“Innovation Project”, the most popular class

Hello, this is Koyano from the iU Blog.

I would like to give you a detailed introduction to the iU Innovation Project course (Inopro), which won first place in iU’s “Most Interesting” class rankings, from students’ perspectives. In case you’re wondering, it was my favorite class as well, and I devoted a lot of time and enthusiasm towards it.

What kind of class is Inopro?

The Inopro class is divided into teams, there are about 10 groups, and within each team students build and develop their business ideas and make a presentation. The final presentation competition is held at the end of each semester. Each class holds a preliminary round and decides on a representative team. Only the representative team is allowed to participate in the final presentation competition. The judges for the final presentation are investors and entrepreneurs, so teams receive high quality feedback. This year, ten teams were able to participate in the final presentation competition, two teams from each class. As I expected, the teams were chosen to represent their classes, and they all had ideas never seen before. I think I will learn a lot from each of them.

What’s different from other classes?

There are a few things that make Inopro different from other classes. The first is that it focuses on group work outside of class! In the class, each group makes a presentation, and both the teacher and students provide feedback. At the end of the class, a lecture is conducted on the meaning and purpose of the assignments and an explanation of the tasks we were expected to complete in group work by the next class. Outside of class, each group works on an assignment and improves their ideas. The assignments are all very interesting and informative. I would like to talk about the details of the assignments later.

Second, the classes are every other week! This year, we had classes every other week on Thursdays in 3rd and 4th periods; and non-class weeks were free. I used the free time to meet with my group and conduct interviews. Other students simply worked part-time jobs, relaxed, or met with friends, etc. However, it seems that Inopro classes will be different next year -but every other week will remain the same.

Third, the faculty in charge are different for each class! There are 45 students per class divided into groups A to E. Each class has one teacher and one teaching staff (called IM staff at iU) as homeroom teachers. The homeroom teacher of the class will be in charge of the inno-professional. In the second semester, the curriculum was the same for all classes, but in the first semester, each class was taught a little differently. In some classes, each class had its own theme, and students were able to give presentations to guests related to their theme, and received feedback from them.

What can I learn at  Inopro?

At Inopro you can actively learn and acquire the skills necessary to become an entrepreneur, such as what it takes to realize an idea and fundamental team management.

In the first semester of the first year, students learn the basics of business and the structure of Design thinking1. The second semester consisted of discovering problems and developing stories (products and services) to find solutions.

As for the team management part, I felt that it was important for the leader to manage this because each person has different motivation, enthusiasm, and free time available. Since we did this through group work, I felt that the class was practical and very valuable. I had the opportunity to be a leader in both the first and second semesters, and there were many things I self-reflected on; and I felt how difficult it is to manage a team. Nonetheless, I definitely felt that I grew better at managing a team in the second semester compared to the first semester.

And, even though I didn’t have experience in starting a business or managing a project, before entering this program, it was a very intensive experience for me as a leader. So, I think anyone can do it if they are motivated!

(1) Design Thinking: A series of problem-solving ideas as shown in the diagram below.

Contents of the first and second semester classes

  • First semester

The concept of the first semester’s class was to think of “punk ideas that are unique to iU” without considering feasibility at all. Keep in mind that the content of Inopro changes depending on the homeroom teacher. I will introduce the flow of my class as an example.

After a one-minute presentation, the whole class voted on the idea, and the top 11 students who received the most votes were chosen to form a team. Next, we interviewed at least 20 people to see if their ideas were in line with the PSF, and surveyed the PAIN (factors that customers want to see reduced) and GAIN (factors that customers want to see increased) of the people we assumed.

The next step was to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) on a slide by slide basis to verify whether or not the solution would actually solve a customer’s problem. An MVP is a product that provides a minimum set of functions as a solution to an expected problem, and is created to verify whether the product meets the customer’s needs. For example YouTube: the main service is that one person posts a video and another watches it.

MVP slide (slide showing what kind of service it is)

For the last assignment of the semester, we created digital storytelling. Storytelling is a method of presentation. It is a method of conveying a message or a concept by quoting an impressive story such as a past experience or episode to emotionally shake the audience and make them feel sympathy and thus remember it. If you can actually use this technique to sway your customers and investors, you can make them your fans. In class, we actually made a video called using Digital Storytelling. At the end of the class, we summarized what we had built in the previous semester in a document and had a 5-minute final presentation competition. The judges were representatives from various parts of Sumida Ward.

As a side note, one of the representative teams from last semester’s Inopro has started a business. Therefore, It is possible to start a business from Inopro. So, let’s work towards the goal of starting a business!

  • Second semester

In the second semester, the concept of Inopro was to think of “feasible business ideas,” which was different from the previous semester. In the second semester, the content of the class was basically the same as in the first semester, so I think the content will be the same next year.

First of all, unlike the previous semester, teams were chosen based on psychological tests and evaluations from the previous semester. I heard that the psychological test was the same one that was used to determine the crew of the space shuttle. One idea was chosen from those that each of the members had thought of beforehand. Next, as in the previous term, we conducted user interviews to investigate PAIN and GAIN. Based on this, we created a CJM (Customer Journey Map). The customer journey is “the process a customer goes through to make a purchase. It is a chronological visualization of the customer’s behavior and psychology along the path from product awareness, to interest, then purchase motivation, and finally purchase.

Customer Journey Diagram

The next step was to come up with a business model for the idea. First, we created a business model diagram of the idea (a visualization of the flow of products and money), and then created a business model canvas (customer segment (CS), customer relationship (CR), channel (CH), value provided (VP), key activity (KA), key resource (KR), key partner (KP) Cost Structure (CS), and Revenue Stream (RS) and completed the nine sections on the diagrammed canvas, to understand their challenges and strengths.

Business model diagram

The next task was to think about UI and UX. UI (User Interface) refers to the boundary that connects people and things. An example would be the information (e.g. design, color, etc.) that can be obtained when viewing an application on a smartphone or tablet. UX (User Experience) refers to the experiences and experiences that people gain when they interact with products and services. For example, everything you feel when you use a certain product or app is considered UX. Both positive and negative impressions can be UX.

For the last assignment, we created a projected income statement based on the business model canvas we created. The predictive income statement is entirely predictive, but we use Fermi Estimation2 to figure out what kind of sales and profits the business idea we are considering will possibly generate. The purpose of this is to be able to figure out what is important for our idea, such as how much of a price reduction would be unprofitable, when we commercialize it. It can also be used as evidence for investors and how much money you want them to invest. By creating this in a logical manner, you can see the feasibility and understand whether you need to change your business plan.

Projected Income Statement Figure

As in the previous semester, the class selected two representative teams and they provided presentations, with over 200 visiting faculty members acting as judges and listening to the presentations.

(2) Fermi Estimation: Logical reasoning based on a number of clues to make a rough estimate in a short time.

Also, from this year, the “iU Accelerator” program will be held during the long break after the end of the semester (In the first semester during summer break, and in the second semester during spring break). An accelerator is an organization that provides financial investment, know-how and other support to start-up companies that have passed their seed stage and are focused on expanding their business. The iU Accelerator is a little bit special, as it mainly focuses on teams that have not yet started their business, but it seems to offer the same support as general accelerators. I was able to join the “iU Accelerator” and I will write an article about it later.

Seed period: The preparation period when you have not yet started your service. It refers to the period before starting a business or at the beginning.

Finally, Inopro is a really fun class, as it was chosen as the most favorite class by iU Freshman students. My personal favorite part of the class is the part where we work together as a group and think about business. I think the part where you can gain knowledge and achieve results for the amount of time you put in will motivate you.

To the future second semester students:

Please look forward to this class. Even if you have already started your own business, there is a possibility that you can find your potential business partner through group work, which is the overall theme of Inopro, so I hope you will be highly motivated.

To those who are considering applying to iU:

If you are interested in entrepreneurship, such as those who are aiming to start their own business, there is no harm in enrolling in this class for the purpose of simply taking it.

See you next time!