First, let me give credit for the title of this post — our customer, Tech Fort Worth, uses this as its mantra. I think it’s a powerful statement. It captures the work we do to help people with ideas turn those ideas into business value, and throughout this process, prepare them to be founders of companies that can make an impact.

There’s a lot of moving parts to go from an idea to a business — and there’s a lot of great work being done to accelerate and scale companies in market. There are several top notch programs to address the operational readiness to accelerate a startup. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of cultivating innovation capacity and innovators at the beginning stages of the innovation pipeline – the fuzzy front end as I like to call it. This is a formative phase where innovators learn what it takes to move an idea from concept to market – and in the process they learn how to think, act, and speak like a founder. This is where the foundation gets laid to transform innovators with deep passion into founders with the clarity and confidence to move their ideas forward as businesses. If we want to build innovation capacity to solve some of the world’s pressing problems, it is here at this front-end where we should I believe devote more resources.

Supporting organizations with deep science and tech innovators at the fuzzy front end of the innovation pipeline has been a focus at WKI for more than 15 years.  We’ve learned a lot from watching our customers use our design methodology to transform innovators into founders. Our customers offer the WKI ideation and design program that puts the innovator at the center of the design process. They take a “business by design”  as the first step to building a solid foundation.  It’s here the innovator learns the approach to explore, discuss and design the business elements around their ideas. For many innovators, this experience is like being in a foreign country unfamiliar with the language and customs. So, the first step is to get the innovator to acquainted with our process that puts special attributes of their idea at the heart of the design.

A best practice of entrepreneurial design lies in a programs approach. Innovators join a cohort of other inventors and move through ideation and design together over a period of several weeks — working with the same people each week in a safe and private ideation space. Entrepreneurial ideation comes to life when innovators ideate together using design frameworks and share the thinking on their business design with others. There is a magic that happens in the WKI Design program – innovators ideate using frameworks that design the business value and together become sounding boards and advisors to each other. They challenge one another and, in the process, build the clarity and ability to articulate the business value of their ideas. This process is hands-on and high touch, with a focus on designing ideas into businesses. It’s not a training class but rather, an entrepreneurial ideation program that delivers a-ha moments and business outcomes.

To give you a sense of how this works, here are a few of the WKI Entrepreneurial Design programs at work throughout the country:

North Carolina – First Flight Venture Center – Propellor Program
First Flight Venture Center provides a range of supports and programs to develop the potential of inventors, founders and business builders.  They are world class in their strategic approach to supporting innovators at each stage of their entrepreneurial journey. The Propellor Program serves as a first-stage program for early-stage science and technology innovators.

Texas – EPI Center – Flip the Switch Ideation Program
Located in San Antonio, TX, EPI Center offers support to energy related ideas and founders.  It’s Flip the Switch Ideation Program is a 9 week program offered virtually and in person.

South Dakota – Brookings EDC – Think Tank Thursdays
Think Tank Thursdays (T3) is an ideation and commercialization program specifically targeting the SDSU research community. A particular focus is to bring agriculture and engineering departments together to ideate on concepts that can become solutions to real problems.

Texas – Tech Fort Worth – ThinkLab Program
Tech Fort Worth’s ThinkLab program is recognized nationally as a best-in-class program. Founders across the Dallas-Fort Worth area are invited to join the ThinkLab to ideate to discover the best path forward for their ideas.  Since its start 15+ years ago, founders of many game changing deep science and tech ideas have gotten their start here.   The ThinkLab offers two streams:  one for tech founders and the other solely for founders of life science ideas (The ThinkLab at Pegasus Park).

In closing, the timing couldn’t be better to cultivate and build capacity for new ideas.  The world needs solutions to many complex problems.  Entrepreneurial design offers an important foundational approach to develop our inventors into founders, and in turn, present the business value of their innovations.