Big-name companies such as PepsiCo and Kraft Foods Group have run contests to crowdsource new product ideas. Topcoder, an open innovation platform that awards prize money for software development and design projects, has attracted hundreds of thousands of participants. Now a start-up called Driven Data is working to enable online competitions that give data scientists a chance to vie for cash, glory—and social good.

Driven Data, a for-profit housed at the Harvard Innovation Lab, develops...

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