University provides ‘living lab’ to help entrepreneurial start-up firms to test out new business ideas
- Published: Thursday, 14 May 2015 12:48
- Written by National Centre for Universities and Business
Case study by Birmingham City University
The LILA project is aimed at entrepreneurial firms working in the digital and ‘green’ economies who are looking to take their profile and success to the next level by showcasing themselves and their products to an international audience.
LILA is a European project co-funded by the European Union’s Interreg IV-B North West Europe programme, and led by Promotech Business Innovation Centre in Nancy (France) in partnership with Birmingham City University (UK), INI-Novation (Germany), Technoport (Luxembourg) and European BICs Network (Belgium).
With the help of the local LILA partner (eg Birmingham City University in the UK), start-ups identify the type of users that they would like feedback from and the type of feedback needed. The LILA partner then goes out and finds those users, and invites them to a ‘lab’ where the start-up pitches their product/service to the users and asks a series of questions about their perceptions, opinions and attitudes.
As part of the LILA project, the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment at Birmingham City University supported the start-up company Blindx by carrying out some early market testing of their new XploR product – an innovative ‘smart cane’ for the visually impaired that uses smartphone technology to improve users’ independence, empowerment and inclusivity as digital citizens.
By engaging with users early on in the design process, Blindx has been able to better understand users’ needs, find out what they think of the concept and feed this information back into their designs. The forum participants identified several key features that they thought the cane should support, together with other less critical features, described as ‘nice to have’.
The University recorded and synthesised this feedback from the lab session, and produced a report with key recommendations and next steps. This proved to be very useful as several features that the Blindx team initially thought would be essential were transferred to the ‘nice to have’ list.
Another important area of discovery was the ergonomics of the product. Important features relating to weight and ease of use were identified, together with security and training requirements. For example, the start-up now knows that they cannot put their product out to market without also offering some training around its use, and engaging with providers of that training.
Through LILA, Birmingham City University provides start-ups with the much needed moral support, knowledge and resources to undertake early market testing. Start-ups also benefit from a web space to showcase their product/service and stay in touch with lab participants (as well as new users), letting them know how they have implemented the feedback gathered, seeking their views on further developments, and inviting them to participate in future labs or product testing.