Using the latest tools to accelerate new business incubation
LSEi is the innovation team at the London School of Economics, one of the UK’s most prestigious universities. The LSEi team is responsible for supporting LSE academics in transforming their novel ideas and insight from the social sciences, humanities and arts research into new businesses, products, and services that benefit society.
In partnership with Oxford University Innovation, the LSEi team has established an initiative to help academics test their ideas cheaply and quickly, with a particular focus on incubating businesses that depend on software.
Initial thinking by the LSE and Oxford teams identified 2-3 common types of projects, each with a high degree of consistency in their interface requirements. The challenge for us was to create templates, reusable assets or ‘accelerators’ that would help academic entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.
Over the summer of 2022 Loomery worked with the LSEi and Oxford University Innovation teams to deliver a set of tools for accelerating innovation. We tackled the brief in three phases, first identifying the highest value ‘accelerators’, then building and iterating them, and finally delivering training with academics and innovation teams.
Project in numbers
"We chose Loomery to deliver our FastFrame project, and we’re extremely pleased with the outputs. The team delivered several brainstorming workshops which were always well organised, insightful and fun. Once defined, the team created some really nice prototype templates for our academic innovators on Bubble and Balsamiq. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Loomery to others, it’s been a great experience working with them."
- Charlotte Rowan, Research Innovation Manager, LSE Innovation
Analysing the opportunity
How do you make the process of bringing an idea to market easier? Is the greatest opportunity in helping academic entrepreneurs communicate their concept? Or visualise it? Or perhaps even hack together a prototype?
Through a series of workshops we reviewed the projects in the LSEi and Oxford Innovation pipeline, such as ‘Care Quality Evaluation’, a product improving patient outcomes with database decision making, and ‘The state of the states’, a platform connecting people, insights and ideas to improve policy outcomes.
Diving into live projects let us map the biggest risks related to the desirability, feasibility and viability of ideas, and identify common themes. Common risks ranged from ‘is the market for this product big enough?’ to ‘will users trust in our data and methodology?
Selecting the accelerators
It was important to understand the current early-stage product development experience for academics. Parts of the process were evidently challenging and we knew we could help. For example, academics recognised that a landing page for their product would help crystalise the proposition and assess desirability from potential customers; but they found it time consuming and hard to stand one up.
We designed ‘accelerators’ to make life easier for academics and prioritised accelerators based on their reach (how many projects it would help) and likely impact (how much time and money it could save). We settled on three: a wireframing/prototyping tool, a storyboarding tool, and a data-mapping tool.
Building and iterating accelerators
Should a wireframing accelerator be delivered as a PowerPoint slide template, on a no-code prototyping platform, or with professional design software like Figma? For each accelerator we undertook lightweight testing to identify the execution with the greatest impact that was easy-to-use for academics.
For the wireframing accelerator, we selected Bubble.io as the right platform for the job. Bubble’s user-friendly interface and versatility meant academics could jump straight in; and those with more complex requirements could build prototypes with advanced workflows and multiple datasets.
Within Bubble we created 30+ templated screens that matched the common requirements from previous and upcoming innovation projects. For example, a navigation menu, a newsfeed and a dashboard for visualising data.
For many academics, the greatest challenge was translating their complex ideas into simple, clearly-communicated concepts for potential customers, partners and investors. To help, we developed a toolkit for quick and compelling storyboarding. Using Balsamiq we created a storyboard template and collated a library of assets to make visualising a customer’s experience of a new product a quick and easy job.
Other academics found it hard to translate the data requirements of their projects from the controlled environment of a research project to a commercial entity. Our solution was a data mapping tool which let academics visualise data flows, together with a Q&A to highlight any risks and challenges with data they want to use. No one wants to fall foul of GDPR!
Supporting, training and testing with academics
To ensure academics and the LSEi and Oxford teams got the most out of our accelerators we ran workshops and in-depth training. For each accelerator, we created a simple, visual guide to help users get up and running.
We tested the accelerators and sought feedback from academics, both in one-to-one sessions and with an online form where academics could provide thoughts in their own time.
In classic ‘train the trainer’ fashion, we up-skilled LSE and Oxford teams into becoming Bubble experts and equipped them with everything they needed to support future software-based projects.
The suite of accelerators we created are now in use by the 2022 cohort of academics, helping them to test their ideas and bring new businesses to market faster than ever. Plus, the LSEi team are planning to use their new skills rapidly building digital products with Bubble for a number of other internal initiatives across the University.
If you're part of an organisation currently on a rapid growth path, and you need help to establish the best teams and exceptional digital products, speak to Loomery and see how we can help you scale and deliver value consistently.