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BP May Be Letting Best Solutions Slip By

WALTHAM, Mass. ( TheStreet) -- BP (BP - Get Report), the energy company struggling to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for the past three weeks, may be letting the best solutions fall through the cracks.

As the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command -- which includes BP; Transocean (RIG - Get Report), which built the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded April 20 and sank; and government agencies -- has received 50,000 calls on its help line, no ideas have stuck. About 30% of callers were looking to submit ideas and others were seeking jobs, says Bryan Ferguson, a BP representative who has been manning phones at the U.S. Coast Guard Joint Information Center in Robert, La.

Photos: The Gulf Oil Spill

Meanwhile, Innocentive has been fielding oil-spill cleanup ideas from its network of engineers, scientists and biologists. Innocentive is a so-called open-innovation intermediary, a company employed to help define problems for large companies such as Colgate-Palmolive (CL - Get Report), and post the problems as challenges for entrepreneurs to solve. Usually, the problem solvers receive cash awards, with corporate clients footing the bill. But earlier this month, the firm issued its first pro bono challenge, asking for solutions to the oil spill, with plans to send the best ideas to BP.

BP's own system to vet ideas isn't efficient, especially considering the time-sensitive nature of the spill, which is creeping toward shore. BP is trying to contain oil and natural gas leaking from a well on the ocean floor. Shutting the well may take months.

Gulf Oil Drilling Is Worth the Risk (Forbes)

The Unified Command's hotline for submitting solutions (281-366-5511) is the same as the phone number for job inquiries. The Unified Command's Web site notes that "all proposals are reviewed for technical feasibility and application. Given the volume of proposals, this may take some time."

A Unified Command hotline volunteer who answered a call from TheStreet said she hadn't yet received any worthy or novel ideas from callers, and that most of her callers were looking for work.

In the meantime, "we have not been able to get BP to respond yet," says Dwayne Spradlin, chief executive officer of Innocentive in Waltham, Mass., the city where many of the state's high-tech companies are based. "As a citizen and a consumer and a human being, the fact that BP isn't seriously inviting all the help they can get is concerning to me."
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