Thursday, July 23, 2009

Entrepeneurship hits IDDS

There has been a nasty cold running around the IDDS family over the last few days but it has thankfully been replaced with a different kind of fever: Entrepreneurship! At a critical stage in their design process, just before the actual building of the prototypes themselves, IDDS shifts the teams focus to what may happen to their prototype when it is finished, and how they could get it to market. The teams thus learn how to design their product for the market right from the beginning, rather than simply coming up with a prototype and then adapting it to a specific group. This concept of Bopreneurship (entrepreneurship for the Bottom of the Pyramid) is an important focus of IDDS, as we look to ways to continue on the projects created here, once the five weeks of the conference has run it’s course.

Paul Hudnut was our key note speaker for the two days, and he’s a pretty interesting character in his own right. Introducing himself to us as an Entrepreneur, an Unrepentant Optimist and an Educational Arsonist, he began his presentation with a quote which he believed was central to what IDDS is all about. His belief that “Education is not about filling a bucket, but lighting a fire” is one that is shared by our commander in chief, Amy Smith, and it was this which informed the rest of his engaging and thought provoking presentation.

Paul introduces some new ideas to the group

Paul's told us that as entrepreneurs, we have to begin by asking ourselves two questions:

1.What sucks?

2 What are we going to do about it?

Once this has been decided,. it was Paul's advice to just start the venture and learn by doing, rather than by just thinking and speculating. The importance of knowing your market, and your potential customers, could not be stressed home enough, and this will surely force participants to think just who will buy their product, and then start designing it to meet their specific needs and wants. Making sure that "your goods are good and that your services serve". Paul then gave an example of a company called Envirofit which he co-founded with other staff and students at the University where he teaches, Colorado State. The company works in tackling indoor and outdoor air pollution by applying innovative technologies to reduce pollution and health improve the health, environment and economy of people in all parts of the world. The company has been a major success in designing, distrubuting and selling both two stroke retro-fit engines and cook stoves in Inida, the Phillipines and Sri Lanka. The main reason for the success, he argued, was alligning an intimate knowledge of the market and their consumers, with innovations on the technolgoy itself. To find out more about the company, visit

The teams had plenty of opportunites over the two days to meet with Paul informally to discuss the direction of their project and their ventures but there were also some interesting team entrepreneurship exercises which Paul intoruced to the group. One of the most interesting of these was the hundred words challenge. The teams had been told about the importance of being able to tell a story about their venture, and in this exercise they had to attmept to distill that story down into a hundred words that packed a punch!

The teams try to apply what they have learned to their designs

On Thursday evening we were treated to our third round of participant presentations and once again I was amazed at the variety of projects on show. I kicked proceedings off with a presentation of the start up clothing company I am involved in, Acts of Random Kindness Limited. This was quickly followed by Casserdy Magaya, a Zambian participant who presented on the work he does with an NGO in Zambia, called Disacare. The company was set up in the early 90’s and ever since has been attempting to provide mobility aids and wheelchairs for physically disabled people in the community, not served by existing ill fitting wheelchair models. Nowadays, Disacare is producing a huge range of products, including adult, basketball and cerebral palsy wheelchairs, as well as bicycle ambulances and tricycles.

One of the very first users of the mobility aids
A bicycle ambulance with cover included for privacy
A wheelchair designed for those suffering from cerebral palsy


Carla Tennebaum was next in line, showing us about the work she has been doing in creating colourful designs out of industrial waste. Turning a problem into potential is the central tenant of the work that Carla does, and we hope to get the chance to learn from her how to construct one of her art pieces, later in the week. The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, located in Abu Dhabi, was presented to us by Laura Stupin, finishing up the round of presentations. The city of Masdar is a bold project, aimed at producing the first non-carbon, zero waste city in the world and Laura is currently working with the University there to establish an energy program that will be linked to D-lab in M.I.T. Exciting times!

Some of Carla's work

An artists representation of the futuristic City of Masdar

I’m going to take this opportunity to shamelessly plug the start up clothing company that I presented on, Acts of Random Kindness Limited. We’re four Irish kids (all under 22) about to embark on a pretty exciting adventure. We’re a clothing company on a mission to spread and inspire kindness globally and have one simple, yet powerful idea. Every time you wear the Λ° logo, you perform one Act of Random Kindness. Surprise your family with their favorite meal, take your best friend on a road trip, or just make a stranger's day by paying for their coffee. Kindness is the simple pursuit, no strings attached.

1. What sucked?

A lack of human interaction between ordinary people on a daily basis, rampant apathy among young people, and people living only for themselves. Everything in life becoming a transaction!

2. What are we doing about it?

Our company was set up in January of this year by an eighteen year old guy with a vision. We believe that through fashion, and through really cool t-shirts as the ‘hook’, we can help inspire a new generation who live to give. We’ll also be providing a means for people to get involved in larger, more tangible Ark’s that we hope will soon be having a positive impact on people all over the world!

To find out more about the movement visit our temporary website,, soon to become in September, when we launch to the world!

Here’s a quote that I think sums up exactly what we’re attempting to do:

Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Helping an old farmer cut turf for the weekend in the far West of Ireland

Here’s an old Irish proverb that I think encapsulates a lot of what Paul has been preaching over the last few days:

You will never plow a field if you only turn it over in your mind.

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