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Tackling potential PSI spin-offs’ challenges using design thinking

Having fun after working hard: a fruitful workshop full of learnings, interesting connections, and new friends.
Having fun after working hard: a fruitful workshop full of learnings, interesting connections, and new friends.

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A problem-solving process called “design thinking” has been used by many innovators to revolutionize entire industries. Focused on customer needs, design thinking is a dynamic way of defining the right problem and finding the right solution by generating multiple ideas. On September 18 and 19, 2017, a two-day immersive workshop held at PARK INNOVAARE provided the opportunity to learn and apply the design thinking approach to real business cases.

About 30 MBA students from Xavier University (Ohio, United States) and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland put the design thinking approach into practice by solving real market cases. They met the winners of the Entrepreneur Fellowship program of the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and analyzed their business ideas, aiming to identify possible business development strategies. “Real problems added an element of complexity and at the same time emphasized for the students the fact that this was not fiction: a real person was behind each of the projects,” said William Boyce, visiting faculty at Xavier University and workshop leader.

The workshop started with a theoretical business case on which the participants worked in small groups of four to five people – brainstorming for ideas and generating solutions using a new approach. Further attendees had a chance to not only solve cases but also interact with real scientists from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). Three groups worked effectively in different styles on unveiling new possibilities for highly scientific projects to achieve the same goal of commercializing their ideas. As a result of their joint work, three presentations were given offering possible business models and further strategies for each project.

Asking the right questions, collecting great ideas

Creating a path to innovation was not easy for the participants, but it was definitely of great value both to scientists and to the MBA students. “It was the first time I’ve ever met so many business people in one place. The right questions were asked, and great ideas were collected. Now I’m sure I’m heading in the right direction, and I know what the main priorities of the project are,” shared Dr. Jean-Baptiste Mosset about his impressions from the workshop. He is planning to develop low-cost, high-efficiency neutron detectors for the homeland security and nuclear industries.

Other participants also appreciated the input from the workshop. Dr. Ajay Bhagwan Patil, who develops rare earth metals recycling technology, was able to see his project from another perspective: “Being scientists, sometimes we don’t understand the depth of a business perspective. Today, I’ve received suggestions I would never have thought about but that could help in the long-term development of the project.”

“Learning new strategic management instruments as a business model canvas and the experience of explaining the idea to people who are not engaged with science – these were also some of the great benefits of the workshop,” says Oles Sendetskyi, a PhD to be and the man behind the third project in question: energy-harvesting technology based on nanomagnets.

All the participants, as well as the PARK INNOVAARE team, enjoyed the time spent at deliveryLAB and on a tour of PSI’s large research facilities. We hope to host more such workshops in the future, as it is a “welcome opportunity for some entrepreneurial scientists to take part in a novel learning and interactive environment,” as described by John Millard, technology transfer manager at PSI.