A masterclass in design thinking for start-ups

Week three of the AIB Start-up Academy put design at the heart of the customer experience and challenged participants to use it to communicate respect

Ailbhe Keane and Mary Toner

Ailbhe Keane (left) of Izzy Wheels, and Mary Toner (right) of Bakers & Cakers, at the AIB Start-up Academy design thinking session. Photograph: Conor Mulhern

 

One of the most important things a business can do is to provide pleasure or delight in the customer experience, and this was the focus on week three of the AIB Start-up Academy with the subject of “Design Thinking.”

“We’re all looking for delight in our lives and we are no longer happy for a company to just market something at us and push things. What design is doing is creating almost a pull factor. So marketing used to be about making people want things, design is about making things people want,” said Trevor Vaugh who co-facilitated a masterclass along with Martin Ryan.

“We are an experience economy so every one of these start-ups' jobs is to delight people and that is so easy if you actually use the power of design to pay attention to them. If you go out and have a conversation with someone and ask them “How does my product make you feel?” It’s very easy to find pain points that you can turn into delight,” said Vaugh.

Trevor Vaugh and Martin Ryan of The Irish Times Training, taking the AIB Start-up Academy finalists through their session on design thinking. PHotograph: Conor Mulhern
Trevor Vaugh and Martin Ryan of The Irish Times Training, taking the AIB Start-up Academy finalists through their session on design thinking. PHotograph: Conor Mulhern

Fourteen start-up companies are taking part in the Academy, an eight-week accelerator programme, in the hopes of winning a prize worth €200,000 for their business. Ryan said that today was about getting the businesses to step back from the day-to-day running to really look at their business, and think about their customer.

“With start-ups, generally they are addressing a real issue so they’ve already shown some level of empathy for an issue that’s out there that hasn’t been well solved and they’re solving it. But there is so much going on in terms of getting the business operational that they can get all-consumed and distracted from making sure they’re bringing added value to the customer. So this is going to help (the finalists) to just step back. It’s going to give them some tools and process to step up, look at the whole business from a bird’s eye level and make sure that they’ve got punctuated points of value that they’re bringing to the customer that’s addressing experience issues and maybe positioning issues, so not just a core product or service, but it’s how it’s delivered to the market. What really distinguishes one successful business from another is the experience that the product or service is wrapped in, that it’s a quality experience at every touch point,” said Ryan.

Mark Rowe, finalist from Dynomed, said he found today’s session helped him focus on his customer experience much more.

“How I would explain design thinking is taking something, a service or a place, and making it a pleasurable experience for a person at the end of it, and because of that the person will want to come back and do it again. Before today I would have thought about it, but I wouldn’t have thought about it in that way. I thought design was all about making it pretty, or making it functional, or just about how people fit in around it, but it’s not, it’s about that emotional connection,” said Rowe.

This is the third year of the Start-up Academy, which is a joint venture between AIB and The Irish Times, to help start-up companies develop by bringing the 14 finalists through an eight-week programme where they have an opportunity to network and learn from entrepreneurs, industry experts and each other in a mentoring and training programme.

“The message we want to leave the start-ups with, and what we’re reinforcing, is design thinking is just about respect and progress. So if we get respect, which is respect for your customers, respect for your business partners, it just means looking at the world from their perspective, and respecting that they have a job to do and we can, as a design thinker, help them do it better. And progress is, your customers are just trying to make progress. You don’t buy a product, you hire it to do a job for you to help you make progress. If you can understand what progress your customer is trying to make and you respect your customer to find out that progress, then that’s design thinking,” said Vaugh.

Finalist, Jennifer Nickerson from Tipperary Boutique Distillery, said that she is finding the Academy beneficial not only for the expert training but for the peer support.

“I’m finding the Academy fantastic. There’s a real camaraderie between us (all), we have our own WhatsApp group and people are very good to share things, links or events that are coming up and everyone is very open with things that they’ve found have worked well for them and sharing that within the group. As well as the courses The Irish Times are putting on for us, which are great, just being able to talk to a group of people who are going through the same thing as you is amazing,” said Nickerson.

The 14 finalists are:

Frankman Grooming, who produce men’s grooming products

Tipperary Boutique Distillery Limited, who distil Irish whiskey from their own barley on their Tipperary farm

Bakers & Cakers, which is an online marketplace connecting cake makers to those who want to buy them

Izzy Wheels, who create a range of customised spoke guards for wheelchairs

Origin Bars, who produce handmade high fibre protein bars

Atturos, a molecular diagnostic solution to help patients make their decisions

Ostoform, who produce a product that manages peristomal skin complications for people with ileostomies

The Little Pharma Ltd, who produce hydroponically grown barley and wheat grasses

Kiki Moon, who create high quality organic cotton blankets

Oathello Network Limited, which is an online app that allows you to find, book and pay to have legal documents sworn and notarised

FEED, who produce a range of healthy meal pots designed for athletes on the go, and for pot sold, one meal is donated to a child in the developing world

Hydrasure, a Wicklow-based company providing smart-stabling solutions to the equine and agricultural industries that use technology to improve animal health, welfare and performance

Dynomed, a health care application to tackle sleep apnoea by improving the effectiveness of therapies for patients using positive airway pressure devices

Fresh from, who produce a “Rustic Smoked Fish Pâté" called Fresh from the Pier

Next week the finalists will have facilitators Antonie Geerts on Data Analytics and PR with Kieran Garry.

To find out more visit www.aibstartupacademy.com

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