A bias for action is contagious. I wrote an earlier post about one of the student teams in the Center for Entrepreneurship‘s Business Development Program, who in the course of the program designed and built a new business around bringing traditional, tasty, and nutritious drinks from indigenous cultures to the American market. They were one of a half dozen teams this year who made significant progress in turning their ideas into reality.
Indeed, this year seems to have proved out one of the basic tenets of the Center for Entrepreneurship’s programs: that innovation depends as much on the value of your actions as of your ideas. The teams drove hard to prove (or disprove) the value of their ideas by taking concrete actions.
One team took an idea coming out of our newly-created Western Cooling Efficiency Center, and that retrofits commercial rooftop air-conditioning units to save 5-10% on energy costs. Working with its inventors, the team oversaw the engineering, built a prototype, secured the intellectual property, began discussions with several major utilities to explore adoption incentives and, before the term was even out, reached agreements with Wal-Mart and Target to run initial pilot tests on their stores.
With a payback of less than a year (without incentives), this technology–as an idea–has considerable promise for reducing energy demand. With prototypes, letters of intent, and pilot-tests underway, the business of installing these retrofits is equally promising. It’s one thing to read about building a supply chain and initiating negotiations with customers, it’s another thing to learn by doing it.
Another team had developed a new great-tasting set of salad dressings (don’t mention that they are also low-calorie) and, in the course of the Spring began selling this dressing, with vegetables, in the student lounge; built a strong advisory board; worked with a copacker to identify which combination of market niche, ingredients, and process would work best; and with a designer created their labels, branding, and point-of-purchase displays. They also taught the class a valuable lesson on the role that good design can play.
As I said, a bias for action is contagious. These teams, like others in the program, witnessed first-hand each other’s actions and accomplishments and set their own expectations higher as a result.
The more experience they had getting out of the classroom and engaging with suppliers, customers, and others the market, the more they learned about what it took to act on their ideas. These lessons are among the most valuable they will take away from their education.