FirstBuild Taps the Crowd to Hack the Home of the Future

FirstBuild Taps the Crowd to Hack the Home of the Future“Two-thirds of executives believe it is essential to encourage creative behaviors and disrupt their business processes in order to successfully innovate. In response, executives are moving quickly to evolve their business models and make them “disruption ready.”

This is a finding from the 2014 GE Global Innovation Barometer, which provides insight on disruption, collaboration and the future of work.

As we look for case studies and examples of executives moving quickly to evolve their business models in order to respond our new business landscape, what better example is there to cite, than a subsidiary of the originators of this study? GE’s FirstBuild is that company.

Moving Quickly to Evolve Business Models and Make Them “Disruption Ready”

Last October, I had the unique opportunity to sit down and interview one of FirstBuild’s founding members, Taylor Dawson. At that time, FirstBuild had just launched.

The business model is one that leverages their online and physical co-creation community dedicated to hacking, designing, engineering, building, producing and selling the next generation of home appliances. FirstBuild focuses on micromanufacturing and making things in their microfactory that will actually be sold. As Taylor explained,

“It is a new concept and actually a term created by Local Motors, one of our partners who helped define this vision about how you could get a community involved in manufacturing and developing new products, manufacture those products in low volume and still make money on them when sold as real products.”

Now, after just four months, they have experienced early success.

Open Innovation, a Community and “The Crowd” In Action

After gaining some initial learning from new product launches like GreenBean, Autofill Pitcher, Easy Load Double Oven and ChillHub Smart Refrigerator, FirstBuild took another step forward to incorporate crowdfunding.

By bringing together an open community of industrial designers, engineers and other innovative minds to collaborate on new products brought to life at their Microfactory, FirstBuild was able to produce, secure funding and launch Paragon – a Connected Induction Cooktop.

FirstBuild’s development of Paragon started with an idea submission by a community member, Brad Walchak. It also includes Aaron Ma’s winning app design and Cosmin Mandita’s winning hardware design, along with dozens of ideas and challenge entries made by the community.

This product is based on the input of dozens of FirstBuild community members who wanted to see the product come to life. So to get started, they used the crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo as an opportunity to validate a group of early adopters before going into full production and making hundreds of thousands of them. And that, they did.

They found an interested audience and ended up reaching their goal of $50,000 in the first 12 hours and over $150,000 in its first day. As of today, they are at $282,721, which is 585% of their goal.

If this proves to be a success after awards are sent to supporters, and feedback is received from early adopters, FirstBuild will move forward with funding production at scale. This approach to product development and commercialization allows them to focus on customer-centered design and mitigate risks by confirming interest from a core audience. And, the community members involved in developing the product and bringing it to market are rewarded through royalties and recognition for their contributions.

Success to FirstBuild means that they will have further tested their business model, gained new insights, built a community and will have monetized their efforts where everyone is rewarded. Now the next iteration begins…

FirstBuild’s 24-Hour Hackathon in April

Now, that FirstBuild and the core community have worked together for several months, they are opening it up even further, and kicking it up another notch by hosting a major Hackathon in April. In it, they are awarding $18,000 in cash and prizes.

This 24-hour Hackathon will he held Friday, April 10th – Saturday, April 11th, where teams of hackers will compete to design and create innovative appliances using products and hardware from sponsors. They include GE, Intel, Texas Instruments and more. The teams will convene at GE FirstBuild’s microfactory in Louisville, KY to take on the challenge using state-of-the-art manufacturing tools including 3D printers, MakerBots and more.

Sponsors will judge the best ideas, which will win up to $18,000 in cash prizes and hardware. We’ll witness how seemingly disparate companies can align to create appliances for the home of the future. Other sponsors include 3scale, Atmel, Cypress, Milwaukee Tool, MakerBot, Autodesk Fusion 360 and more.

How You Can Get Involved (Sign up by April 1st)

I created a quick view below for anyone interested in attending or watching the Ustream. There is more on the FirstBuild site, (including terms and conditions) but thought this would help provide an at-a-glance to anyone in the Innovation Excellence community interested in getting involved. See details below:

Who: Techies, Programmers, Makers, Engineers and Designers

What: A 24-Hour LIVE Hackathon
Teams will take on the challenge using state-of-the-art manufacturing tools including 3D printers, MakerBots and more. Hack the Home is a Hackathon where you can gather with Makers, Techies, Engineers, and Artists/Designers to come up with the home of the future.

When: Friday, April 10th – Saturday, April 11th

Where: GE FirstBuild’s microfactory in Louisville, KY

Why: Win $$, prizes and build awareness by showcasing your talents to major sponsors and a larger audience. If your idea becomes a product, the day that FirstBuild makes the first product you get a payout for every unit they make. After that, you get a royalty. Here’s how compensation works.

How: Participant Directions Below

1. Sign Up by April 1st, 2015 (Registration link here)

  • Individuals can build their own team or join a team
  • Teams – We aren’t dictating the size of the teams. The best way to win is to have a project that looks good and functions well. So having a diverse range of talents will help your team win. On the flip side, FirstBuild will be awarding the prize to the team, which will need to be split amongst the team members.

2. Show Up on April 10 – Bring yourself and your team. Tools will be supplied on site.

  • Here is the site where you can access the API (GreenBean) that will allow you to communicate with appliances. Planning in advance is definitely encouraged.
  • Complete projects that are brought to the event are not valid. Sponsor product will be available at the event.

3. Sponsor will Brief the teams and Provide a Materials Overview

  • Starting April 10th, you will hear from the Sponsors. They will discuss their company, any product they have available for the event, and any prize they are offering.

4. The Hacking/Making will begin!

  • You will begin hacking and making after Sponsor Talks on April 10th and continue to late on the 11th.  During the Hacking/Making, you will have access to the following tools: 3D printers, Laser Cutters, Water Jet, CNC Mill, Bridgeport Mill, Toolroom Lathe, Sheet metal cutting, bending, and forming, Welding (MIG, TIG, Stick, Plasma, Spot and Oxy/Acetylene), Sanding/Grinding/Sandblast, Hand Powertools, Drill Press, Woodworking (table saw, miter saw, band saw, jointer, planer), Circuit Board Mill, Reflow Oven, Soldering stations, Power Supplies, ShopBot, HandiBot

5. Winners Announced!

  • Accepting Submissions: Starts: April 10, 2015
  • Submissions Validation: Starts: April 11, 2015 – Sponsors will judge the best ideas, which will win up to $18,000 in cash prizes and hardware
  • Sponsor Announces winner at the end of the day April 11th
  • Press release the Sunday after or Monday morning cap announcing the winners

Hackers Can Register HERE


If you are interested in watching the Hackathon event live, it will be streamed  through the FirstBuild site here or via USTREAM here.

Going back to the finding from GE’s Innovation Barometer mentioned at the beginning of this article…If two-thirds of executives believe it is essential to encourage creative behaviors and disrupt their business processes in order to successfully innovate, then GE FirstBuild’s leadership, team and community are certainly walking the walk.

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Lynda Koster is an Integrated Marketing Specialist living and working at the intersection of creativity, data and technology. Her core expertise is strategic development and implementation planning, providing integrated business, and marketing solutions to clients. She is a hands-on explorer and life-long learner focused on new and evolving trends and innovations that impact the future of business, marketing and people. She is author of Business Reads Today.

Lynda Koster




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