Pressure does different things to different people -- for some, it helps them to focus and perform, while others simply fall apart. What execution under pressure can teach one is how to cope with a wide range of emotions from fear, despair, and confusion, to surprise and accomplishment. This is the saga of how a weeklong, intensive design-a-thon on Design Driven Startups challenged a group of international business students to their very foundations.
For the past three years, we have been conducting a one-week workshop for fourth year students at the Copenhagen Business School, in Denmark on Bridging Business & Design. This year, sixty-three students, in groups of three, were tasked with creating a new business and pitching a Minimal Viable Product within five days time that entailed creating a business strategy, business model, design brief, design concept and ad campaign.
The projects offered ranged from bicycle locks, transformer shoes, music mixing, parcel delivery service and solar panel tracking. Two of the teams soon pulled ahead of the rest and were running neck-to-neck to the finish line.
One of them was "Quetape," a flexible fabric-sensor for monitoring of top athletes' muscle performance and the other was "Sky(r) Bites," a delicious and healthy ice cream snack, which the team had prototyped and shared with everyone in the group. They had also developed a provocative ad campaign that focused on the pleasurable and healthy aspect of their product since it was sugar-free, high in protein and low in carbs. However, upon tallying up the hard won student votes, "Quetape," won, mainly due to its better understanding and implementation of strategy.
In the real world, creating new entrepreneurial ventures is an elite sport, where only five to ten percent of those throwing their hat into the ring, will have the relevant skills to succeed. These very necessary skills include passion, risk-attitude, adaptability, grit and social capital. Even then, the sport of startups is still a gamble and as with any other sport, a game plan is essential.
This workshop highlighted the fact that being an entrepreneur is not an easy road. Of the twenty-one randomly grouped teams that began the project, sixteen made it thought the business model stage, twelve formulated an inspirational design brief, and yet, by the end of the week only six of them had successfully pitched their new business opportunity.
Granted, it was a tough crowd and when students were asked to provide an overall rating of each other's business opportunities and concepts, they used the full range of grades from A+ to E. Compared with Asian students who were going through a similar exercise, the European students had no trouble failing their classmates, while the Asian students never rated another classmate below a C.
In differentiating the performance by rating it on the nine Design Quality Criteria, and using a scale from one to five, one European student even extended the grade range down to a zero for added emphasis. Toughness aside, student ratings of the overall performance correlated strongly with design quality, underlining design's importance for startups.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty, so a good question might be, "How predictable was the outcome?" By inviting students to place bets throughout the workshop using Monopoly money, it was revealed that early odds acted as perfect predictors of who would win, adding credence to the idea of using gaming as an early predictor of outcomes.
With the assistance of some of the best business students in Europe, we discovered that using the Design Driven Startups method offered a starting point for professionals with the right stuff to quickly build their startup capabilities, better enabling them to impact the world with breakthrough, innovative offerings.
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