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Why GE Sees Big Things in Quirky's Little Inventions

Ben Kaufman (left), founder and CEO of Quirky, and Jake Zien work on Zien’s product, an adjustable power strip called Pivot Power
Ben Kaufman (left), founder and CEO of Quirky, and Jake Zien work on Zien’s product, an adjustable power strip called Pivot PowerPhotograph by Christian Clothier/Sundance Channel via AP Photo

General Electric is best at making big things. Its biggest source of revenue is energy infrastructure. Aviation and health-care equipment also add billions to its bottom line. But even the most staid of companies can be drawn in by the temptation to make an egg container that sends a text when an expiration date looms, or a power strip that connects to the Internet, even if whimsical devices aren’t the best use of an aviation engineer’s time.

That’s where Quirky comes in. A sort of invention-by-committee club run as a startup on Manhattan’s West Side, Quirky solicits ideas each week for inventions that its users can put through the design process. The company then gets finished products placed on the shelves of major retailers like Home Depot.