This year my former professor called me to ask whether I wanted to lecture for their project week. I was convinced before he stopped talking. A few weeks and a vacation later, in October 2022, I was teaching business design for design students at the University of Applied Sciences in Osnabrück.
The goal was to create startup concepts that solve real-world-problems. At the end of the week, these would be presented at a University fair among 50 other projects. My course as a whole finished in a wonderful fourth place.
The course was intense! Within four days the students had to come up with and iterate on business ideas – using methods they learned along the way. The first challenge was to kickstart the process directly without losing time on long methodological introductions.
We had to find real problems that needed solving. The method was a simple question with a Mind-Map built on top: „What really annoys you?“ The answers ranged from small details like the design of bicycle helmets to broader problems like intentionally vacant apartments.
We structured the answers on a Perceptual Map using relevance and specificity and iterated on problems that were relevant yet unspecific. Then, using a Dot Voting with the students names written on the post-its, we chose our problems and built teams at the same time. Time saved!
Each team then had a few minutes to further specify their topic and formulate a Problem Statement.
The students then had a classic ideation: They scoped specific topics using How-Might-We-Questions, then brainstormed based on these. Naturally, since the Problem Statements were created within such a short timeframe, they were kind of high-level. But that’s okay. The first thing we need is a vector to know which direction is best to iterate on further. As soon as the brainstorming results were clustered, structured, prioritized and evaluated we had the first ideas and visions. Now we could dive a level deeper.
The students started to think about their ideas contexts. They build a Stakeholder Map and identified the people who were most relevant to their idea. To get a glimpse of their world, we used an Empathy Map. This is were things got hard: We didn’t have the time to do a lot of research – therefore user research was left out on purpose (so we had time to cover the whole process). The Empathy Map – and the Customer Profile we built on top – was only an educated guess that we had to accept and work with. We there then able to produce the first Value Proposition Canvas. In short, we answered a high-level problem with a high-level solution, thought about the context, identified customers and built a personalized value proposition.
The Core of the Business is the Value Proposition, we just formulated. This was the right point to introduce the Business Model Canvas. The students learned that relationship, channel and Pricing is equal part of the customers world and need to be designed too. So we took a little time to think about our offer as a whole and fill out the right half of the BMC. Our thinking manifested itself in Touchpoint Analysis, Brand Concepts and Monetization Strategies.
We visualized our Pricing in a Revenue Tree to dive deeper into the mechanics of our businesses and identify main factors. If we know what drives our revenue, we could guess what the business needs to do to control these factors. And thus we got the first draft of an Operating Model, Human Ressources and therefore our Cost Structures. What then followed might have been a little too much: I lectured on Business Cases, Financial Modeling, Funding Structures, Venture Capital. I thought it would break the timeframe to explore these things within the students projects, yet I at least wanted the students to have heard some concepts, terms and phrases within Startup Finance.
Since the projects would be presented at a fair there was no need to build a pitch deck. Instead the students needed to understand how to pitch within two minutes. That’s why I started introducing a pitch ritual in the mid of the week. After each major decision, we came together for a short round of elevator pitches and feedback. This was very helpful. Pitching was used as a method of summary and reflection. If the presented pieces didn’t fit together, it would come clear and could be changed afterwards.
At the same time exercising or trial and error is the best method to get better at pitching. I am convinced that these exercises helped a lot at winning the fourth place among other 50 projects.
This was a run through a lot of Methods! I am very grateful that I had the chance to lecture, even if only for a week and would love to do it again.