Six weird ways to make a million

Updated on 17 December 2012 | 23 Comments

These glittering prizes, awards and rewards need some clever or lucky winners!

When I look at the various ‘rich lists’ produced each year by the likes of the Sunday Times and Forbes magazine, three things stand out.

Three routes to riches

First, the old-fashioned way of becoming wealthy -- by inheriting your fortune from a parent, spouse or other relative -- is still a sure-fire winner. Indeed, it’s the most common way for women to appear on these rich lists.

Second, building a successful business is another tried and tested route to riches. Most of the male multi-billionaires on these lists made it big by harnessing global capitalism to build dynastic wealth.

Third, investing is another great way to get wealthy, whether by buying shares, property or other assets, or by getting rich from other people’s money by, say, founding your own hedge fund.

Six wacky ways to wealth

Having looked at these established, conventional ways to wealth, I’m now going to show you six unusual, offbeat ways to make $1 million (£617,627) or more. Here we go:

1. Show you’re psychic

James Randi is a Canadian-American stage magician and internationally acclaimed pseudo-science sceptic. In 1996, Randi established the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) to debunk paranormal and pseudoscientific gobbledygook.

If you can produce, to Randi’s satisfaction, “evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event”, then the JREF’s One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge prize is yours. Good luck with that- to date no-one has passed the preliminary tests!

2. Prove the Riemann Hypothesis

In November 2002, a reclusive Russian mathematician, Dr Grigoriy Perelman, did something no-one in history had ever done: he solved a beautiful and difficult mathematical problem known as the Poincaré conjecture, which deals with four-dimensional space.

Hence, in March 2010, the Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts gave Dr Perelman a $1 million Millennium Prize, an award which he promptly turned down. The good news is that there are six other $1 million prizes awaiting the prodigies who can solve one of the remaining elusive mathematical problems.

For example, if you can prove the Riemann hypothesis, as set out by Bernhard Riemann in 1859, then a million bucks will be your reward. However, if you don’t have an outstanding mathematical talent, or the non-trivial zeroes of the Riemann zeta function don’t tickle your fancy, then you’d best skip this challenge.

3. Make a big business better

Every so often, a big business will launch a national or global search for someone who can come up with ways to improve its business model and thus make it more profitable.

For example, in 2009, US-based firm Netflix, which streams TV programmes and movies over the Internet, awarded the $1 million Netflix Grand Prize to a team of three scientists who wrote an improved algorithm for predicting user ratings for films.

Alas, Netflix decided to withdraw its second $1 million challenge, so we’ll have to wait and see which other companies are willing to pay big bucks in order to harness the public’s creativity.

4. Grab the Google Lunar X Prize

Google isn’t just the world’s most popular search engine; it is also a generous prize sponsor for research into science and technology.

One of the juiciest prizes on offer is the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million reward “for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 metres and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth.”

Registration for the competition closed on December 31st 2010 leaving 25 teams working on how to win the next race to the Moon. They have until 2015 to figure it out.

Unlike other, lesser challenges, this one really is rocket science!

5. Save the planet

British billionaire Richard Branson, of the famous Virgin brands, is terribly worried about anthropogenic (man-made) global warming.

Hence, in 2007, he launched the Virgin Earth Challenge, a $25 million prize for a “commercially viable design which results in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases so as to contribute materially to the stability of the Earth's climate system.”

Now for the bad news: the official deadline for Virgin entries was the 8th of January 2010. However, with climate-change and other environmental prizes of $1 million-plus being launched frequently, you can still get rich by saving the Earth.

6. Become a best-selling billionaire

As the author of a modest-selling financial book, I know how the economics of writing a book stack up. Unless you’re a top-ranked writer, most of the sale price goes to the publisher, distributors and retailers that bring your book to market.

However, if you’re a budding author seeking inspiration, then look no further than J K Rowling, the author of the massively popular Harry Potter books. Thanks to book sales approaching 500 million, Rowling’s teenage wizard has made her into one of the world’s wealthiest women, worth an estimated $1 billion.

Although it’s said that there is a book in each of us, yours is unlikely to make you a millionaire, never mind a billionaire. Nevertheless, you could give it your best shot. To be honest, I’d be happy if my book sold one-thousandth as well as Harry Potter!

Over to you

Do you have any weird and wonderful ways to make a million, or did you strike it rich with an innovative idea? Please let us know in the Comments box below...

This is a classic lovemoney article that has been updated

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