Social Innovation Design Lab

One of my favorite classes this semester is BAEP 471: Social Innovation Design Lab. It is a class offered by the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurship, and is one of the classes I am taking to complete my Minor in Social Entrepreneurship.

How it Works

This course has not been a typical lecture or lab experience. The class is centered around a design challenge that is posed at the beginning of the semester, and requires us to build products and systems that solve problems for socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. For our class, the challenge is to build a product that helps individuals in low income communities prevent, manage, and/or treat type 2 diabetes. Students are put into interdisciplinary teams, and rapidly ideate, prototype and iterate over the course of the semester. Our entire class works with a community partner that is familiar with and has access to the communities that our products are made for, and each group is partnered with a host family to work with as well. We are working with the organization, “Meet Each Need with Dignity” (MEND), based in a low-income area of Los Angeles called Pacoima.

The first half of the semester places an emphasis on ideation and exploring the possible problem and opportunity areas, and concludes with a midterm where each team presents two products to community members. The last half of the semester requires students to choose one of the products, and to repeatedly gather large amounts of feedback from potential customers and to tweak and pivot the product as we gain insight from this feedback. The final for the class is another presentation of the end product, including a business plan and the action steps for turning the product into a profitable business.

What We Learn

The class introduces students to the fundamentals of “design thinking” as a tool for going through the product development process. Design Thinking is a nonlinear approach to solving problems, and places a big emphasis on personally getting to know the people you are building your solution for. It often follows a cycle of generating many ideas, picking the best elements of each idea and trying to combine them, and then selecting a few ideas to continue on with. It also encourages individuals to seek out unlikely inspiration, and helps build creativity.

Another overarching theme of the course is the idea of using business as a mechanism for social impact. While I have been fortunate to hear great stories from successful social entrepreneurs in BAEP 491: Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship this semester, it has been great to get practical experience building products fueled by a social challenge while building prototypes in this class.

Check out the products that my team presented at the midterm here!

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Computer Science, Class of 2017, Learn more on his profile here!