From September 10th to 13th 2019, more than 60 participants from more than 40 organisations came together in Bangkok for the Innovation Workshop of the 8th lab of tomorrow (lot) process. In the KMUTT Knowledge Exchange for Innovation Center (KX), located in the Bang Lamphu Lang quartier between skyscrapers and food markets, the participants put their heads together to co-create innovative business models. The goal: to reduce plastic waste in Thailand through market-based business solutions and profitable revenue models. This was the largest of the eight Innovation Workshops conducted so far: an evident proof of the social relevance of the topic, but also of the timeliness of the lab of tomorrow’s approach. The lot aims at tackling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through encouraging business activities and fostering innovation and long-lasting cooperation between international partners. It consists of six stages of which the Innovation Workshop is the core, as it is the phase in which the participants develop their business ideas.
The participants worked together in eight interdisciplinary groups that had been carefully assembled beforehand to achieve a complementary mix of skills and experience. The groups were compounded by executives, employees and officers of renowned organizations such as BASF, TUI, Central Group and King Mongkut's Institute of Technology, along with start-ups and medium-sized companies. This confluence of backgrounds, knowledge and perspectives enhances creativity, innovation and a faster problem-solving, as described by Kai Schaeperklaus from Windmoeller & Hoelscher: „Within our group we have a raw material supplier, we have a machine supplier, we have a packaging manufacturer, we have users, we have farmers. So we see things from very, very different angles and therefore we can really look at this in a more complete way. This helps to really tackle the matter.”
Nevertheless, this diversity needs to be channeled into productivity. Agile coaches guided the participants through the workshop process, which is inspired by Design Thinking and business design methodology and compounded by two main phases: problem solution fit and solution market fit.
The first important step of the Design Thinking process is to get a profound understanding of the challenge, the methodology and the team. For that purpose, the participants got an insight into the detailed research realized in the earlier phases of the lot process. They learned more about the users, the stakeholders and the market opportunities and received an introduction into the different aspects of the plastic waste problem in Thailand. Prior to the Innovation Workshop, key stakeholders had examined the root cause of the challenge and the business opportunities during Challenge Framing Workshops in Bangkok and Frankfurt. The result of these workshops was the breaking down of the plastic waste issue to six sub-challenges that helped to develop solutions from different levels and angles.
After having widened their perspectives and won a deeper insight into the topic, it was time for the participants to ideate. In this phase, quantity is more relevant than quality. True to the motto “no ideas are wrong”, they shared their craziest thoughts with their fellow team members, never losing sight of the main objective of building profitable and consumer-centric business models. The teams discussed and redefined the different approaches until having agreed on one idea to follow.
But do the developed concepts match the needs of the target group? Are they also viable outside the “workshop bubble”? To proof this, the teams created prototypes of their business concepts and took them out into the “real world”. They went to local markets, malls, restaurants and hotels to reach out to their potential consumers. Through interviews the participants could expand their professional knowledge and find out whether the business idea really is needed and wanted by the target group. For Tobias Fehr-Bosshard from IDEPI-HSG this was nearly the most crucial and helpful part of the process: „I came here with some perceptions about how some stuff might be tackled and then got basically confronted with users, with locals who work in a restaurant or at a local market. In this way I got a better understanding of the very specific challenges and frameworks that we need to consider when designing a solution."
The outcome of these three days of intense work was eight innovative business models, that the teams pitched in front of a high-ranking jury formed by Nuttaphong Jaruwannaphong (Social Enterprise Office), Ms Chidapha Abramovich (ImpacTech), Chaiya Boonchit (Pollution Control Department), Vichian Suksoir (NIA) and Tobia Lechtenfeld (BMZ). Having received the valuable feedback from the board, the participants sharpened their venture idea to apply for the upcoming test phase. The most promising concept with the highest financial viability and biggest scope of impact will be selected and receive coaching on business development.
As the Innovation Workshop ended, the energy was still vibrant and the participants were motivated to bring their ideas to life. Once again, the lab of tomorrow process has shown up the synergies between the private sector and development cooperation, as Jan Scheer from the German Embassy in Thailand summed up: „I think one of the key challenges will be for the private sector to understand that money can actually be earned with sustainable business solutions addressing the challenge. So we have to turn the huge challenge of plastic waste into a business opportunity. And that is why it is great that we have events like the lab of tomorrow to come up with innovative business solutions to address this challenge.“