GE Adopts Startup Mentality to Stay Innovative

General Electric has been around since 1892. It’s an old brand. But GE has been able to keep itself fresh and agile by embracing the digital media age and its pace of change. The company’s partnership with Quirky is the latest part of its recipe for staying innovative.

In April, GE announced a partnership with Quirky, a consumer product invention platform and community. Together with Quirky, GE created the Wink platform. The idea behind Wink is to get inventors to come up with app-enabled products for the home.

GE folks first met Quirky a couple of years ago when Quirky was just starting out. According to Linda Boff, executive director of global brand marketing at GE, GE had an immediate affinity for Quirky and what it’s all about.

“At GE, we like to joke that we’re the oldest startup on the block,” said Boff. “Quirky is a company steeped in invention, and we wanted to see how a new startup is looking at invention.”

The way that the Wink platform works is simple. You just go to the GE section of Quirky and submit your idea by filling in a few fields explaining your idea and what problems it solves. The coolest part of the partnership and Wink platform is that GE is giving the Quirky community of inventors access to its thousands and thousands of U.S. patents so that they can use them as inspiration for their inventions and invent on top of them.

“GE is very interested in what we call the ‘industrial internet’ and the connectivity of the big machines we make,” explained Boff. “But it’s harder to crowdsource a connected jet engine! We want to inspire the everyday inventor as we work with Quirky.”

As Boff explained, when GE and Quirky were figuring out what kinds of products to focus on for Wink, Quirky pointed out that app-enabled home products are one of the hottest areas they see in the product-invention market. Through Wink, GE and Quirky hope to bring at least 10 to 12 app-enabled products for the home to market by the holiday season. These products could improve things like home security, lighting, water and home health. The resulting products will be cobranded, and GE and Quirky will share the profits along with the inventors.

In the latest product evaluation session for Wink products, six new inventors and their ideas were approved to move into the development phase. Some of the product ideas included an app-controlled coffee maker, a globe that acts as an encyclopedia, and an app-enabled sprinkler system.

Along with getting close to startups, GE is also staying on top of another important trend for brands in the digital age: real-time marketing. GE is always on the lookout for events and content for which it makes sense to create real-time initiatives, like Inventor’s Day. For Inventor’s Day, GE created a hashtag to get people to tweet their invention ideas and had illustrators ready and waiting to draw the best ideas as they came in as professional blueprint sketches. It’s these kinds of interesting partnerships and careful real-time strategies that help big, old brands stay relevant and cool.

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