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October 01, 2015 | Tom Ballard

GE’s FirstBuild embraces crowdsourcing, co-creation to drive innovation

First BuildBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

One of the many provocative panelists at last week’s “EERE Industry Day” at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) was Venkat Venkatakrishnan, Director of R & D for GE Appliances in Louisville, KY.

During a brief presentation on the second day of the event, he described the way that GE is using “crowdsourcing through co-creation” to drive new product innovation – from the design stage through engineering, building, and selling of the next generation of major home appliances.

The slightly more than one-year old initiative is called FirstBuild, and the concept will be on display today when FirstBuild holds a “Manufacturing Hackathon” at its 33,000 square foot facility located at 333 East Brandeis Avenue in Louisville.

“You have an idea for a product enhancement, but you face a big hurdle to get it to market,” Venkatakrishnan told the attendees. Citing everything from design concerns to regulatory challenges, he noted that GE has used the FirstBuild initiative to launch nine new products in just 14 months.

It’s all about accelerating innovation.

“We want home enthusiasts, designers, engineers and makers to share ideas, try them, and build real products,” Venkatakrishnan said. “We want to invent a whole new world of appliances.”

Immediate targets are a home pizza oven, coffee roaster and precision dryer.

Venkatakrishnan explained that the company is looking at four paths for the new products – addition to an existing offering, repackaging and customization, technology transfer, and totally new products.

He encouraged interested entrepreneurs and inventors to visit the facility.

FirstBuild recently executed partnership agreements with ORNL and Local Motors.

How was the presentation viewed? Perhaps the best summary came from David Danielson, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for the U.S. Department of Energy, who moderated the panel.

He simply observed, “Is that cool or what?”

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