Stimulate Student Business Outcome through Needfinding-Oriented Projects
Editor: Kovacevic, Ahmed, Ion, William, McMahon, Chris, Buck, Lyndon and Hogarth, Peter
Author: Håkansson, Anders; Holmquist, Bengt
Section: Professional Perspectives
At the department of Human Work Sciences at Luleå University of Technology, LTU, there is a long tradition of working in student driven product development projects in cooperation with companies in the industry. The main structure of these projects is to develop assignments together with the companies and let the students address these problems during the projects. This leads to stimulating and real tasks where the students are very committed. However, the tasks are relatively well defined and are more like consultant assignments where the students act like the consultants and work directly with the companies’ problems. The ambition was to increase the element of innovation and entrepreneurship and through that increase the ambition and conditions for starting new companies. To achieve this, needfinding methodology based on Patnaik and Becker was introduced in order to give the students a tool to work with more loosely defined tasks. The projects where not defined more than as a few different scenarios where the students were requested to identify needs and from that develop a product or service to satisfy these needs. The outcome was a number of unique and innovative solutions. The students experienced the new approach as scary at first but gradually started to appreciate it as long as the project proceeded. The course assessment showed that the new way of addressing problems when developing products filled a gap in the methodology package for the students. An additional aspect was introduced the third time the course was given. From the start the projects were carried out without cooperation with the industry in any way but this time a company, New Wave (NW), was involved. NW provides gifts and profile products to other companies and organizations. This means that they have a great number of different products in their product collection. The task was to identify the needs with the intended customer and create a new suitable product to offer them. To spice the whole thing up, NW committed themselves to buy and produce the winning solution. The class of students was divided into groups of four and they all worked with the same assignment in competition with each other. The outcome of this project was a great number of different solutions depending on which target group the students had chosen to focus on and which needs were identified. In the end, several solutions were chosen for production by NW. Besides these, at least one additional solution was developed into a product and the students in that group started a company in order to realize the product. All in all, this approach turned out to greatly stimulate an entrepreneurial approach and further develop the students’ ability for innovative thinking. The use of needfinding-based courses in a strong competitive situation is useful for the students. To focus more towards entrepreneurship and innovation proved to stimulate start-up of new companies and it can also show the students that a self-employed future is realistic.