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3 reasons Quirky's crowdsourced invention model is catching on

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The inventor of this ice scraper unsuccessfully spent 10 years trying to get his idea commercialized. Then he decided to give it to the Quirky community.

The inventor of the ice scraper pictured above unsuccessfully spent 10 years trying to get his idea marketed, patented the concept and approaching both manufacturers and distributors before he decided to toss it to the Quirky community for good measure. Although the product that eventually emerged, called Thor, looks quite different from his initial concept and prototype, engineer Jim Johnstone said the crowdsourced invention model that Quirky offers helped validate his vision. "Sometimes there are ideas that are way beyond the capacity of an individual to bring to life," Johnstone said.

The concept of Quirky is pretty simple. As the video below explains, the platform allows inventors to share an idea with the community. The community, in turn, offers feedback and suggestions for refinement. Every week, the community rates ideas that it thinks have a shot of becoming commercially viable, offers pricing suggestions and the Quirky team meets each week to decide which ones will move forward. Quirky's founder created the site after his own challenging experience getting a product to market. The crowdsourcing community now greenlights approximately one product every few days.

Quirky Manifesto from Quirky on Vimeo.

Tiffany Markofsky, Quirky's director of communications, said the site receives thousands of submissions every week, many of them from inventors with multiple ideas. Approximately 40 percent of the community comes from outside the United States. Products that move forward are marketed under the Quirky brand name; the company focuses not so much on flash branding but on highlighting the specific problem that the invention solves, she said. Products are shipped to more than 20 different countries; you can buy them online and Quirky has now forged plenty of relationships with high-profile retailers.

Johnstone, who works a day job in Urbana, Ill., said once he got past the realization that he would need to share the revenue generated by his idea, he was willing to cede some control of his idea to the community. He hopes to submit more ideas in the future. There are three big reasons he believes other inventors should consider the Quirky model:

  1. The community will offer useful refinement suggestions and feedback suggestions that can make a product more commercially viable. In Johnstone's case, Thor originally didn't have a handle. Now, it has one that is adjustable so that you can reach farther over the windshield while scraping.
  2. Retailers and manufacturers will take a cut of your idea anyway; it may be more appealing to share the profits with a community of entrepreneurs.
  3. The start-up expenses of manufacturing and sourcing prototypes, and developing a marketing campaign are cost-prohibitive for an individual -- especially someone who invents things on the side and not as a full-time occupation.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure