Innovating Through the Art of Listening

Steven Jun Sic Park 17SIPA had code, cofounders, two product protoypes, and funding – but everything was still disconnected. “I had all these ingredients, but no recipe,” he said.

Through the Design Leaders Program at the Columbia Entrepreneurship Design Studio, Steve was able to look at his idea from a different perspective and better think through his business plan: As a result, he changed his concept and go-to-market strategy in a way that made sense and could better provide value.

The Design Leaders Program, led by Adam Royalty and Alice Bosley ’17SIPA, helps highly-motivated teams innovate using human-centered design. Over the course of each semester, teams dive into the specific challenges that they are trying to address, receive individualized feedback, and gain a broader use of the Design Studio space to develop their creative solutions. Cohorts have drawn from schools across campus: Columbia Engineering, School of International and Public Affairs, Teachers College, the School of Professional Studies, and Columbia Business School have all been represented.

The Design Leaders Program teaches “the art of listening,” said John MacDonald ’17BUS of MusicianU. MusicianU, which MacDonald designed with Edgar Richmond ’17SPS, is a platform that enables musicians to create, connect, collaborate, and share content. The duo has also been working on adding a way for musicians to earn money on their platform.

“The Design Leaders Program has been a powerful guide in understanding and developing our customer-centric innovation,” said MacDonald, and specifically led to the development of three new functionalities on their platform: a direct messaging platform, push notification capabilities, and a tab bar.

“The Design Leaders Program not only taught me how to think outside of the box, the program challenged my existing framework to realize there is no box,” said Richmond.

In the program, innovators learn interview and research techniques to apply to real users and stakeholders in the community they are designing for; identify trends – based on data – and specific pain points that could inform project development; and build and test workable prototypes of a solution to a particular challenge.

“It’s about getting customer feedback, rapidly adapting, and continuously iterating on your prototype, all so that when you go to market, your product is more relevant to your ideal customer segment,” said Mike Canty ’14BUS, describing the program. Together with Will Deng ’14CC, Canty created ARC, a new way to reduce response time for law enforcement in emergency situations and create a record of response steps through sensory technology. The venture is preparing for a limited release to law enforcement and carrying professionals in mid-2017.

George Liu ’17CC and Alan Gou ’17SEAS of Palette – a simple, intuitive collaboration platform for teams to better plan, record, and learn from growth and marketing experiments – were in the middle of an alpha test with a few companies when they began the Design Leaders Program.

They found that talking through their project and getting individualized feedback helped to keep their innovation on the right track to realization. Now, fresh off their win at the $250K Columbia Venture Competition, Liu and Gou plan to work on Palette full time after both graduate this month. Palette is in the middle of a closed beta test with such companies as Adobe, Amazon, and Microsoft, with plans to start an open beta test in a few months and see a public launch in September.

Beyond a particular venture, the Design Leaders Program also seeks to help individuals develop as a leader, entrepreneur, and person.

“Seeing someone growing as learner, growing as a person – that is what we want,” said Royalty.

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