Workshops and Trainings

Each year the Big Ideas Contest reflects on feedback from students, judges, and advisors to develop a robust program of entrepreneurial skill development workshops. During the 2018-2019 Contest, the skills deemed most critical to the success of the participating social innovators included:

  • Competitive landscape analysis
  • Storytelling for social impact
  • Pitch development
  • Legal entity formation

The Big Ideas team drew on 10 years of insights to lead workshops on these skills, and collaborated with partners from IDEO and Startup@Berkeley Law to codesign and execute others. During the Fall semester, as students were in the early stages of formulating their ideas, the workshops focused on understanding the competitive landscape and crafting a compelling story. In the Spring semester, as the students advanced their ideas with the support of an industry mentor, the focus shifted to pitching the idea to external audiences and finding the best legal entity type for the project.

In addition, Big Ideas routinely collaborates with leading foundations to incorporate cross-cutting themes into the Contest. During 2018-2019, Big Ideas partnered with The Lemelson Foundation to bring an increased focus on environmental sustainability to the Contest. As part of this effort, Big Ideas offered two workshops focused on sustainable design and life-cycle assessment. In these intensive workshops, led by a seasoned expert in environmental design, students were introduced to new concepts and challenged to think about how the principles of sustainable design apply to their projects.

Below is a brief summary of the workshops and trainings held by the Big Ideas Contest in 2018-2019.

Environmental Responsibility Curriculum and Workshops

Big Ideas introduced an emphasis on environmental responsibility, with special focus on the Hardware for Good category and on engaging students from low-income and underserved backgrounds. This curriculum was introduced because of gaps seen in past years’ proposals and the importance of sustainability and environmental responsibility for innovation.

The development of the environmental responsibility curriculum was guided by the following objectives:

  • Expose: encouraging participants to think about environmental responsibility by updating Hardware for Good judging criteria to include environmental responsibility
  • Educate: developing a collection of accessible environmental responsibility resources and a practitioner-in-residence program, including workshops about sustainable design
  • Evaluate: surveying participants about their experience of the environmental responsibility programming activities and requirements
  • Inspire: helping participants see the importance of environmental responsibility and sustainable design, both for their product and for the environment

The Big Ideas team was encouraged to center environmental responsibility in its judging criteria and programming for the Hardware for Good category, due to the foregrounding of this vital issue by the Lemelson Foundation, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, VentureWell, and the Autodesk Foundation. It is with grant support from The Lemelson Foundation that the Big Ideas Contest was able to develop this curriculum for the 2018-19 Big Ideas Contest.

Environmental Responsibility: Overview

The environmental responsibility activities include a suite of educational support programs coupled with targeted outreach and updated judging criteria to keep environmental responsibility top-of-mind, as inventors and innovators design new devices and ventures.

Outreach: The Big Ideas team managed a robust social media campaign during the Fall (August-December 2018) semester designed to increase general awareness about the Big Ideas Contest. Additional attention was placed on highlighting the opportunities made possible through the grant from the Lemelson Foundation, including the Inventing Green workshops and practitioner-in-residence opportunities with Jeremey Faludi. Social media channels used for this effort were Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Judging Criteria Update: Big Ideas expanded the pre-proposal judging criteria for the Hardware for Good category to include an application question (worth 10% of the pre-proposal score) to ask teams to address how their project incorporates sustainable design and circular economy principles. The final round judging criteria included a question for Hardware for Good teams, requiring them to reflect on the process of doing a life-cycle assessment or alternative analysis of their products and the resulting changes they made to their design (worth 10% of the full-proposal score).

Fall Inventing Green Workshop:

In partnership with The Lemelson Foundation, the Big Ideas team developed a workshop to introduce University of California students to sustainable design and recruit participants to apply for to the Hardware for Good category. VentureWell-trained Practitioner-in-Residence Jeremy Faludi gave a lecture that covered the priorities for sustainable design and led participants in a whole systems mapping exercise (to make their systems thinking simple and actionable) and in a product service system exercise (to help participants consider the alternative revenue model of their product as a vehicle for services). Faludi then walked participants through sustainable design online resources to aid in the development of their products, and made himself available for in-person office hours with prospective teams following the workshop.

Spring Inventing Green Workshop: In partnership with The Lemelson Foundation, the Big Ideas team developed a workshop to introduce final round Hardware for Good participants to methods to evaluate and optimize the environmental responsibility of their products. Practitioner-in-Residence Jeremy Faludi gave a lecture on life-cycle assessment (LCA), and the different tools available online for performing a LCA. Participants had the opportunity to begin a life-cycle assessment of their products with guidance. Jeremy Faludi then gave a lecture on green building materials.

Fall and Spring Inventing Green Surveys: Pre- and post-workshop surveys were administered to the participants to gauge learning from the workshop. Questions included participants’ prior knowledge of sustainable design, level of comfort implementing principles of sustainable design into their product design, and the effect of sustainable design on legal risk, design process, and final product cost, creativity, motivation, manufacturing, quality, and marketability of the product.

Hardware Roundtable:

Big Ideas hosted a roundtable the day of the Awards Ceremony to give Hardware for Good and hardware-focused teams a chance to share valuable learnings and give feedback on the updated judging criteria and Inventing Green workshops to the Big Ideas team and representatives from sponsoring foundations.

Environmental Responsibility: Lessons Learned

From this year’s environmental responsibility curriculum, the Big Ideas team learned that in-person instruction on the principles and tools of sustainable design increases participants’ confidence in adopting these principles.

The main lessons learned from the Fall Inventing Green survey were that participants’ confidence in utilizing the method of sustainable design increased due to the workshop, and that the workshop had an impact on participants’ perception of the method of sustainable design on the design process cost (reducing it), ease of manufacturing (increasing it), marketability (increasing it), and quality (increasing it). From the Fall Inventing Green workshop, the Big Ideas team also learned that length and timing during the semester impact attendance and attrition, which informed the length and timing of the Spring Inventing Green workshop and future Big Ideas workshops.

The lessons learned from the Spring Inventing Green survey was still that participants’ confidence in utilizing the method of sustainable design increased due to the workshop as well as that the workshop had an impact on participants’ perception of the method of sustainable design on the legal risk (reducing it), the final product cost (reducing it), creativity (increasing it), and innovator motivation (increasing it).

The main lessons learned from the Hardware Roundtable were that it can be challenging to pitch investors on the importance of sustainable design, if it increases product or design cost; and that sustainable design tools given in the workshops (systems mapping, product service exercise, LCA, and green materials), had helped them prototype their products to be more sustainably sourced and manufactured, more recyclable and more modular – all of which increase a product’s sustainability.

Environmental Responsibility: Tools

The following are key online resources Big Ideas compiled for innovators interested in learning more about environmental responsibility and incorporating it into product design:

  1. The Lemelson Foundation: Inventing Green Toolkit 
  2. VentureWell Tools for Design and Sustainability 
  3. Circular Design Guide 
  4. The Lemelson Foundation: Teaching Environmentally Responsible Inventing
  5. Autodesk Foundation: Lifecycle Assessment 
  6. Okala Ecodesign Strategy Guide 2012

Competitive Landscape Assessment (Fall 2018)

Based on discussions with judges and alumni, the Big Ideas team identified the landscape analysis component of the pre-proposal as an area where teams often struggle. The landscape analysis is absolutely critical as it bridges the problem statement and proposed innovation. A strong landscape analysis will demonstrate to the judges that the team has conducted a thorough assessment of alternative services, programs, or products that have been designed or implemented to address their selected problem (both current competitors and past attempts). The team should discuss the strengths and limitations of these approaches, as well as the gaps that still exist.

Given the importance of the landscape analysis, the Big Ideas team led a workshop in Fall 2018 that offered strategies and tips for conducting market assessments and landscape analyses. Students were asked to determine their value proposition, identify direct and indirect competitors, and consider primary and secondary sources for research. The Big Ideas team also shared three common tools for landscape analysis, including: 2×2 matrix, competitive feature analysis, and petal diagram. Pitfalls to avoid with each tool were discussed based on past feedback from judges. For example, teams should avoid placing all of their competitors in one quadrant of a 2×2 or checking all the boxes in their column of a competitive feature analysis. The final piece of advice was to focus on the gaps and not to get lost in the details. The judges don’t need a lengthy description of each competitor, they just need to know how their offering falls short so they can understand how the proposed innovation fills that gap.

Fall and Spring Inventing Green Surveys: Pre- and post-workshop surveys were administered to the participants to gauge learning from the workshop. Questions included participants’ prior knowledge of sustainable design, level of comfort implementing principles of sustainable design into their product design, and the effect of sustainable design on legal risk, design process, and final product cost, creativity, motivation, manufacturing, quality, and marketability of the product.

Hardware Roundtable:

Storytelling for Social Impact (Fall 2018)

Storytelling is an essential skill for any social entrepreneur. Due to the multidisciplinary nature of Big Ideas, students enter the Contest with a wide range of writing and storytelling skills. Those from STEM fields may be used to very technical writing, whereas those from humanities backgrounds may be more adept at analytical or creative writing. Regardless of academic background, oftentimes, Big Ideas is the first time a student has written a funding proposal. Recognizing the importance of empowering students with the tools to craft an effective narrative, the Big Ideas team partnered with Scott Shigeoka, an expert in storytelling and the Community & Design Lead at OpenIDEO to lead a skills building workshop on Storytelling for Social Impact in Fall 2018.

The Storytelling for Social Impact workshop focused on breaking down the elements of a compelling story as well as the iterative process of crafting a story. The students went through a series of exercises, beginning with developing a story brief. The story brief is simply stating the following “I want to tell a story about _____ to get _____”. This forces students to hone in on what they’re trying to accomplish with their story. Next they were prompted to develop an audience brief. In this section of the workshop they focused on the following questions: “Who is the audience?”, “What is it that they care about or value?”, and “What part of my work would make them curious to learn more?”. Finally, they were asked to distill the “big idea” of their story in a way that would make sense to an average 12 year old. This exercise forced them to explain their idea without using technical jargon. After completing these exercises Scott discussed the importance of prototyping and getting feedback on their story from individuals with diverse backgrounds. As a takeaway, Scott shared the “SUCCESS Model” to remind students that the best ideas are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Shareable, and Story driven.

Pitch Video Development (Spring 2019)

During 2018-2019, the Big Ideas Contest added a 60-90 second pitch video to the application requirements in the full proposal round. The pitch video was based on the Y-Combinator Application Video model, which is seen as the gold standard in the startup space.This added element was an opportunity for teams to introduce themselves, explain what they are doing and why, and detail anything else they want judges to know about the team or the project. The YC style format requires that teams speak directly to the camera, leaving out all production aspects (such as music, effects, images, slides, “post-production wizardry,” etc.). This approach forces students to speak about their project in a straightforward, clear, and concise manner. Because this was a new element in the 2018-2019 Contest, the Big Ideas team devoted a portion of the Full Proposal Writing Workshop to focus on best practices for pitch videos.

During the Pitch Video Development workshop, the Big Ideas team began with an overview of common elements of a pitch. In addition to introducing the team, problem, and proposed innovation, the pitch should also make the case that the team has a unique value proposition and competitive advantage. After discussing these elements, the Big Ideas team showed three sample videos from Y-Combinator and led a discussion around their strengths and weaknesses. While this was the first year teams were asked to prepare pitch videos, the Big Ideas team has been helping students with their pitches for years. Based on this experience, the following tips were shared: 1) start strong (hook the viewer), 2) know your audience, and 3) be authentic, avoid technical jargon, and demonstrate your passion for your idea. At the end of the workshop, after watching the sample videos and going over the tips, the students indicated that they felt more confident about their ability to create a pitch video for their Big Idea.

Legal Entity Formation (Spring 2019)

As Big Ideas teams move through the Contest and their social ventures mature, the issue of legal formation becomes increasingly important. Teams must determine whether they are ready to incorporate as a legal entity. At this critical juncture, it is essential that teams understand the incorporation process and the benefits and drawbacks of registering as a 501(c)(3), for-profit, or benefit corporation. Big Ideas partnered with Startup@Berkeley Law to offer this workshop on Legal Entity Formation. Startup@BerkeleyLaw delivers dynamic programming for law students, entrepreneurs, and investors on current and emerging issues facing early stage companies. In the workshop, Jennifer Barnette (Cooley LLP) and Jesse Finfrock (Morrison & Foerster LLP) presented a legal primer that helped students think critically about which legal entity option is best for their social innovation project and/or venture.

The Legal Entity Formation workshop blended an overview of different legal entity options with candid insights into the pros/cons of each. The workshop leads were experienced coaching early-stage companies and startup founders through the incorporation process. They recognized that social entrepreneurs often incorrectly assume that they either must or should incorporate as a non-profit. They dispelled this myth by discussing how a for-profit can still be mission-driven and highlighted the additional regulatory elements that come with incorporating as a non-profit. Given the range of projects in attendance, the workshop leads were sure to leave plenty of time for Q&A.