ArtCenter and VentureWell: Design, Innovation and Sustainable Impact

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Robbie Nock, Manager, Entrepreneurship and Professional Practice, ArtCenter August 2, 2018

Last March ArtCenter participated in VentureWell’s 22nd Open Conference alongside faculty and educational leaders from universities across the country.

VentureWell, for those unfamiliar with the organization, has a mission “to cultivate a pipeline of inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs driven to solve the world’s biggest challenges and to create lasting impact.” (1) This brilliant group convenes every year to share successes, challenges and opportunities to foster ground-breaking innovations.

The VentureWell community aligns to build resources to propel early stage inventions and prototypes from classrooms, laboratories and research centers into viable products and services to meet the needs of a rapidly growing global population in an evolving environmental and technological landscape. Often the community focuses on STEM education as the area with the most potential impact and aim to enhance curriculum, programs and investment structures to support teams with diverse skills.

Design plays a fascinating role in this space.  Many from the business and STEM worlds are quite familiar with the notion of design-thinking: they know they need designers embedded within startup teams, but sometimes do not totally grasp the role that a designer can play.

At its core, design contains methods necessary for the success of any new venture. This foundation is not solely based in the creation of individual parts of a startup, such as a website or logo, but rather much more broadly in the relationship between input and output, between receiving feedback from customers and stakeholders and responding with direct, precise action. The role that designers play is multidimensional and key to communication, acknowledging different and simultaneous audiences as startups begin to grow. At the earliest stages of a startups path, success is often dependent on the ability to reach a wide array of stakeholders and to understand when and why to iterate or pivot to ensure solutions to real, meaningful and necessary problems.

Designers and design leaders can manage this process and rapidly accelerate outcomes, both in responding to feedback and, more importantly, in prioritizing what feedback is critical. Designers naturally incorporate input, adjusting prototypes and processes accordingly. This unique skill enhances all forms of output and is particularly relevant when connecting with potential users, customers and investor. When applied at the earliest stages of startup development this can have a near alchemic effect.

As colleges and universities offer expertise, facilities, resources and strategy in startup programs and investment structures, it can be easy to overlook the world outside of campuses and curriculums. To find this place in the world, startups must understand ways to differentiate to reach users, customers and other audiences. Designers provide key techniques to ensure each stakeholder’s needs are met and aligned with overall forward momentum as a startup begins to grow. They are essential for successful startups and can lead the process of navigating both input and output through communication and action.

At the Open Conference this year, VentureWell and one of their main partners and funders, the Lemelson Foundation, launched the Inventing Green Toolkit which “helps early-stage inventors understand how the lifecycle of their products will affect the environment.” (2) This toolkit is useful for anyone interested in ways to incorporate design in their process and better understand how to integrate sustainable environmental goals and outcomes within the mission and practical plans for a new venture.

ArtCenter is uniquely positioned to foster this kind of impact driven venture. Our Designmatters programs, rigorous user experience and customer research classes, team driven projects and collaborations, as well as our wide array of business and entrepreneurship classes provides a nexus where design and designers can lead the development of new products and services in partnership with the wider VentureWell community to ensure an equitable future and the overall wellbeing of our planet.