Batavia High School conducts an annual entrepreneurial program called INCubatorEDU.
The course is a yearlong engagement in learning how to conceive, plan, pitch and implement business ideas.
It all starts with ideation, the practice of dreaming up ideas or figuring out concepts that serve the needs of a potential market.
Here's how it works
We talked about products that we love. Then we moved to thinking about how those products came about. Was it the product that drove the market, or the other way around?
Next we dove into thinking about market research. How can you find out what people really want? What constitutes a legitimate sample? At what point to you directly ask people about a product idea versus getting the general picture of a problem that needs a solution?
To illustrate the fact that you can't always anticipate customer needs and response, we talked about an anecdotal tale in which a band of architects put together plans for a college campus only to leave out the sidewalks. “Where do the sidewalks go?” asked the college administration. “We’ll build the buildings, and let the students determine the paths they want to take to class.”
Whether that story is factual or not, it demonstrates the importance of taking your product audience into account.
BLUNDERS AND BLIND SPOTS
None other than Sony made a proprietary mistake similar to mine. Business Insider chronicled this mistake in their list of 24 of the Biggest Failed Products from the World's Biggest Companies. “Sony made a mistake: It started selling the Betamax in 1975, while its rivals started releasing VHS machines. Sony kept Betamax proprietary, meaning that the market for VHS products quickly outpaced Betamax. Though Betamax was technically superior, VHS won out by simply being ubiquitous.”
And who can forget New Coke? Business Insider reports: “In the early 1980s, Coke was losing ground to Pepsi. The infamous "Pepsi Challenge" ads were largely responsible for Pepsi's surge. In response, Coca-Cola tried to create a product that would taste more like Pepsi.
While New Coke fared well enough in nationwide taste tests before launching in 1985, it turned out those were misleading. Coke abandoned the product after a few weeks and went back to its old formula. It also gave its product a new name: Coca-Cola Classic.”
IMPACT OF DATA
So we moved from failures to what can make a product a big success. The baselines are critical: it has to be something someone needs, the students noted. These datas data is used to do two things: identify and anticipate consumer interests and reduce product risk. It also drives marketing.
We examined other facets of product success. How about helping others? That led us to discussion of motivations and the emotional connection people need to feel with a given product in order to build a sense of ownership.
That last word became the focus for our product mission. Building a sense of ownership. That's what motivates people to share a good thing, and is one of the ways that products grow organically.
Early in the discussion we talked about how to “float ideas” without giving away the entire concept. This requires some objectivity, which means that any survey activities should be conducted with a relatively objective audience. Then course instructor Dennis Piron made the point: “We all know your parents and friends are going to tell you an idea is great. They want to make you feel good. So you have to get outside your close circle to get good feedback.”
THE PITCH EXPERIENCE
This aspect of the INCubatorEDU course is the ‘life lessons’ component. Ultimately, the class will break apart into groups of four. Somehow the best idea among all four participants must be chosen. That can produce some hurt pride if the idea chosen does not happen to be your own.
That is the initial round of “making pitches.” This is the stage of taking the ideation phase into presentation mode. So we discussed the nature of the 30-second Elevator Speech, and how one needs to be able to communicate an idea in under 30 seconds or it might fall flat.
If that seems harsh and cruel, it points up the importance of doing hard thinking about a product well before it gets to the pitch phase. By year’s end, each group will be making their product pitches to real potential investors. That’s the goal of INCubator, generating well-supported ideas that have commercial or practical value.
The lessons learned along the way are the ideation of self that the INCubatorEDU course seeks to create. The process is already well in play. It will be fascinating to see what comes next from the minds of these motivated students.