their name to the STS. Now, Intel has decided to drop its sponsorship, for reasons that are completely opaque. "Intel's interests have changed," says the chair of the administrative board that runs the contest.
While it seems likely that some other corporate sponsor will step forward, I have to ask two questions. First, why did Intel decide to get out of this? Seriously, the cost to them has to be completely negligible. Is there some compelling business reason to drop this, under the assumption that someone else will take up the mantle? It's a free country, and of course they can do what they like with their name and sponsorship, but this just seems bizarre. Was this viewed as a burden? Was there a sense that they didn't get enough effective advertising or business return for their investment? Did it really consume far more resources than they were comfortable allocating?
Second, why should a company sponsor this? I ask this as it seems likely that the companies with the biggest capital available to act as sponsors will be corporations like Google, Microsoft, Amazon - companies that don't, as their core mission, actually do physical sciences and engineering research. Wouldn't it be better to establish a philanthropic entity to run this competition - someone who would not have to worry about business pressures in terms of the financing? There are a number of excellent, well-endowed foundations who seem to have missions that align well with the STS. There's the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the W. M. Keck Foundation, the Dreyfus Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and I'm sure I'm leaving out some possibilities. I hope someone out there gives serious consideration to endowing the STS, rather than going with another corporate sponsorship deal that may not stand the test of time.
Update: From the Wired article about this, the STS cost Intel about $6M/yr. Crudely, that means that an endowment of $120M would be enough to support this activity in perpetuity, assuming 5% payout (typical university investment assumptions, routinely beaten by Harvard and others).
Update 2: I've thought about this some more, and maybe the best solution would be for a university to sponsor this. For example, this seems tailor-made for MIT, which styles itself as a huge hub of innovation (see the Technology Review, e.g.). Stanford could do it. Harvard could do $6M a year and not even notice. It would be perfect as a large-scale outreach/high school education sponsorship effort. Comments?