Great ideas can crop up anywhere, but the distance between a concept and a shipped product is measured in sweat and money. Since services such as Kickstarter and Quirky debuted in 2009, an increasing number of entrepreneurs have turned to platforms that entrust the crowd with financing, design, and even marketing decisions rather than relying on risk-averse investors and innovators too close to their own work. The result: A diversity of new products that solve age-old problems and embrace a wired future.
RELATED: 'Driven,' Episode One: The Crowdsourced Explorers (Video)
Sites like Kickstarter and the anything-goes Indiegogo are strictly crowdfunding sites, in which users pledge money to fund projects they like, whereas sites like Quirky take it a step further; visitors to that site not only help vote on which projects get made, but also submit, chime in, and vote on everything from pricing to product names to marketing slogans. These sites blur the line between consumers and creators by giving the invisible hand a visible impact on the rollout of new goods. When everything clicks, funders and voters have the chance to push the market in a new direction rather than passively buying corporate products. This new economic model's most famous test case, an e-paper timepiece capable of displaying e-mails and text messages dubbed the Pebble, has already sold 85,000 units. Crowds turn into mobs in a hurry.
In other words, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are serving as midwives for the birth of cool. And an impressive number of excellent products have already been backed by millions of individual financiers and financed thanks to the backing of millions. There are plenty of silly and pointless ideas as well, but here are 12 innovative and useful products that convinced us that Kickstarter, Quirky, and their ilk are more than a passing trend. Results are results.
Ministry of Supply
The pitch: No one wants to choose between dress shirts that breathe or stay wrinkle-free, that fit perfectly or have a classic look. Ministry of Supply shirts, made from advance materials tested in space, offer all of the above features at a down-to-earth price.
The goods: Co-founder Kit Hickey says that the Ministry team, all college athletes, wanted to feel as "comfortable and confident" in their business clothing as their sporting gear. Toward that end, they utilized MIT resources and research to create Apollo shirts, with a "proprietary blend of high-grade synthetics" that breathes, wicks moisture, fights microbes, and stretches at all the places a shirt tends to strain during the day. All that engineering also yields "clean durable seams" and very precise sizing. On the style side, check for remarkably thin collars and cuffs that maintain crispness without ironing.
The result: Nearly $430,000 pledged by about 2,800 backers on crowdfunding site Kickstarter financed the creation of a simple, three-product online shop. The new goods are a departure from traditional designs, but not from traditional cuts. They are both futuristic and familiar – and the fabric feels good. [$98 per shirt; ministryofsupply.com]