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Amazon Secretly Working on New Platform for Inventors

Is it a Kickstarter competitor? Or maybe an Etsy competitor?

Shutterstock/Mila Supinskaya

Amazon sells most of the name-brand electronics you can think of. Now, it appears, it wants to be the place where the next generation of gadget and consumer electronics companies can build their brands from the ground up.

Over the last few months, the company has been hiring for a new venture with the goal of creating the “best end-to-end platform for startups.” In another job description, Amazon touts the venture as “a new platform with inventors.”

One listing for a senior marketing manager asks, “Are you inspired by inventors who develop and launch new products? Do you want to market the world’s best end-to-end platform for startups? Do you see the opportunity to connect these entrepreneurs with Amazon’s hundreds of millions of customers through creative and strategic marketing?”

The jobs, which appear to have first popped up in the fall, sit in the Hardlines category at Amazon, which consists of product groups such as toys, electronics and tools. There are few other details in the descriptions.

But sources say it could be connected to a recent initiative Amazon has been pursuing. Amazon is attempting to build close relationships with young, promising hardware and electronics companies — think robotic toys, fitness and health gadgets — with the goal of convincing them to build their business using Amazon as the main sales channel.

“They are trying to figure out how to engage with startups in new product categories in a more thoughtful way,” one source said, citing robots and wearables as the kind of products Amazon is targeting.

Traditionally, new Amazon sellers would get handed to the most junior product buyers. But Amazon has been assigning senior buyers to handle the relationships with young hardware startups. In some cases, Amazon is also offering them modest perks such as enhanced marketing on Amazon and other channels, one source said.

Why is this a focus? The new venture comes at a time when other e-commerce marketplaces like Etsy and The Grommet, as well as brick and mortar retailers, have been courting the next generation of tinkerers, inventors and makers. This set of entrepreneurs is using new technologies, like 3-D printing, and new fundraising platforms, like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, to bring new products to market faster.

As a result, these categories of goods are some of the fastest growing in retail. Amazon likely wants to create a foothold before sales really take off and competitor sites become the big distribution channels.

Last year, for example, Etsy acquired Grand St., an online seller of new electronics products. The Grommet, which is majority owned by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, is another site dedicated to introducing shoppers to the latest inventions from small shops or individuals.

Amazon has been showcasing some of these products in its own way already. In the past year, it introduced storefronts for 3-D printing as well as wearables such as smartwatches and fitness bands. Now it looks to be formalizing a plan to become the go-to store for this new wave of consumer products.

So what else might Amazon’s “end-to-end platform for startups” consist of?

One former Amazon employee speculated that Amazon could be providing some funding to the most promising hardware startups and bring them in house for some hands-on mentoring. This is not so farfetched. In June, Amazon sponsored a contest that rewarded 20 creators of Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns with “entrepreneurial mentorship,” three free months of an Amazon professional seller account and a $200 credit toward Amazon’s warehousing and shipping program. The contest was timed to coincide with the first-ever White House Maker Faire, an event that celebrated technologists and inventors using cutting-edge manufacturing technologies.

Another idea? Amazon could go so far as to compete with Kickstarter and Indiegogo directly by helping promising entrepreneurs raise initial funds for new products on Amazon or a new site. Or it could recast its Woot.com site, which sells gadgets and new inventions but has lost much of its mojo, along with its early company leaders, in the years since Amazon bought it.

You want one more piece of pure speculation, you say? Okay! Perhaps Amazon attempted — and failed — to buy Etsy, where makers and tinkerers are increasingly setting up shop, and instead it is going at Etsy in a category of goods that are poised to take off but where Etsy isn’t yet the clear e-commerce winner. Perhaps!

(Update: After publication, a few smart people mentioned that the new venture sounds like it could also be competitive with Quirky, a New York City company that helps inventors transform their ideas into actual products. Quirky actually sells some of these products on Amazon, but Amazon has never shied away from competing with its own sellers.)

Okay, I’m done. If you know more about this new venture and want to share details with your favorite e-commerce reporter, please email me at jason@recode.net.

I actually got a nice Amazon spokesman on the phone, but he still declined to comment.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.