Product vs. Social Innovation

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Finals time gets really hectic and I was so happy about AP Lang last Thursday at the end of the day, that I almost forgot to blog about how great a day it was for my coVenture ReSpIn (#mvrecycles) team!

(As a disclaimer, I have not included much background to this venture because I have several past posts about it. If you have not been keeping up with my past posts about the RISE Sustainability System and our are team, ReSpIn, then I would strongly encourage you to read some of the posts in the link above because I fear I use a bit too much insider language. I’ve done this though because I expect this post to be long without all of the background.)

While talking to Mr. Jones one day, a MVPS parent that also works as a venture investor, Mr. Edwards noticed a connection between my team’s work and one of the projects Mr. Jones has become invested in. (I don’t know how much I’m actually allowed to say about that project so I’m just not going to say specifics. The important part is just that this is how we made the connection with Mr. Jones.)

Through this connection we were able to schedule a meeting with Mr. Jones for last Thursday and it was really helpful in moving our work forward.

For the past week our team has been working on our half scale model of our product using cardboard as our new material due to our purposeful pivot about 2 weeks ago. The prototype isn’t quite complete yet because what we ended up realizing is that it is a lot harder and time consuming to put together a working prototype when you have to do everything manually; luckily the full scale version will be more precise and faster because we will use a CNC machine (as of now this is the plan at least). However, our RISE Sustainability System has been put together enough to the point where we were able to show Mr. Jones how it will work and explain what the need is for our system.

“…there are similar products to ours in existence, but what is different about our product is that we want it to be more than just a space saving waste system. We want our product to actually be part of a system that inspires conversations and learning around recycling and if we are able to make it out of cardboard it will be the most sustainable, portable, and easiest for a class of any age to assemble; plus there isn’t yet one out there made of cardboard to our knowledge.” – Purposeful Pivoting (The Life of Pinya)

Mr. Jones seemed to really love our concept, especially with how we hope to find a way to incorporate the building of the RISE into different classes curriculums. A key component to our system is that we want our system to help foster and support learning about recycling by having a class interact with it, we do not want teachers feeling like it is a burden and time waster to put it together as a class. How this will look is still in early modes of brainstorming though.

Mr. Jones also had a lot of great feedback for us that has helped our team discover our next steps. I learned so much that I think it’s best to first high light my biggest take aways from this meeting:

  • our product is more of a social innovation than a product innovation
  • it’s okay to not do all of the work inside of the core team, just know your assets and how to use them to your advantage then figure out what/who else you need to accomplish your goal
  • key components of a business plan

In ID for the past month at least, we have been broken up into 3 main groups: design brief team, product innovation team, and then us the ReSpIn team. (To learn more about the module set up, one of my facilitators Meg Cureton has a nice post about it this current module.)

My team, ReSpIn, has been kind of on our own, but we’ve been more closely involved with the product innovation team learning about how products get innovated by first being copied, then transformed, then combined together. No ideas are original in today’s 21st century, but ideas can be improved upon and remixed to create a new useful and innovative tool for people to use.
Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 10.19.08 AM.pngWe’ve been with this group because up until a few days before last Thursday, we have thought that our project was under the category of product innovation since at first it started with us just re-designing the waste bin. But in the past week or so we’ve been realizing that the problem we truly want to solve for is actually more of a social innovation, requiring us to help change a cultural mindset around recycling.

After talking with Mr. Jones, our team all agreed that our problem requires a social innovation; however, the first problem still stands that the middle schooler (our primary/initial users) do not actually have recycling bins and the reason is partially because they take up too much space. Therefore, some sort of product innovation is needed to solve the overarching problem of making sustainability a part of our DNA at MVPS, so our work has not been in vain, there is just much more to be done.

Once it was determined that we are working on both a product and social innovation, we started talking about how our team has recognized our own knowledge gaps on the product innovation side of things. We still do not fully know how to work the machines we would need, we have limited computer science knowledge, and we only have one team member that’s really good  with CAD which has made the process slower.

However, we’ve been realizing something important: it is okay to not do all of the work on a project, sometimes we have to outsource work to get the job done best. I know that personally this is something I’ve always struggled with; it seems like when we do a project, we have to be the only one’s to work on the project. This isn’t true though, nor is it practical. Not everyone is good at everything, so if you are able to acknowledge what your team is good at, then you can use your skills and figure out who else you could get to help with the parts of the project you aren’t as skilled in.

Our team has a lot of experience with social innovation. Working with people, gaining empathy, discovering needs, figuring out ways to hack a culture, discovering little insights to lead to a big change- this is the stuff we strive with in my opinion. Now not to say the product design isn’t important, but we’ve spent most of this year working at that side of things and feel that we are now in a position to acknowledge that maybe someone else would be more apt to continue this side of the work.

Continuing forward, we hope to partner with Mr. Edward’s Technology, Engineering, and Design (TED) class and have them help us develop the product design for the RISE. The cool thing about this partnership is that it will basically be the opposite role to what the Design Brief ID team is working on currently; we will be the clients rather than the hired consultants. (This is still barely developed though, so one of our first next steps is figuring out how this partnership will work.)

Meanwhile, when the TED class takes over more of the product design, the core ReSpIn team hopes to continue more of the social innovation side of things. We plan to talk to more students, teachers, custodians, and external companies to work on how we might have the RISE Sustainability System incorporate into class curriculum and how we might gain further support and funding to eventually market the product (assuming all goes well). Mr. Jones gave us some great starting points with companies to research and the team has agreed to look into those more over the winter break.

Mr. Jones also told us how most companies would expect a business plan when being pitched an idea like this. To be honest we haven’t learned much about formal business plans in the past, so it was really informative when he helped go through what would be in a typical business plan:

  • who the target market is
  • what the need is for the product/system
  • description about what it is/how it works
  • how you are going to get what you don’t have (money, supplies, skills, tools, etc…)
  • what is the plan to actually role this out onto market
    • (he also gave us great advice about how no project ever goes according to plan, but you still need some starting plan with how  you are going to test the product and who you will talk to for feedback on the product, etc…)
  • financial direction
    • for commercial products: what is the cost compared to revenue
    • for social products: what is the goal and how will it be measured? how is the end social impact justifying the need for the cost to implement it?
      • tips for figuring out cost:
        • know what you think it will cost you
        • discover what the average user will actually pay for a product like yours
        • then find a way to make sure there is a large gap between these two prices where it costs you less then they will buy it for

When Mr. Jones talked about these key components to a business plan, our team was happy to realize that we know a lot of this information already, but now we need to actually compile it together into a more formal write up. Mr. Jones also brought up a good point to us about how one of our key assets is that we are a team of students and companies are always trying to reach the next generation, so by partnering with us they could potentially reach a larger audience. I thought this was nice to hear because sometimes we always expect that we will get turned away because we are students, but that isn’t always the case; if you can make a convincing argument for why your idea is needed and why you need to work on it, someone will support you despite your age.

I think the last two weeks especially has provided our coVenture team with a lot of valuable insights about product innovation versus social innovation, the value of knowing what skills your team possesses, and how to partner with others to get more done faster. I’m excited for what the future holds next!

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2 thoughts on “Product vs. Social Innovation

  1. What a great post, it seems like the talk with Mr. Jones had a strong effect on you! I think it’s smart how we are outsourcing some work to the TED class, I think it will be an interesting experience for both us and the students in that class. I wish we could meet with outside experts like Mr. Jones more often as they have so much experience that they could give us. I wonder if we could involve any more classes as it would help us as well as spreading the awareness of our product and the recycling problem in our school.

  2. It’s awesome to see you guys making so much progress! I found the part about how to divide up work between the group interesting because in school (group projects, specifically) we see this is such a problem where we can’t figure out, our perhaps don’t put enough thought into, how we allocate our resources (time, skills, people). The outsourcing to different classes helps and gets more people involved.

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