At the onset of 2012, select members from the Safe Agua Peru team made their way to the University of Texas at Austin to participate in the Dell Social Innovation Challenge Sustainable Vision Venturelab, with the goal of sharing preliminary design outcomes as well as learning business strategies to move their projects forward. In the following blog post, Alex Cabunoc (Product Design) gives insight into his time spent in Texas and shares the process of preparing a business plan for his design, GiraDora (a human powered washer and spin dryer). In addition to GiraDora, two other Safe Agua Peru projects also participated in the Venture lab; Balde a Balde (a portable faucet that provides running water from any bucket) and Vitamigos (a new fun, playful, & interactive experience for moms & kids that brings together water purification & nutrition in a tasty beverage).
Just when the Safe Agua Peru class was coming to an end, I was informed that I had been selected to represent Team GiraDora and participate in NCIIA’s Venture lab in Austin, Texas: a 5-day intensive workshop to help budding innovators develop a successful business plan to ensure success of their product. So with barely a chance to catch a breath from the whirlwind term, I packed my bags and was Texas-bound.
Meeting Dan, Penny, and two fellow students from other Safe Agua Peru projects was a bit like déjà vu. Only 4 months earlier we had been in the same position on our way to Lima, but this time we knew each other and had created a bond from all the long nights and challenges that we encountered over the past 14 weeks. More importantly, we now each had a project with a very real possibility of becoming an actual product. But first, we would need a business plan that would not only ensure that our product could thrive, but more importantly would attract would-be early investors in the potential of our ideas.
In Austin it seemed that everything was on the opposite side of the spectrum compared to our lives and experiences at Art Center. Freezing nights, cheap gasoline and bars advertising $1 beers let us know right away that we were no longer in LA. And with more than 65,000 students calling the University of Texas home, compared to Art Center’s 1200 or so, Austin did seem to be living up to its reputation that “everything is bigger in Texas.” Even at the event our small group of designers seemed exotic and certainly out of place in a room of business students, engineers and software programmers.
“Without the valuable information we learned, and the work we accomplished during the NCIIA Venture lab workshop, we would be far less prepared to take our designs from concepts to products that reach the people we designed them for. This workshop armed us with tools to understand, develop and express the loosely outlined business models we created during the term, including writing strategy maps, uncovering potential pitfalls and learning what types of information investors will expect during a pitch. Before, I didn’t know where to begin to take my product to market, but now after the NCIIA workshop, I have a far clearer strategy, and even some new ideas to extended Balde a Balde into a product line continue new methods for co-creation.”
—Kim Chow, Product Design, Balde a Balde: Safe Agua Peru
Over the five days, the presenter, James Barlow, started from the absolute basics to not only introduce us to the fundamentals of business strategy but to give each of us the tools to create a business plan – a veritable Gordian knot considering the vast range of people and educational backgrounds in the room. But true to his word, by the fifth day and after numerous exercises, videos, charts, and a small mountain of post-it notes, each group had created a feasible business plan for their product. The real source of this success was Mr. Barlow’s ability to break down and explain in a simple language what a successful business plan needs, how it can fail, how to identify possibilities and how to prevent pitfalls. Though nothing is guaranteed, I feel that Venture Lab was probably one of the most beneficial things that I could have done in order to see GiraDora reach that next level of realization. I am extremely grateful to have been given this opportunity to expand my understanding of the entire model of business beyond design.