The popularity of design thinking in a business environment is related to proven positive impact of design thinking on the bottom line (Herrmann & Goldschmidt, 2013). I selected this module because of my interest in innovation (as my pathway is entrepreneurship), and because it allows me a better understanding of the practical application of entrepreneurship; i.e., as a part of the process by creating a new business. The design thinking for startups module was a new journey that I embarked on over last seven months. This is a usual journey for entrepreneurs that start from the stage of observing problems or needs in the market to the stage of establishing, managing and developing an enterprise. This essay is going to provide a reflection of my experience during the studies of the module, and the knowledge & skills that I have developed.
From the first week of the module there was an emphasis on problem solving as one of the role of the designer. In fact, design thinking can be described as an innovation method and ability that helps to generate innovative solutions (Brown , 2008). Furthermore, design thinking refers to the sensibility and techniques of designers that are used to solve a problem (Lockwood, 2010). Hence, design thinking is focused on providing innovative solutions. I had the opportunity to experience a designer’s role by solving problems that we observed in the market. In other words, to initiate one of the most important characteristics of entrepreneurs that is the alertness to opportunities that arise (kirzner , 1973). The most important lesson I have learned is to use empathy think about problems from different perspectives; e.g., consumers, users and business owners. Meeting potential consumers, listening to their needs and observing their behaviors are some of the skills that I have used. After identifying a problem, we were required to generate an innovative idea to solve that problem.
During the ideation stage, I had the chance to gain knowledge about developing an innovative idea following guidance from the course module criteria. There are some elements that I have learned about generating innovative new ideas for new products. These include social contexts in which a new product can create value for potential users, current consumers’ behavior “trends in the market”, manufacturing processes that are needed for the final product, available technology that can make the production of the final offering possible, as well as costs and the social impact of production. Another significant lesson that I was exposed to is related to the difference between invention and innovation. Joseph Schumpeter distinguishes inventions from innovations; inventions relate to new ideas, whereas, innovations are about converting new ideas into commercial products (1939). Therefore, it was a crucial element to focus on inventions – new ideas – that can be introduced to the market as a new product. This was an interesting stage as it is related to the first task for my group, Emperatigo, in this module.
Generating new innovative ideas as a group was an eye-opening task. Group members have introduced many innovative ideas over a number of brainstorming sessions. Actually, the brainstorming sessions were successful because of the equal involvement of all group members and the acceptance of any ideas – good or bad – that were introduced. This can be considered as an effective brainstorming that delays judgement and criticism, accepting all ideas and involving all members for developing these ideas (Reeves, 2016). After that, there were needs for a tool to evaluate these innovative ideas.
One of these tools was the business model canvas. Actually, the Business Model Canvas is “a business model concept that everybody understands: one that facilitates descriptions and discussion” (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010, p. 15). I was surprised by how useful these methods were compared to traditional business plans, as the flexibility of these canvases allowed us to pivot and chose the most feasible business model. Based on the discussion of the group members, The Man Apron was the most appropriate product that met most of the criteria that were needed for a successful business. The canvas’ identification of various constraints revealed to us the products that were less likely to work, and as a result were able to fail fast at an early stage and avoid unnecessary loss of resources. Therefore, the Man Apron has been taken to next stage of development. This stage is to make the minimum valuable product (MVP).
The advantages of making MVP are to obtain data about the potential users of the product at minimum cost. Consequently, it helps to avoid developing the “wrong product” (Maurya, 2014). This was an important phase of the development of The Man Apron. The importance of the MVP includes prototyping. In fact, this was a critical stage that has helped to improve the design, materials that were used, and the functionality of the product. It was the first time for me to be involved in making an MVP and to understand how the MVP is a powerful method to save efforts and resources before introducing the final products in the market. In fact, the first potential customers of the products will be during the trade fairs.
The trade fair was a real test of The Man Apron. Feedback from customers, judges and lecturers was crucial for further development of the product. The most important element that has negatively impacted selling The Man Apron was the poor packaging. “Great packaging can make a mediocre product sell well and poor packaging can make a far superior product fail dismally” (DeMatteis, 2005, p. 220). The poor presentation of the product in the first trade fair created pressures on us to improve the packaging, sales & marketing, and presentation skills for the second trade fair. These were successfully improved for the second trade fair, and our efforts were reflected as our team won the Young Enterprise Best Sales Team 2016 award. This is a good example of how we as a team learned from previous mistakes and improved the areas that need to be enhanced for future successes.
On the other hand, the journey of design thinking has not only given me knowledge about developing a new innovative product, but also has helped me to enhance the skills necessary to be an effective member of a team. The achievement of Emeratigo in the final Dragons’ Den is a result of the teamwork culture that we have built. Focus on the achievement of the team’s goals and commitment of all members to accomplish tasks, face to face meetings, a collaborative teamwork environment – in which each member of the team becomes self-manager -, specified objectives with the support needed to accomplish tasks are some of the elements that make successful teamwork (Cassidy, et al., 2015). This is what I have experienced when we have started to work as a team from the day of generating new product ideas to the final presentation of our business in front of Dragons’ Den.
In addition, I had the opportunity to improve my time management and communication skills. In the first three weeks, I faced some challenges balancing my time between company meetings and other responsibilities. However, I managed these challenges by preparing for the meetings; e.g., for a follow up meeting, I prepared an updated schedule with a percentage of accomplishment of my tasks. Therefore, the time that I had to spend during group meeting was reduced as all required information was prepared and available.
In addition, my communication skills have also improved. They developed as a result of the requirements of each phase of the design thinking module – from the first week of the module to the last – and to the meeting culture of the Emperatigo –i.e., empathy, active listening, clarity and open mindedness are the main characteristics of the meeting environment between members.
Furthermore, pitching a business idea is another challenge that I experienced for the first time. It requires skills in different areas such as storytelling in order to make the business pitch more exciting, summarizing the whole business ideas in few sentences and requiring practice in order to be improved (Duening , et al., 2010). The key successes of the final pitch of our business idea was related to our efforts to meet the pitch presentation guide that has been provided by our lecturer, as well as feedback from the mock Dragons’ Den and the practices of our team to the final business pitch. The biggest lesson for me here was the difference that practice of a pitch makes, and the critical nature of engaging investors to persuade them to share our enthusiasm.
To conclude, the design thinking for startups module has helped me to experience all stages of new venture creation; from generating the innovative idea, making the final product, selling the final product to pitching in front of the Dragons’ Den. I had never before experienced this complete process, and I believe that the experience I have gained is invaluable insight. The knowledge, skills and experience that I have obtained from the module will help me in the future as I have become more interested in entrepreneurship, and this will be translated into establishing my own business. The knowledge and skills that I have obtained from observing consumers’ needs, generating innovative ideas, market research, understanding and evaluating business model, building an effective teamwork environment, selecting appropriate source of finance, and effectively approaching potential investors are some of the areas that will help me a lot for establishing my own business. Therefore, the cost and risk associated with establishing my own venture in the future will be mitigated thanks the core lessons that I have learned.
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