ability. Some of the most famous IPCs include the Longitude prize (1714–1765), the Orteig Prize (1919–1927) and the prizes from the X Prize Foundation.
IPCs are distinct from recognition prizes, such as the Nobel Prize, in that IPCs have prospectively defined criteria for what feat is to be achieved for winning the prize, while recognition prizes may be based on the beneficial effects of the feat.
Throughout history, there have been instances where IPCs were successfully utilized to push the boundaries of what would have been considered state-of-the-art at the time.
The Longitude Prize was a reward offered by the British government for a simple and practical method for the precise determination of a ship's longitude. The prize, established through an Act of Parliament (the Longitude Act) in 1714, was administered by the Board of Longitude. Another example happened during the first years of the Napoleonic Wars. The French government offered a hefty cash award of 12,000 francs to any inventor who could devise a cheap and effective method of preserving large amounts of food. The larger armies of the period required increased, regular supplies of quality food. Limited food availability was among the factors limiting military campaigns to the summer and autumn months. In 1809, a French confectioner and brewer, Nicolas Appert, observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seals leaked, and developed a method of sealing food in glass jars. The reason for lack of spoilage was unknown at the time, since it would be another 50 years before Louis Pasteur demonstrated the role of microbes in food spoilage. Yet another example is the Orteig Prize which was a $25,000 reward offered on May 19, 1919, by New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig to the first allied aviator(s) to fly non-stop from New York City to Paris or vice versa. On offer for five years, it attracted no competitors. Orteig renewed the offer for another five years in 1924 when the state of aviation technology had advanced to the point that numerous competitors vied for the prize. Several famous aviators made unsuccessful attempts at the New York–Paris flight before relatively unknown American Charles Lindbergh won the prize in 1927 in his aircraft Spirit of St. Louis.
A leading organization in development and managing IPCs is the X PRIZE Foundation. Its mission is to bring about "radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity" through incentivized competition. It fosters high-profile competitions that motivate individuals, companies and organizations across all disciplines to develop innovative ideas and technologies that help solve the grand challenges that restrict humanity's progress. The most high-profile X PRIZE to date was the Ansari X PRIZE relating to spacecraft development awarded in 2004. This prize was intended to inspire research and development into technology for space exploration. Indeed, the X Prize has inspired other "letter" named inducement prize competitions such as the H-Prize, N-Prize, and so forth. In 2006, there was much interest in prizes for automotive achievement, such as the 250 mpg car.
In Europe there has been a re-emergence of challenge prizes that following in the tradition of the Longitude Prize for solutions which impact on social problems. Nesta Challenges, based in London, is an example of this running prizes for innovations that for example reduce social isolation or make renewable energy generators accessible to off the grid refugees and returnees.
In some literature on the subject, it has been stated that well-designed IPCs can garner economic activity on the order of 10 to 20 times the amount of the prize face value.