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BigIdea: FirstBuild


GE microkitchen design

This is the third post in NYCEDC's BigIdea series, which highlights efforts by participants in the NYC BigApps competition to solve some of New York City's biggest issues.

NYC BigApps is a civic innovation competition that empowers the sharpest minds in tech, design, and business to solve NYC's toughest challenges. By calling attention to community organizations and leaders who are working daily to improve the city, the program asksHow can we use technology to make a better New York City? What does New York City's future look like?

The BigIdea

Create a fully functional micro-kitchen that works better in small spaces.

GE's BigIdea is born from a common urban frustration: limited space. This big idea for a small space aims to create a fully functioning seven-foot linear kitchen that can be easily adjusted to a small footprint space.

In its Micro-Kitchen Challenge, GE seeks ideas that involve the overall design and production cycle of the micro-kitchen. No fancy design experience or high-end software is required, just ideas that incorporate structure, sizing, and flow with an emphasis on accessibility. Other judging criteria include usability, aesthetics, manufacturability, and innovation.

The BigIdea Explained

Interview with Lisa Ralph from GE

Lisa Ralph Headshot

Lisa Ralph, an innovation leader at GE, and Alex Tepper, a director of innovation at GE Ventures, are leading the Micro-Kitchen Challenge. Here, Lisa shares how the challenge is all about taking what’s truly important to an urbanite and translating it into a design.

What is GE FirstBuild's BigIdea?

Small spaces are a big problem. So we’re asking participants to solve that problem by designing and engineering a micro-kitchen that optimizes small spaces while maintaining the functionality and design of a traditional kitchen.

Why is solving this problem important for NYC's future?

Increasing population and urbanization mean that we’re all trying to share the same finite space, which puts space at a premium. Many New Yorkers have experienced this situation, with rent for a studio comparable to a mortgage for a single family home elsewhere in America or the world. Income is often a constraint to how much space people can rent or purchase, which means that people are forced to really make the best of what they have and optimize their space.

The Micro-Kitchen Challenge asks participants to optimize a kitchen, a hugely important space in many people’s homes. It asks them to solve for the complex engineering and design challenges around a micro-kitchen, but also tasks entrants with developing a kitchen that fits with a metropolitan lifestyle.

Once micro-kitchen ideas are refined, prototyped, and physically produced, they can actually be installed in homes across New York City. This means that millions of people can experience a kitchen better suited for their lifestyle with an optimized home, and save space for what’s most important to them.

What have been some of GE and FirstBuild's major accomplishments towards solving this problem?

How often have you thought, “Man, I wish my kitchen did ___” or “If only I could do ___ with an appliance?" Well, we have too. And we’re tired of dreaming and want your help to turn wishes into reality.

FirstBuild is a newly launched community from GE that is working with the outside world to co-create a series of breakthrough major home appliances. We will host a series of challenges where the winner will have his or her design brought to life at a micro-factory that we’ve built in Louisville, Kentucky and then validate it in-market with consumers. We will then iterate on the design with the community and launch it broad-scale.

This means your design could be the next revolutionary home appliance in hundreds of thousands of people’s homes, meaning that you’re making a positive impact on millions of lives all around the globe.

microkitchen front view

Front view of a submitted micro-kitchen design, submitted by cem.bozdag91

What is an example of an unoptimized item in an urban kitchen?

An easy example of unoptimized space in an urban kitchen is the refrigerator. Urban apartments often only house one or two residents, yet the same size and style refrigerator is installed that is used for a family out in the suburbs. Add this to often long hours spent at work and the fact that many urbanites don’t want to go through additional lengths of preparing a delicious meal at home, especially when it often costs only a dollar more to eat out.

The space in a refrigerator is underutilized—under normal circumstances, it’s only 40 or 50% filled—meaning that a sizeable portion of the largest appliance in your kitchen is wasted space. When space is at a premium, you have to wonder what could you do with the unused 50 to 60% of that space?

What are some of the main challenges currently holding micro-kitchens back?

The biggest challenge is jumpstarting the ideation. We all live in and touch our kitchens… but have we ever had a chance to put our ideas down on paper? This challenge asks people to think not of what is currently on the existing market, but on what is needed. 

Another hurdle involves bringing these ideas to life. This is where FirstBuild’s micro-factory is key. FirstBuild can create small batches (1-10 items), test them with consumers, and refine ideas. From there, we make sure this is what really helps people live better.

In what way can General Electric help?

Since going to market is difficult, a relationship with GE and our customers can make this an easier road. While overhauling an entire city like NYC with updated micro-kitchens will take time, we can still start bringing ideas to people’s homes across the world. For instance, we already have our first beta customer signed up to install the micro-kitchen we designed here into an apartment complex in Brazil!

How will NYC look different if your big idea is launched?

The micro-unit (250-square-foot apartments) is becoming a huge trend. Optimizing space may be a key piece to the NYC puzzle.

For the person living with it, a micro-kitchen looks better aesthetically. But the more important portion is that it’s going to work better for you. Instead of a bulky refrigerator, you can have space to store your sweaters during the summer. Instead of a crammed space, a folding table gives you room for spontaneous dance parties. Or a seamless cooking area with smart technology allows you to start making a meal for that special someone - even when you're still doing work at the office.

It’s all about living better with what you have.

pencil interaction

Front view of a micro-kitchen entrant, submitted by simonlatorre1986

For More Information

After the BigApps challenge winners are selected, FirstBuild will run a series of additional challenges to build out winning ideas with working prototypes. Once that process is fulfilled, an actual working prototype will be manufactured—the first beta customers are already lined up to test it out!

Check out FirstBuild's video on their BigApps page, and submit an idea to their challenge.

We want to hear from you! What part of your kitchen do you think is most in need of a redesign?

Leave a comment below, or let us know on Twitter (reply to @nycedc and @firstbuild with #BigApps).

NYC BigApps, BigIdea



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