The aim of the one year learning programme is to experiment transdisciplinary education coordinating courses in biology, architecture and business. This one year course enabled an active flow of information and ideas among students, teachers, researchers and business people boosting innovation, entrepreneurship and subsequent market uptake of intelligent living, biotech and biomimicry solutions to help green cities.
For this programme, IAAC selected 10 students participating in the Master in Advanced Architecture (MAA 01), UL selected 10 students participating in the Master in Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the Graduate School for Agronomy and Food Industry and WU also selected 10 students participating in the interuniversity course “Sustainability Challenge”.
BUILD Solutions offered an experimental transdisciplinary one year programme with a semester in biotech research, a semester in living design & digital prototyping and a semester in Eco business.
Biology students worked during the first semester (BIO-TECH semester) developing the scientific concepts that were further developed during the second semester. During the first semester an online event was organised in order to anticipate to business and design students the concepts on which biology students were working on.
5 days’ workshop
During a 5 days’ workshop in January 2020, students from IAAC, UL and WU met in IAAC, Barcelona and worked together on biological research with the aim of applying it in urban areas, eventually building a prototype of an urban living element. The workshop in IAAC was organized so UL, IAAC, and WU students meet face to face and work together on interdisciplinary entrepreneurial projects.
As part of BUILD Solutions, we have chosen to create an environment of self-learning (and responsibility thereof), trans-disciplinarity and co-creation.
By having the students identify the (global urban) challenges they cared the most about and own the Nature Based Solutions they devised to face said challenges, the students were presumed to acquire a higher sense of agency and empowerment (Marianne Stenger, Student Ownership and Responsibility Are Key to Academic Success Finds New Research). Furthermore, the students were presumed to be forced to work across cultural differences stemming from both geography and educational background to solve said challenges since the challenges were of such a scope that no single student or educational background would be sufficient to overcome the challenges on their own.
At the 5 days event students chose Climate change as the core challenge to address, both due the challenges facing the EU and the world from climate change are immediate and hence training students to learn how to deal with said challenges provide a net benefit to society at large, but also because the challenges of climate change are acute in the mind of the younger generation and hence a problem that is motivating to address and solve. Furthermore, the global challenges of climate change and the impact of climate change on cities and their urban context necessitates a transdisciplinary approach (Matt Lvinson).
Team Building- the meeting point of people and minds
As the BUILD students in their respective teams came together, they exchanged ideas across professional, academic and national cultures and became better equipped to create solutions for real life problems affecting our world today while also learning skills that could enhance their future careers.
In forming the teams in the BUILD Solutions project, teams were not only made up of students from different disciplinary backgrounds but also from a mix of different personalities. This enabled the team to benefit from the diverse personalities of their team members. As studies have shown (Dave Winsborough & Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic), different personalities bring out different skills and capabilities.
These different personalities enhance the team and enable them to achieve their final goal. In BUILD, a personality test was done on the second day and a mix of personality types was the other key metric used besides an alignment on which challenge to solve to form the teams.
In BUILD Solutions, the teams were made of students from diverse disciplinary and cultural backgrounds, as well as personalities. This enhanced their synergy and ability to learn from each other and create better solutions consequently.
Hence a significant part of the first two days were spent helping the students narrow down the problem they wanted to solve and imagine how the world, and their place in it, would look once the problem was solved. This process of visualizing goals included societal, social and personal benefits (including personal wealth and degrees of freedom).
Introduction to Lean Start up methodology
During the 5 days’ workshop the Lean Start-up methodology was introduced to students in order to help them to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty” to navigate the many challenges of new product development and real value creation while accelerating growth to a maximum and reducing resource waste to a minimum (Ries, n.d.).
The Lean Start –up method prioritizes customer feedback during product development and short iteration phases in order to not waste resources and increase the value created for the consumer. The idea is that by the time the product is ready to be widely distributed it will not only have solved real problems but also it will already have established customers. This is based on giving up rigid planning of a product and business model and instead building a minimum viable product (MVP) first. An MVP is the simplest form of a product that can be built and used for testing the hypotheses, instead of putting a lot of resources into it and fully designing it upfront.
The “Lean Start-up” methodology was chosen to help BUILD students develop a product and business model that solves real problems and meets real needs by quickly learning from failures and producing the least waste of resources in the process.
Teams from the BUILD Solutions chose their start-up projects with sustainability and growth in mind. Hence, it was important for them to draw a shareholder’s agreement in order to have a framework that covers various issues, from day-to-day operations, organization processes, business activities and relationships between the shareholders. Shareholder’s agreement is a legal contract that acts as a binding agreement between shareholders and that includes obligations and rights which are enforceable. Thus, it acts as a safeguard against various inconsistencies that may arise, as well as a tool to solve various disagreements between shareholders. A shareholder’s agreement thus ensures that various distractions are prevented, the founders / shareholders stay on course and keep their eyes on the goal, which is usually, the growth of the company.
Even in the absence of the COVID-19 crises, the teams from the BUILD Solutions Project had to work remotely because they were students from several different countries in the same team. Each team had to overcome the challenge of working remotely. This was a bit of a challenge since the kind of projects they were working on involved a lot of practicality. Since the projects were practical in nature, constant hands on participation as well as regular communication were needed. In order to overcome the challenges of remote work, the teams communicated regularly through digital meetings (Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Whereby, etc) and digital communication platforms (such as Slack), the teams regularly assessed their progress, set milestones and goals for each month and week and ensured consistent feedback amongst team members in case of unforeseen challenges.
The average student group went through more than 10 scientific articles from some of the world’s leading universities, conducted more than 40 interviews with end-users, envisioned 5 different solution models (and discarded 4 of them based on the interviews), had their first 3D-renderings done of the proposed solution and had prepared their first Investor Pitch alongside a draft of their business and scaling plans.
The following 5 projects were developed:
Trainers as mentors
Since the students had ownership of their work and thus were responsible for how their work turned out, the trainers/teachers worked as mentors who guided them by challenging them to think outside the box, instead of going the traditional way of providing answers.
At the end of the one year programme a group of investors were invited to serve as jury identifying the best-case idea developed throughout the educational programme.
At the Final Pitch event, Epiclay was chosen as the best project group, therefore were granted to spend one month in Bloxhub accelerator in Copenhagen. The accelerator programme helped EPICLAY transform its idea and solution into a commercial service, product and start-up business.