Austin Center for Design has just completed its first year of classes, and student teams have created progressive entrepreneurial models for affecting positive change in the world around them. After spending 24 weeks immersed in the problem of homelessness, the following businesses have emerged:
After observing the limited time and resources case workers have to manage an increasingly large at-risk population, Ryan Hubbard and Christina Tran developed an online compliance and persistence tool. This tool—Patient Nudge—allows a care provider to automatically check in with a large population via SMS, aggregate results into compelling visualizations, and identify outliers in the data.
Through participatory design research, Ruby Ku and Alex Pappas observed a dramatic change in self-esteem when the chronically homeless were empowered to teach something to their peers. The homeless have skills—often robust technical skills, such as information technology or medical abilities—yet are rarely provided an opportunity to utilize these skills in support of one another. Ruby and Alex developed Hour School, an online service that identifies people in your social network who can teach specific skills, and helps support the creation of impromptu classes.
While conducting ethnographic research at a local shelter, Chap Ambrose and Scott Magee observed an overwhelmed and poorly trained desk attendant try to answer a variety of questions about services and operations. Through a process of prototyping and testing, they've developed Pocket Hotline, a distributed call center application that routes customer support calls to volunteers' personal cellphones.
All of these groups immersed themselves in the culture of homelessness for ten weeks, in order to gain empathy with their target audience. They managed to then quickly synthesize data into key insights, and through an iterative and user-centered process of design and prototyping, each project emerged. They continued to build business models around the prototypes, in order to create double-bottom-line businesses. They are now in the processes of conducting preliminary pilot studies in order to to prove the efficacy of their ideas.
Austin Center for Design strives to formalize the process by which design is connected with the public sector. The long-term goal of The Center is to investigate and drive a positive relationship between design thinking and the large "wicked" problems facing the public sector. These problems broadly include issues of poverty, hunger, education, health and wellness, sustainability, and equality; while these issues are typically explored and addressed through policy and politics, little has been done to understand how creativity and less linear thinking can provide assistance.
AC4D is looking for their next round of entrepreneurs to join the second year of classes. Applications are due on June 1st. Visit the Austin Center for Design site for more information.