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  • Writer's pictureFutureFounder Team

Sustainable Heroes: An Innovative Path towards Sustainability



The following is an excerpt from a January 2022 FutureFounder Innovator Abraham Grosman's blog post on his and his team's experience prototyping Sustainable Heroes as part of the FutureFounder StartupReadiness training. FutureFounder Innovators create a Digital Portfolio in efforts to secure a work experience at a startup. To see more of Abraham's work or learn more about his experience working at a startup, check out his Digital Portfolio.


-FutureFounder Team



Sustainable Heroes: An Innovative Path towards Sustainability


Design Thinking & Hackathons


At the FutureFounder Fellowship program, we began to learn about design thinking and undertook a task to create a project using what we learned. Design thinking helps develop ideas by redefining problems to empathize with the goal/target. The process is very human-centered and allows for a focused and collaborative approach to creating alternative ideas to test, prototype, and iterate as needed.



Design thinking is critical because it emphasizes the needs of the target by using empathy to fully understand pain points and provide a novel solution. Design thinking has various concepts that help develop projects efficiently. An innovative concept to help accelerate progress on a project and generate many new ideas is a Hackathon. A hackathon consists of a small group of people collaborating on a single project ideating, developing, and ultimately presenting a solution to a problem, which is generally time-constrained.


The Path towards a Product


After about two weeks of learning about design thinking, we were to put our heads together to find a solution to a problem that keeps us up at night and work on it during a mini-hackathon. A broad set of categories was created based on everyone's choices, and teams were assigned based on their problem choice. My team and I were appointed to the sustainable housing category. My teammates and I had submitted problems related to sustainable housing as we considered this topic a high priority. Therefore, during this mini-hackathon, we delved into defining our problem by identifying who or what our target is. We conducted primary desk research, which is essentially doing a broad investigation of the problem.


We split our primary desk research into categories, and each teammate investigated a different area of the problem. The research medium was mainly online, including journals, blogs, and government websites. I studied to see what segment of the global population suffered from the most water, electricity, and food scarcity since this population is the one who would benefit the most from sustainable housing projects. Other members focused on defining what types of solutions existed for certain aspects of our problem. This research led us to find our target to empathize with and create a novel solution.


Once we identified that, we tried to create a customer persona to truly empathize with our target. Our research noticed that the most affected country from almost every type of scarcity was Chad. Therefore, we developed a customer persona as an individual who had a family and lived and was from the country of Chad. We tried to connect on a personal level with the customer persona and give a personalized history to connect with the pain points this individual might be facing.


The next step in our empathic approach to developing a solution was creating a survey to get further insights into the needs of our customer persona. Using the survey, we could tailor the design of our solution to the needs of the most affected individuals. However, getting out surveys to individuals in Chad is rather tricky, and despite our efforts to try to connect over various social media platforms we never received any responses to our surveys from individuals from Chad.


Therefore, we went back to redefine our problem and iterate to identify a customer persona that we could have more access to in order to receive responses to surveys and gain further insights. We iterated on the process, did some more desk research, and found out how much money was invested in sustainability and sustainable housing. With this new information, we developed a new customer persona and new survey questions and gained insights into the needs of our new target. The new target was an individual interested in sustainability but not affected by scarcity. However, we still wanted to retain the social benefit aspect of our project and we integrated a question asking how likely an individual would contribute to a project that would not benefit them.


We received extensive insight from the responses we received, which helped us ideate and get creative and radical with our ideas. One of the key concepts we learned from the survey was that many (60%) individuals wanted to contribute to sustainable projects but only a handful had contributed (<20%). So we came up with some radical ideas but landed on a platform to help individuals become more sustainable and help others become more sustainable as well.


Once we had settled on the idea, we began prototyping. However, we first detailed all the aspects and features we wanted to include within our prototype. We used Airtable and Google Docs to keep track of various ideas and concepts we wanted to develop and then integrate. Using some prototyping software like Proto.io, we could get a minimal notion of the visual aspect of our platform on mobile devices. Using Wix we created a website to display the concepts we had in mind for our platform in a more professional manner.


Customer feedback was not done since we did not develop our project to the stage where a customer would be able to use it and give feedback on the product. However, we could create a new survey with more detailed questions about whether the user would like a platform like the prototype we created.


Presenting the Product (FutureFounder Demo Day)


Using the prototype, we created a pitch deck to showcase our work. However, the iteration of our design process had tightened our time-constraint, and we needed to showcase the work we had accomplished. So, even though we had some pressure on our backs, we mustered a presentation and detailed our project as best we could. We used screenshots from our prototype and used data we had pulled from our primary desk research to support our arguments.


Reflecting on the pitch made me think that if we'd had more time, we could have been able to accomplish just a touch more and do something more significant. Even though we iterated on our process and had some time constraints, it was still a very educational experience in terms of learning how to manage teammates and managing the time required to do something. This experience has taught me many things. I even learned how to use prototyping software (Proto.io) and gained more experience with the one I already knew (Wix).


asPitching was a little nerve-racking, especially knowing we had done a bit of a rush job. However, we practiced and answered the questions confidently at the end of the presentation. However, the questions section is an aspect we had not gone over beforehand, serving us a great learning experience for the next presentation. The nerves we had accumulated before the presentation were also partly because our panel of judges was made up of respected founders of companies in their rite.


Key Takeaways


This whole project has given me several key takeaways.


1. Time Management

For a project to function efficiently, the people on the team need to be able to prioritize time for said project. This prioritization can be accomplished by having a shared calendar in which everyone can select the available dates/times or select the dates/times in which they are unavailable and coordinate with other teammates.


2. Co-founders


A team that will help push the project forward is required to create something that will last and grow. Finding the right people with a similar vision and who share your goal is essential. However, it is also vital to have people that will challenge your view and bring forward new ideas. This project was a learning experience, and we as a team had to learn to pivot and redefine our goal. However, if we'd done that with a more diversified group, we would have been able to proceed further and faster.

Those were the main takeaways that were key to having a successful process. However, in my opinion, there are a few more key features that are essential to having productive project development. As an individual, some key character traits to develop for success would be having confidence in your project and yourself, passion for your pursuits, trustworthiness, and a healthy network with various connections.



 

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