Beantown Startup Studio is ready for takeoff!

We are excited to announce the launch of our Boston-based startup design project: Beantown Startup Studio!

At the core, BSS aims to take a design-centered approach to startup design, beginning with a broad problem and population and (hopefully!) ending with an awesome business solution to a meaningful problem. We’re not sure yet if it will be successful, but as a multi-disciplinary, high-energy and fundamentally entrepreneurial bunch, we’re excited to test whether the “startup studio” approach can yield an compelling plan for a venture.

The purpose of this blog is to share our learnings — successes, failures, and laughters — throughout our journey. Numerous people we’ve connected with while forming this team asked for a way to stay informed about the project progress, and our sense is that there are many people out there searching for interesting ways to build compelling business solutions. We hope that our stories can serve as an early draft of a startup building guidebook for fellow aspiring entrepreneurs who are starting from the very beginning, without a committed idea and/or a team.

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If you’re curious about who we are, check out the team intro here.

What is Beantown Startup Studio?

The goal of Beantown Startup Studio (BSS) is to identify a high-impact, billion-dollar business opportunity by bringing together a number of frameworks to deeply understand the pains, needs, and desires of a specific target population and translate the uncovered human insights into an innovative solution. Throughout the process, we’ll tap into human-centered design, economic thinking, lean startup principles, various innovation methods, and structured problem solving, and hopefully emerge on the other side with a compelling venture idea.

Every member on the team is either a full-time employee or a student, and BSS is a side project that will on average take 20 hrs/week for each of us.

What inspired BSS’s approach?

In recent years, the concept of design thinking to drive innovation has gained prominence. For example, IDEO, a leading design consultancy founded by David Kelley, is a prominent thought leader in this space — even working with Steve Jobs on some of Apple’s early products. The global consulting firm McKinsey, which has earned trust of the world’s most influential decision makers through its distinct hypothesis-driven problem solving approach, recently acquired a design firm LUNAR in order to bolster its client service model with more creative design thinking.

Additionally, the startup studio is an emerging model that is beginning to catch attention in the innovation world. Fundamental to a startup studio is the belief that creative innovation can be systematically facilitated given the right mix of talent and processes, embracing divergent and convergent modes of thinking in different phases. Vince, who initiated BSS, first became interested in design-driven startup creation while working for Polymath Ventures, which builds new businesses from the ground up for the middle class in emerging markets.

What are the main objectives of BSS?

1. Identify a real problem through multidisciplinary thinking and tackle it with an innovative business solution

While our team comes from varied backgrounds, we are united by our commitment to solve a real, systemic problem by deeply understanding the underlying root causes and building a customized venture underpinned by a robust business model. And we believe that the most challenging problems are best solved not by accidental “in the shower” ideas but by acquiring and deciphering nuanced human + systems-level insights from multiple angles.

2. Build a rockstar founding team

Team is the most important determinant of a venture’s success. Often times, early startup teams make a tradeoff between cohesion and diversity (i.e., a familiar group that naturally gets along well but duplicates thinking patterns versus an unusual mix that combines complementary thinking styles but potentially risks significant interpersonal clashes).

We do not want to sacrifice diversity as we believe it is critical to building something innovative. At the same time, we want to ensure a high level of cohesion by testing ourselves through a fast-paced, high-commitment side project. BSS will lay the groundwork for thoughtfully configuring a rockstar founding team should a cool venture emerge at the end of the project.

3. Experiment with design-driven, team-first venture building

Today, the vast majority of startups begin with one person’s idea. Two potential downfalls of this approach are that a) ideas thought up in this way are often poorly informed or framed, and b) it is more difficult to convince talented self-starters to buy in when the vision of the company seems already fixed.

We want to test whether the design-driven, team-first venture building can better mobilize talented entrepreneurs to start something exciting together. Maybe BSS will yield something amazing, maybe it will not. Regardless of the end result, everyone on the team believes this is a worthwhile experiment to invest our free time in.

4. Have a blast being creative and building

We are a creative, motivated bunch. We itch for opportunities to work with other passionate people and build meaningful things. BSS promises to be a fantastic outlet for that.

Next up

Over the next few days, we’re going to get a lot more specific on how we’re running this project — from what resources to draw on, to tactically how to run a startup studio, we’re about to face a ton of decisions that will meaningfully shape how successful we are. We’re thrilled to get started!

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Special thanks

We want to show appreciation for the following individuals who have provided invaluable advice on the design of BSS.

Kevin McElroy, Founding Partner, Polymath Ventures
Matthew Guidarelli, Assistant Director, Harvard Innovation Labs
Rosanne Koning, Lead Business Designer, Polymath Ventures
Sergio Marrero, Co-founder, ALEX
Wenyi Cai, Managing Partner, Polymath Ventures

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