Great ideas can pop up anywhere. At the dinner table, in casual conversation with friends, or they might come to you in the middle of the night mid-REM stage. Regardless, of how and when they crop up, several new exciting trends have evolved over the past few years that have made it easier then ever to take those promising ideas and transition them into real-world products.
It’s hard to read the news without seeing a story about 3D printing. Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is taking the world by storm–on both the business and consumer sides–and bringing with it the idea of if you can think it, you can build it.
Adding to that are crowdsourcing and crowdfunding services, such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Quirky, that are providing platforms for would-be entrepreneurs that entrust the “crowd” to finance, design and market these burgeoning concepts.
What is crowdsourcing?
Due to many of the aforementioned trends and technologies, product design has become somewhat of a group activity, involving not those tasked with the creation of the physical design and its manufacture, but consumers, hobbyists and would-be inventors.
This emerging trend, referred to as the democratization of design, has gained traction, thanks in part to the Internet and new social tools and networks that more tightly connect companies and the customers and markets they serve.
Crowdsourcing, the process of outsourcing tasks to a large group or “crowd” of people—typically via the Internet—has the potential to drastically change the way companies stock their innovation pipelines. It offers companies a way to know if products will succeed in the market before those products are shipped. No more building products and waiting to see if the market will respond favorably.
Crowdsourcing goes beyond that, however. It enables organizations to leverage the wisdom and creativity of the masses to improve their own ability to innovate. It forces companies to rethink their own internal innovation process to recognize there is knowledge to be tapped from the general public, and to strive to offer that innovation back to the world.
Crowdsourcing gives entrepreneurs a platform
A number of companies are now offering platforms that enable companies to take their internal struggles to a broader stage, and let the world have a crack at solving them. Smaller companies, without the budgets to tap their customers or a broader audience on their own, might do well working with a crowdsourcing expert or platform to jumpstart their efforts.
These software-based platforms enable both individuals and organizations to collaborate with the “crowd” via a three-step process. Users submit a challenge; the company collaborates with a network of “solvers;” and, if accepted, the solver gets paid for their work.
Corporate giant General Electric has partnered with one such crowdsourcing platform, Quirky, to create the Inspiration Platform, a forum that invites people to innovate on technologies that GE produces. The site provides a list of patents inventors can access and apply to consumer products. Called “Wink: Instantly Connected,” Quirky and GE launched a co-branded development initiative to create a line of app-enabled products.
Though both companies say they are open to any new ideas, the primary focus is on home-automation technology, such as smartphone-controlled devices and “the Internet of things.” Inventors submit ideas and leverage GE’s vast array of security-and health-related patents.
Crowdsourced products hit the market
Though not intended to be comprehensive, let’s take a look at some excellent, real-world examples of products that were created with the help of crowdsourcing.
The Fiat Mio. The world’s first crowdsourced car was conceived back in 2009 when Fiat Brazil invited people to help design its next car. The results: more than 11,000 ideas were submitted over Twitter and Facebook from 120 countries. By 2010, The Mio concept car was launched and has since won numerous car show awards.
Kite Patch. Forget about sprays, lotions or candles–this adhesive nontoxic skin patch keeps mosquitos at bay by preventing them from tracking your carbon dioxide emissions for up to 48 hours. The Kite Patch releases compounds that inhibit the neurons in mosquitos’ receptors from detecting your exhalations. The inventor turned to crowdfunding site Indiegogo and found more than 11,000 backers. Reserving your own Kite Patch funds test deployments in malaria-prone countries. Check it out here.
Razer’s “Razer Edge” Windows 8 gaming tablet. The Razer Edge was designed by gamers. The company asked them to Tweet or post to Facebook the specs they would want on the proposed tablet. Over a 10,000 people weighed in on things such as the end-game chipset, weight/thickness, features and the price they would be willing to pay.
Pressy. This tiny device plugs into the headphone jack of your smartphone and provides a fast-action button that does what you tell it to, such as shoot a photo, set your phone to silent, or turn on a flashlight–all with one tap. Pressy’s inventor, having failed to draw the attention of traditional investors, turned to Kickstarter and promptly raised $585,000 from 24,374 backers. You can order one for $27 on pressybutton.com.
It will be exciting to watch what new innovative and useful products might be poised for success in the future, thanks for crowdsourcing. Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing platforms are serving as midwives for the birth of cool so stay tuned.