The Big Chill

AS CONSUMERS, we all fancy ourselves inventors at one time or another. Who hasn't uttered this question: Wouldn't it be nice if they made a (insert the name of product) that did (insert brilliant idea)? But if the idea never meets the people who can put it into action, it simmers without ever coming to a boil.

One website is working to change that. Last fall Brightidea.com introduced the Icebox Innovation Contest. Sponsored jointly with Sears Kenmore, the contest challenged consumers to come up with ideas for improving refrigerators. "People who design refrigerators deal with a blank canvas," with no input from outsiders, says Matthew Greeley, CEO of Brightidea.com, a site that invites the sharing of all sorts of ideas. If creators hear from the people who use their products, they'll be more likely to keep their designs crisp.

Brightidea.com promoted the contest on its website, with banner ads and a marketing campaign. More than 3,500 individuals submitted over 4,000 ideas, ranging from the wacky (how about a fridge with a seat for cooling off in the summer?) to the eminently useful (let's find a way to keep those darn leftovers from getting lost in the back). Entrants could submit drawings but none were required. Judges included a senior product designer at Sears Kenmore, Greeley and one of the cosponsoring sites. The first-place winner, an entrant from Birmingham, U.K., received $2,000 in cold cash. Second and third place received $1,000 and $500, respectively. The winning concepts become the property of Sears Kenmore -- Brightidea.com can't reveal the specifics. Sears Kenmore will also collect information about the most frequently occurring suggestions to consider them for future designs.

Brightidea.com will keep working to bring together ideas with people who can make them happen. A handheld device contest debuted in January and in the works are deals with airlines and automakers. Customers may not always be right, but Brightidea.com is banking on the fact that they'll be creative.

This story, "The Big Chill " was originally published by CIO.

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