Venture Founders: Update No. 1

Author: Margot Hughan



The past two weeks have been very exciting for the Venture Founders Program! We had our first Steering Committee meeting with Jeff Hodgson from Elevate Ventures, Don Ginocchio from SAP, Iris Hammel from St. Joe CEO, Andrew Wiand from enFocus, and David Murphy from ESTEEM. You could say Dustin and Maria were a little excited for the meeting, judging by the inspirational Rocky clips they sent out the night before...

While visiting the Better World Books facility with ESTEEM, I learned about strategies used by the warehouse associates to cut the time it takes for them to identify the location of books being ordered. One associate implemented a new ID number system that managed to cut the location time by three seconds, and another associate had an idea to color the labels placed on the books one of three colors to further cut down on time. After doing a back-of-the-napkin calculation, Maddie Zupan and I found that for each second cut from the time it takes to retrieve a book, BWB saves $22,000 a year. Wow!

As a roboticist, when identifying my problem area I felt an obligation to look into the relationship between increased automation in the workplace and loss of low skill jobs. Currently 45% of activities that people are paid to do could be automated using existing technology. However, it is interesting to also note that only 5% of jobs could be fully automated. There are certain activities that humans are better suited for—activities that require creativity, empathy, adaptation to new environments, grasping complex shapes, and many others.


This led me to ask the question: How might we best leverage the insights of frontline employees to find creative and verified solutions that relieve pain points of frontline employees while also increasing efficiency for executives? How might we create a platform for continuous improvement that amplifies the creativity and expertise of frontline employees, which in turn creates an ongoing mechanism for management to make better decisions about augmentation and process improvement? This could lead to augmentation solutions that not only increase efficiency, but also take advantage of uniquely human skills.

I used these questions as the focus of my pitch in our first Steering Committee Meeting. After my pitch, I was encouraged to take a look at lean six sigma to see where my opportunity overlaps. Don Ginocchio encouraged me to look further into the adoption phase of automation solutions instead of just ideation and evaluation.

Leaving the meeting we were all jazzed by the insights and direction that we had received and excited to pivot our opportunities, start coming up with new ideas and begin validating them. I interviewed Dominic Go (who leads process improvement at Schoola), Kayla Joyce (who was a warehouse associate at BWB), and others to hear their perspectives on the problem. 


The following Sunday we all met at Maria’s to make our own sets of Avanti! design thinking tools. Deandra Cadet, founder of Stage for Change, was celebrating her first sale and was there to discuss some of the highs and lows of launching a venture. Since then we have been conducting interviews with stakeholders and potential customers alike, creating a big mess of sticky notes in the process and trusting in Dustin and Maria's promise that it will lead to insights. We are excited for the Idea Challenge Competition on October 5th where we will each have an opportunity to share our ideas and potentially find some awesome people to join our teams!