Solar power may be best known for powering rooftops and pole mounted arrays, but we’re starting to hear about some creative new applications. I’m not just talking about the solar planes, yachts, bike paths, and cars in the news, but also the trend in new portable devices that are solar powering lights, clothing, camping tents, and other consumer electronics.

So what does this topic have to do with rooftop solar marketing and your solar company’s design and/or mechanical engineering team? It relates to a recent international thin film solar design competition that’s being sponsored by Hanergy and hosted by the SfunCube solar startup incubator, of which I’m a member and also—full disclosure—they’re a recent client.

This is actually the first time I’ve written about a client in this blog, and the only reason why I am is because contests are marketing related and because this particular contest is a genuine international marketing opportunity for solar companies…if they enter.

First, forget the $160,000 grand prize for the best thin film solar product design and the chance to bring the product to market. Yes, that cash is certainly motivating, but if you’re entering the contest just for the money, my bet is that you’ll put the idea on the backburner and never enter by the May 10th deadline.

The real reason you or solar your engineering team should enter is for the challenge to create something great that people—your customers, the media, your prospects—will talk about to their friends and family on social media.

So, regardless of whether you or your team wins any of the prizes, your marketing department and sales team will always have the story for how your boot-strapping staff and brilliant, innovative engineers came together, brainstormed, and generated an original solar product idea that was remarkable and useful for our energy-hungry world.

Even if your team didn’t win this contest, your solar company could still benefit from doing an in-house mini-video documentary about the entire process and showing how your team came up with the idea and rendered the shareable graphic design. Beyond this video marketing asset, you could use that story and graphic for:

  • A great, visual, blog series.
  • Sharing the blog series on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Getting international media attention for either being a finalist or winner of the contest.
  • Getting local or national media in the tech press (Wired, Tech Crunch, etc.) for coming up with a cool idea and making the product.
  • Starting a Kickstarter campaign that also generates brand awareness for your solar company.
  • Generating your product design form with a 3D printer, then adding the cells.
  • Giving an exclusive consumer solar thank you gift to your customers—with the team-effort story of how that product got made.

In terms of international bragging rights, this contest was initially targeting industrial and consumer product designers around the world. But honestly, wouldn’t it be great if non-industrial designers—such as a team of local solar design engineers—actually won or placed?

The categories include outdoor gear, consumer electronics, transportation, BIPV, as well as “other,” so really almost anything you can dream up is fair game. If you don’t have an engineering or design background, SfunCube is also pairing idea generators with industrial design engineers who are willing to partner on the submissions.

The deadline for the first round of judging is May 10th, 2015, so if you or your team have a thin film solar product idea, check out the contest website for contest details, gather your team together, brainstorm, and ….UnThink Solar.

Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” is the Chief Marketing Officer of  UnThink Solar and the author of Solar Fred’s Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. For more solar marketing info, sign up for the UnThink Solar newsletter or follow @SolarFred on Twitter.