This week, the 11 AIB Start-up Academy finalists will gather for the programme's second module.
The Academy lecturers will introduce the start-ups to “design thinking”. The instructors will show the entrepreneurs how to run quick, inexpensive experiments to tweak or change their product.
Dr Johnny Ryan, executive director of the UCD Innovation Academy, is this week's coach and will lead the start-ups through a day of learning by doing. Insomnia Coffee chairman and Dragons' Den star Bobby Kerr is the official business mentor for the module.
The start-ups have been told to wear “weather-appropriate informal attire” for a practical design thinking challenge.
The challenge will be a “design sprint” from idea to prototype for a hypothetical new product. The start-ups will go out into the world to uncover real customer needs and then try to solve them. By the end of the day, they will be prepared to apply what they have learned to their own business.
According to Mr Ryan, design thinking is a method for developing products or services based on what users identify as their real problem.
It is about “what they need done for them. It doesn’t matter what you’re currently doing for them,” he said.
Dr Ryan has written about design thinking in The Irish Times: “entrepreneurs often produce products that do not solve the kind of problems customers actually have.” What counts is “that there is a genuine problem to be solved in the first place”.
In the lecture-based portion of the module, Dr Ryan will walk the start-ups through the five stages of design thinking. First is the “empathy” stage, where the business reaches out to potential customers to research their problem.
Next is the “definition” stage where the team takes what they have learned and defines the problem in light of the actual customer need. The “ideation” stage is a brainstorming session to come up with as many solutions as possible to the actual problem.
The “prototyping” stage comes next, and here teams “cheaply and quickly develop a mock-up of a solution”. The final stage is “feedback”, when the prototype is discussed and refined. It is brought out into the real world for testing with prospective users.
The five stages can be repeated until the team has a product that customers are excited to buy.
The method helps to reduce the risk of new products and differentiate a company’s product from that of its competitors.