What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger: Lessons from Running Your Own Internal Incubation Program

There is hardly a technology principle, more frequently quoted than Moore’s Law. His prediction of an exponentially growing technological evolution has proven true and reached every industry — from healthcare to retail, government to education. Design has not remained immune to this accelerated change. On one hand, as technology disrupts traditional communications, transactions, business models, designers’ outcomes-driven approach and focus on user-centered experiences becomes essential in retaining and enhancing our humanism. That is why demand for designers is high, companies rush to build (or acquire) internal design teams, and proclaim their commitment to becoming design-driven organizations. On the other, the accelerating rate of change is forcing us to evolve ourselves. To remain good designers, it is no longer enough to imagine and create constructs. We need to be able to give our ideas shape and form quickly and bravely discard them if they are not strong enough, or invest in them when they show promise. We need to become makers. For design consultancies, this is not a question of choice, it is a question of survival.

At Artefact, we have embraced that not as inevitability but as an opportunity to become better designers, better consultants and better entrepreneurs. A year and a half ago we launched our internal incubation program, Startefact. In a nutshell, Startefact called for new ideas — hardware, software or a service. Everyone who works at Artefact could vote on the ideas they believed in. Over the following year and a half, we dedicated time and resources to take the winning ideas to the next level. The breadth of ideas surprised us, and that first round of Startefact resulted in something we built –the Purple locket, the BrakePack backpack, something we launched –the Civic IQ commenting platform, something we experimented with –the Token payment bracelet. We are still putting the finishing touches on one or two of the winning ideas… And we just kicked off this year’s Startefact round.

And then it dawned on us — we are a team of designers, who believe in rapid ideation and iteration, who are passionate about building ideas into products, and whose nature is to constantly experiment. Incubation and innovation is part of who we are, yet the challenges we encountered were not trivial. For organizations a bit more set in their ways, a bit less committed to innovation or a bit bigger than ours, this process must be much harder. So, in the spirit of learning from experience, here are the lessons we gleaned from running Startefact and the changes we are making to the program:

On the journey of making something real, be prepared to give up some control.

Purple: Artefact’s prototype for a locket for the 21st Century.

BUT: Use themes to deepen learnings and constrain unpredictability.

In the Cards is a concept app that helps underserved high school kids explore, plan and achieve their career ambitions.

Ideas are fragile — nurture and protect them.

BUT: Accelerate the process to reach to decision points with confidence, faster.

Early ideas originating from Startefact.

To go from making to shipping, you need partners.

BUT: Even with the best partners, you would go nowhere without internal commitment and collaboration.

Try. Learn. Repeat.

Our innovation and incubation expertise is the foundation for Project Helium, a tool to help innovation teams get from ideas to decisions faster.

Artefact is a responsible strategy + design firm. We help you harness the power of design to make change + do good.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store