Herman Sintim, a graduate student at Oxford University in England, tried his hand at a simple molecular-synthesis project. When he solved it, he not only won $2,000 (US), but also became one of the first scientists to participate in a unique incentive program sponsored by an offshoot of Eli Lilly and Co.

This past summer, the pharmaceutical giant launched InnoCentive.com, a Web site where scientists from Big Pharma and start-up biotechs post problems for outside researchers to solve. Companies signed on to InnoCentive have posted organic chemistry problems carrying potential awards worth a total of $1.9 million, and the Web venture plans to unveil problems in molecular biology and genetics within the coming year. The private labs that post the problems benefit by expanding their scientific knowledge without paying salaries and benefits; the outside researchers who solve the puzzles benefit by collecting cash awards. "It was really fun," Sintim...

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