MiD Students Attend the 2012 Food and Entrepreneurship Conference in San Francisco

Kelly Babcock and Alex Visconti, 2nd year MiD graduate students, report on a recent research trip in support of their thesis work.

Can design create impact within the spaces of food, entrepreneurship, and vulnerable populations? We traveled to the opposite coast to get a better idea.

Over the summer we began preliminary research for a possible thesis direction, and continued to come across a few key organizations leading in the food space that interact with entrepreneurship and vulnerable populations — all of which were going to be present at The Food and Entrepreneurship Conference in San Francisco, CA.

With some last minute travel arrangements, we were able to attend the conference and engage directly with the forerunners in our area of interest. The conference was organized by La Cocina, an incubator kitchen, whose mission is “to cultivate low-income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance and access to market and capital opportunities.” We enjoyed two informative and delicious days of panel discussions, presentations, and small Q&A sessions — all featuring La Cocina’s entrepreneurs, mostly women from immigrant communities.

The experience at the conference expanded our work and learning as designers because we were able to see and hear firsthand how the human-centered design theories we learn in the MiD program can be applied to create positive social, cultural, and economic impact.

Through the physical and service support of La Cocina and other incubator organizations serving food entrepreneurs, the participants of the programs engage in a collaborative environment to design their business model. One of the most common discussions over the course of the conference was the tight constraint of low start-up capital. In design we see constraints as a productive force, and in the case of these entrepreneurs it also seemed to be beneficial to their growth. It requires that they start on a small-scale, rapidly prototyping and testing their products with customers to find the most successful iteration. It also created the opportunity for the business owners to work the front lines at the farmers markets, selling their product to their customers. We feel that this proved invaluable to the entrepreneurs, as they were able to interact and engage with their customers right when they delivered the product. This experience allowed them to keep the feedback loop short and quickly make refinements to the product according to the customers’ needs.

For us, one of the most interesting takeaways from the conference was the “female entrepreneurial persona” we were able to develop from all of our observations and interviews. We mapped the common attributes, some of which we mentioned previously, and captured them in terms of body features below:

Each attribute was informed from our time spent at The Food and Entrepreneurship Conference, observing, listening, and talking to the many women food entrepreneurs that were in attendance.

We see value in referring to this persona while developing our thesis direction and the communities we want to serve. In addition, we were able to witness a successful application of human-centered design theories in a way that has definite social, cultural, and economic impact for not only the entrepreneurs that participate in the incubators, but also for the greater community that is inspired to do their own work of this nature.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 4th, 2012 at 5:20 pm.