$1M prize at stake in Zazzle innovation challenge

March 21, 2012 7:23:22 PM PDT
It's no secret by now that Apple's new iPad is made in China. But perhaps more surprising is that a popular iPad accessory is being made much closer to home than you might think. It's part of a growing movement that a Silicon Valley company is now promoting with a million dollar prize.

An ancient-looking machine puts the final touches on a cutting-edge product -- a case for the new iPad that's bound just like a book.

"As we saw people moving to tablets and e-readers from ink and paper, we saw that the art of traditional book-binding was going to disappear and we wanted to do something about that," said DODOcase co-founder Craig Dalton.

The process is hardly high-tech. In fact, the most revolutionary thing about the DODOcase factory is where it's located.

"It hasn't always been easy manufacturing in San Francisco, but it's always been the right decision," said Dalton.

San Francisco has the highest minimum wage in the country, but for Dalton, the flexibility is priceless. While other companies wait a month for new iPad cases to arrive from China, the new DODOcases are already here.

Those cases could soon come in a lot more patterns and colors since DODOcase is a finalist in a contest put on by Zazzle. In a San Jose factory, Zazzle custom prints pretty much anything, including the product of whoever wins its innovation challenge.

"The grand prize is a million dollars in technology, software, distribution and marketing," said Zazzle co-founder Jeff Beaver.

To win, companies have to show how they would do what Zazzle does -- build custom products on demand.

"We're doing hooded sweatshirts here one second [and] we'll be doing hats the next," said Zazzle operations director Charles Ohiaeri.

And each is one of a kind.

"It's the exact opposite of mass production," said Beaver.

The secret is the software. Customers design things virtually online, then machines make them reality. Here again, manufacturing locally pays off.

"We can have it shipped to them or at times actually drive to their homes and hand them their customized product within a few hours," said Ohiaeri.

"People we're a little crazy doing manufacturing here, but we're really proud of that," said Beaver.

Zazzle will announce the contest winner in the next few days.

The five finalists in the Zazzle challenge are:

Republic Bike - Allows customers to pick, choose, swap and decide on designs for their bikes shaking up a familiar aesthetic and expectations of what a bike should look like.

Selve - Modernizes the luxury, made-to-measure European footwear experience, while adhering to old world manufacturing techniques and utilizing only the highest quality materials.

YouBar - Enables anyone to fully customize nutrition bars; including ingredients, portion sizes and packaging, addressing multiple needs and profiles.

DODOcase - Creates an extended line of iPad and Kindle cases and accessories to protect, preserve and honor beauty, art, craft and purpose, while helping to build local communities by supporting artisan manufacturing.

Designscape - Offers beautiful, unique, affordable and customizable accessories, products and home goods through sustainable materials, while applying a modern design sensibility.

(Product descriptions above provided by Zazzle)

To learn more about the Million Dollar Zazzle Open Innovation Challenge, visit Zazzle.com/challenge


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