Guide to the Most Prestigious Honor in Applied Research

It’s not easy to choose the 100 top technological innovations of the year, but that’s exactly what R&D Magazine has done for nearly 50 years.

Judging Process
How do I enter?
Who can enter?
What information is expected in the entry?
How many entries can I submit?
Defining technological significance
The Wow! Factor
The Question of Uniqueness 
Competitive Matrix
Focus on Benefits 
Evidence and Use of the Product

First, a little history
The R&D 100 Awards haven’t always been known by that name, however. Established in 1963, they were originally the I-R 100s, in keeping with the original name of the magazine, Industrial Research. In that first year, the winners were picked by a panel of outside judges selected by the publisher and editor. No entries were required, and only U.S. companies could win. A formal entry procedure was established in 1964 and final judging was made by the magazine's editors (with the advice of outside experts). The first non-U.S. winners came along in 1965.

The deep history of the awards program has meant that many of what once were cutting-edge technologies such the flashcube (1965) and the fax machine (1975) are now antiquated devices without a lot of use today. But many innovations, from halogen lamps (1974) to HDTV (1998), look to have considerable staying power. Of course, these are just the consumer-level products. More recent breakthroughs that have earned R&D 100 Awards include next-generation magnetic resonance imaging machines, laser-based metal-forming tools, and the building blocks for fusion experiments.

The judging process for the R&D 100 Awards has been designed for one purpose only: to pick the 100 most technologically significant new products from among the entries.

Our goal is to make each entry a winner. This is impossible, of course, because we receive many more than 100 entries. But it describes the spirit in which the entries are judged. And, by following the recommendations here, you can improve your chances of winning.

The judging process
All entries are judged by outside experts chosen from professional consultants, university faculty, and industrial researchers with expertise and experience in the areas they are judging. They must also be unbiased and have no conflicts of interest with any entries they are judging.

Dozens of outside judges participate every year, and the editors are always eager to add to the roster. Based on the outside judges' votes and written comments, the editors of R&D Magazine sit in final judgment of the entries. The decision of the editors is final.

How do I enter?
A good presentation can improve the chance of winning, however, it’s the product that wins, not the entry document. But, the information presented in the entry document is critical to the judges’ decisions.

Developing a new product, let alone a product that represents a true breakthrough, isn’t easy. Many companies, large and small, leave themselves little extra time or resources for entering an awards program while they are pioneering new technology. R&D Magazine’s editors have taken steps to make the process as simple and direct as possible while still providing a forum for discussion of technology topics at a high level.

Here are a few key questions to consider before entering:

1) Is your product eligible? The product must have been first available for sale or licensing during the calendar year preceding the judging. Thus, products available for sale or licensing in calendar year 2011 are eligible for the 2012 contest. Open-source or license-without-charge products are also eligible for entry. If you are uncertain about whether your product qualifies, please inquire at

2) Do you have the time to prepare an entry? Depending on the product, it can take 10 to 40 hours to complete the entry form, create any additional exhibits, and put everything together into a well-presented document.

3) Is the product significant? If the product is an improvement on an existing technology, how big is the improvement? If it is truly remarkable, then the product should be entered. If it can be considered incremental, then perhaps further development is necessary. Also, has the product been entered in a prior year? If so, then it is probably not a good candidate unless remarkable or truly significant improvements have been made.

4) Is the developer submitting the entry? In some cases, existing technologies are purchased by third parties who then conduct the sales efforts. Marketing efforts do not qualify. If the original developer is included in the entry, the candidate product is considered valid by the editors.

5) Has any required regulatory approval been granted? To qualify, products requiring regulatory approval, such as drugs and medical devices, must have completed all trials and received approval for marketing by a governing regulatory authority such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or international counterparts.

Answering yes to all five questions is an excellent start. However, there are a few other factors to consider before registering your entry with us. Reviewing these questions will help avoid any stumbling blocks down the road.

Who can enter?
There is no limit to the number of organizations that can be listed as joint developers on an entry, but only those organizations that made a significant contribution to its creation should be included.

What information is expected in the entry?
To judge each entry fairly, the editors often ask for additional information—another photo of the product, case studies, more technical data, or a comparison to other technology. While the editors attempt to allow a reasonable amount of time to respond, an immediate reply is sometimes needed.

Please note, we rely on honesty! The editors assume that all submitters take to heart the affirmation that "all information submitted as a part of, or supplemental to, this entry is a fair and accurate representation of the product."

However, they recognize that this is a competition, and expect you to put your best foot forward. Sometimes, however, this can result in claims being stretched or exaggerated; at other times, it can mean that important information—say, about competitive products—gets omitted or unreasonably downplayed.

One of the judges' main tasks is to bring their own expertise and experience to bear in evaluating the veracity of entries. If they suspect that you're not telling the whole truth or have left out data that could diminish your claim, they will judge your entry accordingly.

How many entries can I submit?
An organization may enter as many new products as it wishes. Each will be judged on its own merits. However, the volume of entries won't necessarily guarantee the company will win. Target entries carefully. Use a "rifle" approach, not a "shotgun" approach.

Defining technological significance
As you have probably gathered, the common thread with the R&D 100 Awards is true innovation. Without evidence of a new idea developed from concept to marketplace fruition, a product is just a product in the eyes of R&D 100 Awards judges.

The key criterion is "technological significance." We often say that we're looking for major breakthroughs: A cure for cancer or AIDS. An engine that runs on water. A safe, cheap method for cleaning up toxic waste. A vehicle that can fly 800 passengers from New York to Tokyo in two hours. A device that would cut automotive accidents, or one that would reduce workplace injuries. A pollution-free herbicide that would increase crop production in Third World countries.

Of course, most new products hardly come close to these achievements. Nonetheless, we're looking for products and processes that can change people's lives for the better, improve the standard of living for large numbers of people, save lives, promote good health, clean up the environment, etc.

Please note, however, that products or processes that solve very specialized or circumscribed problems could be judged less significant than those that meet larger, more broad-based needs. For example, a new scientific instrument that only benefits a few scientists in a narrow field of interest would have difficulty competing against a device with much broader application. It would depend on how significant the two fields of interest were and how much the technical improvements contributed to the success of each device.

Moreover, these improvements must be attributed to significant breakthroughs in technology. In general, this means your product should exhibit multiple levels of improvement—53 times faster, 103 greater throughput, 503 times more accurate—or, preferably, orders of magnitude improvement over existing technology. Again, we're looking for "leapfrog" gains in performance, not expected, incremental improvements.

Of course, "significance" often depends on the technology in question. For example, a digital oscilloscope that captures only 5% more samples/sec than current oscilloscopes probably would not be considered a significant technological improvement; this would be an "expected" or incremental improvement. But a photovoltaic cell that could generate a 5% gain in energy efficiency over current PVs probably could be considered quite significant.

To a certain extent, it is harder for certain kinds of products to win. Products in mature technologies will have a more difficult time demonstrating the kinds of quantum leaps of technological improvement that the judges look for. It's hard to find major breakthroughs, since most of the big advances were already made. Nonetheless, these products still win, but they must make dramatic gains to do so.

Conversely, products in emerging technologies start from a lower base, if you will, so order-of-magnitude improvements can often be made relatively easily. Also, certain "hot" technologies may capture the imagination of the judges, just as space-related products were popular in the late 1960s. In sum, there is no magic formula by which various types of products are judged. The rubric of technological significance continues to be applied by the judges, no matter what the entry.

Tips for an Effective Entry

The Wow! Factor
As the judges and editors review all the entries, they are also looking for what we've come to call Wow! Factor. These are products that leapfrog current technology, that provide simple, elegant solutions to complex or long-standing technical or practical problems—products that are so interesting, unusual, or clearly superior to existing technology that they make you say "Wow!" or "How did they do that?"

The Question of Uniqueness
You may believe that your product is unique and that its singularity alone makes it deserving of an R&D 100 Award. But uniqueness is not necessarily a virtue. In fact, it may mean that there is no demand for such a product, or that it is technically trivial. Nor is uniqueness a guarantee of significance in terms of offering solutions to great problems. Few products are truly unique. Most build on existing technology, which is why we have eliminated the question of uniqueness from the entry form and why we place so much emphasis on the Competitive Matrix (see below) and the description of how your product compares to existing technology. Say you invented a new airplane that used wood chips for fuel, could carry 1,000 people people from London to San Francisco in three hours, and cost less than $1 million to build—you would indeed have a unique product! But you'd still have to compare it to existing technology. How do wood chips compare to jet fuel in terms of cost, efficiency, cleanliness? How do the load factors compare to today's best airplanes? What about cost factors? Obviously, you'd have a good story to tell, but merely saying that your vehicle is "unique" is not enough.

Competitive Matrix
The competitive matrix should show how your product compares to existing products in terms of the crucial factors involved in the technology. This is your opportunity to give the judges a quick overview of how your product beats the competition. Some typical factors you might want to include:

• Signal-to-noise ratio
• Weight
• Speed
• Reliability
• Resolution
• Cost
• Accuracy
• Life expectancy
• Mean time between failures
• Sensitivity
• Reproducibility
• Strength
• Power consumption
• Production yield
• Environmental operating
• Intensity
• Efficiency
• Size
• Output rate
• Bandwidth
• Number of materials tested
• Stability

Focus on Benefits
Don't get so involved in the technical aspects of your product that you forget to emphasize its benefits. This is a common failing in R&D 100 Awards entries. Certainly you need to describe the technical details, but you must go beyond that to explain what the numbers mean—and how your product benefits humankind. This is particularly true if important applications of the technology were not available before your product came along.

Evidence and Use of the Product
You must show that the product truly exists in marketable form. Do not submit a product for which you are just now determining its marketability. Proof-of-concept models, breadboards, or laboratory experiments are not acceptable. Wait until you have a "real" product before entering the competition, and be aware that the editors will want to see photographs or other evidence of the product!

Remember, not every entry can be a winner. To protect the integrity of the judging panel, we do not release the comments or opinions of the judges. In most cases, entries fail to win because:

  • The product was not sufficiently "technologically significant."
  • There were 100 other better qualified products.
  • Not enough support was provided for the claims given.

There are a few other pitfalls to avoid, including overuse of jargon or including sheaves of white paper evidence that would be difficult to read quickly.

Still more questions? Check our R&D 100 FAQ or email us at