The day IDDS begins is always a pretty special one for all involved, and our first in Colorado State University (CSU) proved no different. The nine long months of planning, protracted visa negotiations, long distance Skype calls and lots and lots of booked flights finally seems worth it when one looks around the room and sees an assembly of awesome people from all corners of the globe. This year’s summit brings together a smaller group than those previous (fifty participants coming from about twenty countries), but there is a belief that this year’s group could have an impact that lasts far beyond the day that IDDS 2010 comes to a close in Fort Collins.
Once the participants had introduced themselves, we heard from Amy Smith and Paul Hudnut on what the IDDS philosophy is all about. The differences between this year’s summit and those previous are many and varied, but the IDDS ‘spirit’ is something that all the organizers were keen to stress the importance of. This spirit and culture revolves around the two intersecting areas of innovation of collaboration, and Amy spoke of the IDDS community as a family, one which has been growing since the summit’s inception in 2007. The conference has been on a journey since then, one which Amy charted passionately for the benefit of this year’s participants, and one which has helped clarify what makes IDDS so special. Setting out to produce ‘prototypes, not papers’ at MIT in 2007, shifting focus slightly the following year towards creating innovators and creators of affordable technologies, moving into working alongside local communities in Ghana in 2009, and finally arriving on CSU’s doorstep at the beginning of this month, determined to focus more on tangible impact and dissemination. One gets the feeling the IDDS journey is only just beginning, with lots more to come.
We were then treated to some presentations from past participants and organizers about the IDDS experience, and how they felt they could communicate the oft spoken of ‘spirit’ of IDDS to their fellow 2010 participants. Laura Stupin, a graduate from Olin College currently studying sustainable energy in Masdar University, was the first to speak, and she based her entire concept of what IDDS is about on the below photo.
The photo was from last year’s summit in Ghana, and for Laura, it somehow summed up just what IDDS was all about. People from all over the world, working together to accomplish a goal that was difficult, unusual, and often challenging – in this case pushing a van up a dirt trail in rural Ghana! Miguel Chaves, a recent graduate from the University of Sao Paulo was next to follow and he discussed the concept of business over charity as central to the work of IDDS and also referred to his fellow IDDSers as ‘brothers and sisters’. Radhika Bhalla spoke again of the community aspect of IDDS before we were treated to an impassioned speech from Crossman Hormenoo, about what makes IDDS different from just about everything else. Crossman was the main force behind bringing IDDS to Ghana last year, has been involved since the very first summit in 2007 and typifies this IDDS spirit in everything that he does.
At past IDDS’s, the ice has always been broken by a design activity, to get participants interacting and using their creative sides. However, with the different focus of this year’s summit, the organizers concocted a different sort of activity, one that was focused that little bit more on entrepreneurship, without losing that designer’s touch. The market-based activity split the group into six teams, and each team was given a simple goal – construct a product that you will be able to sell to your fellow participants on market day, 24 hours from now. Each participant was given an envelope with some special IDDS currency (briquettes, or ‘bricks’ for short) contained inside, and the teams had to pool this money, decide what materials to buy and tools to rent from the IDDS shop, and then get cracking on developing both a product and a business model. Quite a fast track system to becoming an entrepreneur!
We took a quick break for lunch and the World Cup semi-final, something that some of the participants had a heavily vested interest in (Mariam hails from Madrid!), and after that it was time to get buying and building. The shopkeepers, Crossman and Amy, were taking no prisoners, and even the most ardent attempts at haggling were being met with stony resistance. Crossman in particular (an organizer from Ghana involved since the very first summit in 2007) was delighted with the buzz in the room around the shop – “the market is booming!”. The teams had some difficult tradeoffs to make, trying to keep their costs down, but all the while making sure that they were producing a product that would differentiate their business from the rest of the competition in the market. Another big question they had to ask themselves was one of scale – a few high end products or a lot of smaller ones? The collection of prototypes on the tables ranged from the functional to the absurd, with some interesting uses of materials and tools on show. The participants then had to make a one minute pitch to their fellow participants on why they should part with their precious ‘bricks’ for the products on show. Again, there was plenty of imagination on display, with my personal highlight being a song about the benefits of a particular set of hangers, and the denigration of a certain competitor in the market.
Sandwiched in between all of this were two great sessions from Bryan Wilson of Envirofit and Paul Polak of International Development Enterprises. Both talked candidly about the challenges involved in bringing an affordable technology to the product stage, producing it to scale, and positioning it within the market. I’m sure the IDDS participants will be trying to apply many of the lessons learned over the next few weeks as they begin working towards turning their own products into prototypes, and projects into ventures.
We all cannot wait to see how the teams fare in the marketplace tomorrow afternoon, and are even more excited to start mapping out the plans and expectations for the various project teams. Roll on day two!