IDIN entrepreneurs attend PIA member Siemens Stiftung’s epOnsite training in Uruguay

Three entrepreneurs and innovators from the International Development Innovation Network (IDIN) recently participated in a Siemens Stiftung (Foundation) workshop in Uruguay, representing one of the several exciting connections MIT D-Lab and the Siemens Stiftung are fostering between our networks. Beyond building ties with IDIN, Siemens Stiftung joined the MIT Practical Impact Alliance as a member in early 2016 and MIT D-Lab Founder Amy Smith serves on the jury of the empowering people. Award. Read on to learn more about the workshop, the IDIN innovators, and what they learned.

The whole cohort of the epOnsite training in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The whole cohort of the epOnsite training in Montevideo, Uruguay.

During five days in May and June 2016, the Siemens Stiftung organized a workshop called epOnsite (empowering people on site) – a hands-on event bringing together social impact ventures to strengthen their business model, create synergies with similar start-ups, and establish connections with like-minded entrepreneurs from the same region. So far this year, the epOnsite workshops has been held in Indonesia, Ethiopia, and for the Latin American episode, in Uruguay’s capital Montevideo.

The Latin America epOnsite was focused on Market Research & Customer Insights, and IDIN members and entrepreneurs Omar Crespo Cardona (Guatemala), David Saleh (Colombia) and Julio Lavalle (Peru/Brazil) were invited to attend. Beyond having the opportunity to meet again after a few years, these three members of the ever-growing IDIN family were able to witness each other’s growth, inspire one another, and connect with the network of Siemens Stiftung innovators working to develop market based solutions that aim to alleviate challenges in their countries.

The workshop focused on helping the participants better understand their clients, customers and users in emerging markets. The 17 participants included social entrepreneurs working across different areas such as energy, agriculture, education, nutrition and water, and ICT. The curriculum included practical and useful tools such as customer segmentation, personas, user journey maps and several more. Through a very dynamic methodology, each of the participants was able to learn, practice, review and apply some methods and tools to their own projects and those of teammates, providing a very unique and rich learning experience.

We asked each of the IDIN Network member attendees to weigh in on their experience. Here’s what they had to say:

Julio and David sharing customer insights.

Julio and David sharing customer insights.

Julio’s perspective:

I have a few main takeaways after reviewing the great variety of tools and methods we covered at the workshop. The first is that you and your team need to validate hypotheses related to your solution, especially at the early stages of product development. Applying a user-centered design process matters not only to the leads of the venture but also to every single team member involved in the project. Designers, developers, and more should all be involved in the process of product design as this process not only engages the team by knowing who they are working for, but also uncovers rich insights that could lead to more innovative solutions.

Thanks to the interaction with other innovative ventures at epOnsite, I was able to expand my knowledge of very different approaches to doing business in the region. Furthermore, I connected to a couple of ventures that are part of the Siemens network that use aggregated data obtained from appropriate financial technologies to develop products and services for financial inclusion. I am excited that these can become not only benchmarks, but also potential partners for the work we do at Poupa Certo.

Julio is the founder of Poupa Certo (Save Right in Portuguese), a mobile app for unbanked and underbanked consumers in Brazil that uses gamification and behavioral change theory to organize their budget, track spending, define and track savings goals, achieve those goals through motivational and tangible rewards, and access formal financial services tailored to users’ profiles.

Work session.

Work session.

David’s perspective:

During the workshop, we had a short amount of time to explore and get to know all of the interesting projects; despite this, I had the chance to get a taste of 16 different business models through sharing stories and experiences with beautiful people that attended. Clara and Anais, the facilitators, gave us their full energy and enthusiasm in every activity, and helped us to explore how to best analyze critical business information through specific tools on our real companies.

In my personal experience, exploring market challenges with other entrepreneurs and very experienced people is very powerful. When you are an entrepreneur, making assertive decisions is important given the tough competition. And despite having advantages over them one day, the market is changing constantly, pushing you to create new plans based on new information.

This workshop was very useful for me to share my business model and my market strategies to get fresh and new ideas. At the end, sharing with new people was the most valuable gift to me. I had the chance to meet another Colombian who is working on technologies to create wealth in rural areas of Colombia, and I hope we can create something together very soon. Now the seed is planted and the rain is coming!

David Salomon Saleh Rondon has been an entrepreneur since he was 12 years old. He has spent the last 6 years trying to understand the world of bees. With a degree in Animal Science and 3 years of experience working with farmers in sustainable production, he is the founder of Proapicol – a company that promotes beekeeping in Colombia through the transformation of products and by providing technologies for drying fruits and bee pollen. David has been researching bee pollen production with the National University of Colombia.

Julio and Omar working on scenarios.

Julio and Omar working on scenarios.

Omar’s perspective:

Real, meaningful human connections are essential for me and the way I learn, so what I valued most about epOnsite was the cross learning scenario it created for a few days. It allowed us to not just be presented with useful tools and content, but also see them applied to several projects based in so many different places around Latin America. It gave us, as participants, the opportunity, just for a moment, to work in awesome partnerships and help improve each other’s businesses and develop new strategies. It was amazing to hear stories, for example, of Colombian beekeepers and learn about Brazilian families looking for better ways to manage their finances in the favela of Vila Nova Esperança in Sao Paulo.

I’ve always understood people are in the very core of what I do and why I do it, but epOnsite allowed me to take that statement to a deeper level, especially regarding the work that we do at Link4, the social innovation start-up I co-founded in Guatemala. Focused on sustainable and restorative community development with a cross-sectoral approach, Link4 is building an innovation ecosystem that aims to create links between local communities, academia and the private, social and public sectors, to articulate and engage a number of stakeholders in the effort of improving – through design education and co-creation – the lives of people living in vulnerable conditions. So, to have such diverse partners and customers demands different strategies and approaches that can only be developed after having a deep understanding of each stakeholder’s needs, interests, specific context, and a broader vision of the possible scenarios in which they can all interact. The epOnsite experience, with its abundant “aha moments”, expanded that vision for me by providing the right analytic tools and methods, and also by allowing me a glimpse of the inspiring visions of others. It reaffirmed that we are not alone in this path towards changing the world, so we should all be building bridges and joining efforts.

Omar is a Guatemalan product design consultant, design education agent, social entrepreneur and co-founder of Link4. He is the lead organizer for the upcoming IDDS Sustainable Homes, Guatemala 2017, which will focus on co-creating appropriate technologies, services, and implementation strategies to help transform conventional houses into more sustainable homes. The Summit is organized by Link4 in partnership with Universidad del Valle de Guatemala and will represent the first stage of a broader Sustainable Homes program, also supported by Link4’s sustainable innovation ecosystem.

Thanks to Practical Impact Alliance for allowing us to publish the interview, originally published here. And also a huge thank you to Omar Crespo for allowing us to also use these pictures!

The MIT Practical Impact Alliance harvests the power of collaborative learning and action to increase, accelerate, and sustain impact on global poverty.

The MIT Practical Impact Alliance (PIA), organized by MIT D-Lab, is a membership organization of leaders from diverse organizations with aligned missions who learn, collaborate, and develop best practices together. Through PIA’s activities such as working groups, field-based co-design summit, annual conference, and MIT student engagement, member organizations can increase their individual and collective impact – all while leveraging and supporting the work of MIT programs focusing on global poverty alleviation.

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