A Quirky Bid for GE's Home Appliances in More Ways Than One

The Egg Minder is a connected device that makes breakfast a little more manageable. The egg tray tracks when each slot was loaded and lights up the oldest one in the batch so you know which to crack next. Close

The Egg Minder is a connected device that makes breakfast a little more manageable. The... Read More

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The Egg Minder is a connected device that makes breakfast a little more manageable. The egg tray tracks when each slot was loaded and lights up the oldest one in the batch so you know which to crack next.

What's the opposite of quirky?

A reasonable answer would be General Electric's 122-year-old home appliance business.

And yet the startup Quirky Inc. is pairing with private equity firms including Blackstone to acquire the GE division that developed the electric toaster in 1905, the electric range in 1910 and the garbage disposal in 1935.

Actually, it makes sense. Those inventions, at the time, were quite quirky. But how do you improve upon the designs and functionality of a dishwasher, blender or washing machine?

That's what New York-based Quirky, a crowd-sourcing invention company, would attempt to figure out if a transaction is completed. The startup has help create 334 products and has legions of ``inventors'' using its Inspiration Platform, an online site that allows people to view intellectual property of large corporations to help jump-start new products, founder Ben Kaufman told Bloomberg earlier this year.

Quirky announced a partnership with GE last year that allows its community of aspiring Thomas Edisons to see thousands of the Connecticut company's patents. GE also invested $30 million in Quirky for an equity stake in the startup, part of a $79 million Series D round of funding.

According to a blog post on Quirky's website, several ``GE + Quirky inventions'' have already appeared at every Home Depot and Best Buy in the country.

Quirky's designers vote on product ideas from its users, refine them with the help of others in its online community, and use a 3-D printer to prototype products. Quirky contracts with factories in China and the U.S. to manufacture the products and takes a percentage share of the revenue from the sales of the inventions.

Some of the products include the Spotter, a device that lets you monitor motion, sound, light, temperature and humidity around the house via your smartphone, and the Egg Minder, which tracks the number of eggs you have left in your fridge and tells you when they're about to spoil.

It seems like a leap to go from crowd-sourcing development ideas from previously patented technology to acquiring a legendary $2 billion appliance unit. But Quirky won't be providing most of the capital if a deal is reached -- that will be Blackstone's job.

Instead, Quirky's design and engineering team will be able to steer the unit in a new direction to keep inventions flowing for the 21st century. GE would also retain a stake in the division, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Quirky/private equity bid is competing with an offer from Sweden's Electrolux to acquire the unit, so no deal is assured. But a startup acquiring an appliances business more than a century old from GE would be … What's another word for unconventional?

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