Startup Weekend was an eye-opening experience: Part 2

During the recent Startup Weekend in Lansing, a small team learned that sometimes when a problem is identified to be solved, it likely has been identified already, but the process of product development can lead to some unexpected results.

This two-part article is the third in a series of articles related to the recent Startup Weekend: Maker Edition event was held in conjunction with Lansing Maker Week in the Lansing, Michigan area. This 54-hour event brought folks from all around the state of Michigan to collaborate, discuss and develop interesting and viable products to solve a problem that exists in society today. (If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, check it out for the background information.)

The Importance of Market Research

It is a balancing act when taking a concept to creation. Often, if the concept is considered great by a few, it has likely been explored by many. The concept that was being explored had indeed been recently launched to market, interestingly enough, by way of a crowdfunding campaign. Initially, this realization had a deflating impact to the team. What happened next was the “AHA Moment” that occurred, at least for me.

As the product concept had already gone to market, the team discussed two options:

1)      Abandon the project; or

2)      Research and develop alternatives to the initial concept with differentiating features.

When you put motivated problem solvers in the same room, abandonment is not an option, so the creative juices began to flow again.

Further research into a slightly different concept was undertaken. The energy re-ignited and the team feverishly worked to find a solution to develop the product. Unfortunately, it was again determined that the new product was also on the market, though in a different form and function than the concept direction the team was exploring.

At this point, the team decided that even though with more work the product could be developed, it might be best to table this concept and re-distribute the creative talents of the team to assist other teams in development of their products, for which most were developed, at least in prototype, and presented during the closing session of the event. Andy Northrop, Michigan State University Extension educator, discussed one such product in the second article in this series.

So what is the take-away?

Sometimes stepping back is the most productive, though not always the easiest, task to undertake. By doing so in this case, the team identified that though a successful outcome with a working product was feasible, within the time constraints of the weekend it may not be. Also, since several other products were in development, that continuing on this project might minimize the impact and expertise that the other team members could offer the other teams and their projects.

This could apply to organizations of all sizes. Though competition within the organization is an important aspect for innovation, cooperation and collaboration is perhaps even more so applicable. The term that most intricately describes this balance toward mutual success is known as “co-opetition.”

At the end of the day, the overall mission of the MSU Extension cohort to research and observe the Startup Weekend for future integration into a potential new program was considered a success. Through a full immersion into the process, even almost to development of a product, the team learned some valuable aspects which would fit perfectly into the new program. The team also learned a lot about each other and the capabilities and great possibilities that a few folks in a room working toward a common goal can produce.

Michigan State University Extension offers a variety of programs to provide expertise, education and development of communities throughout the state of Michigan. When all Extension employees work together across lines of specialization and listen to the input from citizens of Michigan, great things can be developed and relevant and life-changing programs will be delivered.

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