Use of prototyping activities in entrepreneurial programs and in study courses for students (Subtitle: Improving entrepreneurial education activities and introducing hands-on learning methodologies.)
Published: 21st August 2023
Brief description of the practice:
In a given program, deliver an interactive, hands-on workshop (or a series of them), where the methodology is introduced, followed by one or multiple practical sessions where teams build a physical representation of the concept/ product/ service scenario they are currently working on with basic materials like cardboard, paper, glue, string, bamboo sticks, markers, scissors, plasticine, and any other creative materials available. Facilitation and/or mentor support to individual teams during the prototyping process is preferrable. Team presentations of the prototypes or using them are also encouraged as they help crystalize the idea and its explanation and can be beneficially used as part of the idea validation or testing process.
Specific objectives of the practice:
- Ensure proper overall implementation of the design thinking methodology.
- Improve concept, product, service development process and its outcomes and quality.
- Build quick and low-cost prototypes of products and services.
- Make entrepreneurial ideas more tangible, increasing motivation and enjoyment of the entrepreneurship development process.
- Support testing concept ideas or potential solutions with users by having a physical conversation and testing-practice starter (and sometimes including some degree of testing/presentation already as part of the prototyping workshop).
- Improve team work quality and dynamics for teams participating in entrepreneurial programs
Main factors of the practice which contribute to strengthening the entrepreneurial education activities and introducing hands-on learning methodologies :
- Very practical, hands-on activity that pushes the team to make decisions and clarify, improve the idea they are working on.
- Relatively brief activity with a lot of quick gains for team dynamics, decision-making and idea development.
- Helps give a boost to the teams, feel that they have accomplished something challenging and are moving forward in their process.
- The physical outcome and part of the workshop can successfully push for and support with user testing, feedback collection, prompt iteration of idea variants and/or even with presentation of the idea in e.g. pitching activities.
Briefly described methodological approach:
- Discuss with the specific entrepreneurship program manager the goals and needs for using prototyping in the specific program.
- Agree on the duration, resources allocated (both in terms of material costs and staff time) as well as specific outcomes of the prototyping session(s).
- Announce the planned session ahead of time, making sure participants know its importance, the hands-on nature of it and encourage maximum participation to have full teams present (if someone from the team is missing, they might afterwards not agree or try to discredit the work and progress other team members have done).
- Prepare a session outline and prepare volunteers, mentors or other participating staff if appropriate.
- Get and prepare the materials for use. Split some materials up per team (e.g. a pair of scissors, a glue stick, a tape roll, some sheets of cardboard for each team + a stack of other materials that all teams can go and pick from).
- Start with framing the prototyping session(s) as part of the wider program – how does it fit with what happened before and what will come next.
- If appropriate, present or frame methodology that supports your session (e.g. references to design thinking or other wider methodology used in the program).
- Give a brief explanation of prototyping – session goals, process outline, needed attitude (drop perfection!; work with what you have).
- Give specific time periods for teams to work on their own and prototype their solutions. Given time might seem short for the task at hand, and a driven, go-go-go! attitude can help energize teams to step up to the challenge.
- As teams are working, move around them (yourself or involving other staff/mentors) to support if they get stuck, can’t take a decision, have a disagreement or need any tips for how to materialize their ideas.
- Have touch-points in between team work slots to check how far teams have got and potentially have them present their progress (either team-to-team, to mentors, to the whole group – depending what makes best sense and is not too time consuming).
- Race towards each team having something physical at the end of the session that demonstrates/represents or helps explain their idea/product/service.
- Have teams do final presentations to showcase their results, develop their narrative, collect questions of what might not be clear to others about their proposed idea/solution.
- If appropriate, tie this together with any next activities on user testing, getting feedback or presenting – give examples of how the team can use the physical prototype to support this.
- Take photos or videos of prototypes and/or their presentation if appropriate. These can be used to track team progress, showcase your work, the program etc.
- Collect some verbal or quickly written feedback, participant statements right at the end of the prototyping session to capture feedback and measure success.
- Encourage participants to use the created prototypes in their next steps. If appropriate and possible, help with storage of the prototypes.
- Discuss with and/or collect feedback from the entrepreneurship program manager on the usefulness of the session(s) and how it(they) contributed to the overall program and participant experience. Discuss and/or plan potential improvements for the future.
- If you had multiple staff or volunteers or mentors involved, make sure to debrief the activity, discuss how it went and potential improvements for the future, and to thank everyone involved for their time and effort.
Time frame: from 2h to multiple weeks or even moths. Early-stage entrepreneurship programs with many participants tend to have shorter and less maintenance-heavy sessions while more advanced stages and programs require a more individual approach and mentorship. Optimal workshop duration depends on the specifics of each entrepreneurship program that prototyping gets embedded into.
Implementation cost: materials can be provided for approx. 2-7 EUR per team, depending on what materials you choose to use and already have in stock. Cost decreases for next events, as many of the materials last long through multiple workshops, e.g. scissors, a glue stick, masking tape/scotch tape roll, plasticine etc.. The more advanced the prototyping level and length of prototyping activities, the more it can cost. Staff costs are more significant and depend on duration of the activity, need to involve/hire expert facilitators or mentors and possibility to involve volunteer staff and/or mentors.
Resources used in the implementation:
- Materials on methodology, prototyping and instructions for teams (ppt., visuals, text).
- Session outlines developed building on previous experience.
- Staff costs for the prototyping workshop/session lead and potentially other involved staff or mentors.
- Involving volunteers as mentors or helpers.
- Material costs and potentially room/venue costs.
- Materials: cardboard, colored paper, markers, scissors, masking tape, string, plasticine, bamboo sticks, magazines or newspapers (for cutting out pictures), any creative materials or their leftovers (pieces of cloth, styrofoam, balloons etc.).
If possible, further materials or technologies can be provided like small electronics, various leftover parts from building products, 3D printing, laser-cutting etc. Legos or similar construction/play materials can also be used, though they can sometimes limit the creativity and might require more of methodology and acquisition cost.
The practice has been validated with many groups of participants, various entrepreneurship program managers and external clients (universities and companies).
In additional, providing some feedback confirming that:
- Participants appreciate the hands-on nature of prototyping activities and are often surprised about the quick progress they have made in terms of idea/product/service development.
- Prototyping is often mentioned as one of the highlights by participants in the entrepreneurship program evaluations.
- Working on something tangible is related to increased motivation and a boost for the participants to continue their engagement in the entrepreneurship program/course.
- Program managers and external clients keep returning from year to year, making prototyping an increasingly embedded part of their program.
- Prototyping is one of the ‘breakout’ points for teams as they solve a practical challenge together, often improving how they work together and finding better fit for team members to take on specific roles or tasks in the team.
Prototyping sessions were implemented in 2022 as training for trainers and in 2023 in Climate Entrepreneurship trainings for students from different universities.
The practice gives an overall improvement of the process and ensuing quality for concept, idea, product and service development. Theoretical and intangible concepts or product/service ideas that risk to be: too broad, too complex, unnecessary (not responding to an actual need), not validated (not tested with potential users) unless prototyped.
Loss of interest in entrepreneurial programs due to them being too theoretical, impractical (without prototyping).
Students, participants of entrepreneurial programs (also non-students: professionals, involved industry representatives)
-Main factors of the practice which contribute to strengthening the entrepreneurial education activities and introducing hands-on learning methodologies :
– Very practical, hands-on activity that pushes the team to make decisions and clarify, improve the idea they are working on.
-Relatively brief activity with a lot of quick gains for team dynamics, decision-making and idea development.
– Helps give a boost to the teams, feel that they have accomplished something challenging and are moving forward in their process.
– The physical outcome and part of the workshop can successfully push for and support with user testing, feedback collection, prompt iteration of idea variants and/or even with presentation of the idea in e.g. pitching activities.
Key success factors / How to replicate / Sustainability mechanism
- At least one person interested in learning and applying prototyping practices who is ready to learn by experience and develop facilitation skills
- Willingness to repeat the practice to get better at providing it
- Existing or new entrepreneurship or product development programs or study courses where prototyping can be integrated and practiced
- While quick prototyping is very cost-efficient, some budget that can be allocated to buying prototyping materials is necessary (most of it can pass as stationery costs)
- A dedicated space (workshop type) can be a benefit but is not a prerequisite. We do implement many prototyping workshops in regular classrooms.
- Even if it’s a small amount, provision of prototyping materials might be difficult due to administrative/budgetary process constraints.
- Much of the materials can be reused (but then need to be stored in between and carried around).
- It is possible to do one order of materials and then use it over a long period of time for multiple workshops.
- Most of the prototyping materials fit in the “stationary” category for which universities usually have a buying process in place.
When working with larger groups, to ensure a good delivery and results in quick (couple of hours) sessions, supporting staff or volunteer mentors are necessary to help teams move ahead during the prototyping process.
A comfortable amount is 2-3 teams per mentor (2 max if mentor is yet inexperienced with prototyping).
However, it is also possible to deliver prototyping activities with just one staff present. Length of sessions and expected quality of outcome should be considered accordingly.
If delivering prototyping sessions in a regular classroom, make sure to cover the few tabletops that will be used by teams with a protective sheet of paper or plastic foil, in the case you are providing any sticky or coloring materials or liquid glue for the teams to use.
Some ideas, concepts, products, services might seem to be hard to prototype in a physical form. We have not yet come to a case where it wasn’t possible to prototype it. However, it takes some creativity and confidence from the facilitator to navigate that process. To build that creativity and confidence, you need practice and observation – so no one can start as an expert, a bit of experimentation and personal resilience is required.
As prototyping does not require a lot of resources, it is easy to incorporate this type of session in the lecture plan. Recommend adding prototyping in the syllabus / curriculum and ask students to use it during the last presentation.