Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab

Elements of the Entrepreneur Experience

Research Methodology

Using human-centered design to engage a heterogeneous mix of those who think and act entrepreneurially within a diverse set of organization types.

In volume one of our work, we built a nationwide, deep, first-person understanding of the experience of new venture entrepreneurs. Using this as our foundation, we next sought out entrepreneurs inside—people demonstrating entrepreneurial thinking and acting within organizations. The goal was to examine their experiences to learn whether the experience of NVE was similar for EI.

The key to this phase of work was in identifying a truly heterogeneous and diverse set of entrepreneur inside experiences. The real challenge was locating the appropriate participants within the organizations, since it is not always obvious who is an entrepreneur. In order to achieve the broadest context possible, we recruited entrepreneurs inside from six organization types—corporations, government agencies, non-profits, cooperatives, self-organizing entities and religious groups. Participants were then screened for demonstrable entrepreneurial thinking and action. All were creating value for themselves and their organizations through new, high impact initiatives, divisions or departments, products or services, or processes or practices that represent significant change for the organization.

Human-Centered Design Process

Using a human-centered design process, we were able to walk briefly in the shoes of entrepreneurs inside, to listen to their stories, and to see their world as they see it. We used both fieldwork and webwork(5) to ensure significant exposure to the people, places, and things that make up the experience of entrepreneurs inside. With fieldwork, we were able to engage participants in their local contexts through individual and group on-site interviews. Using a semi-structured interview protocol, a broad range of topics was addressed with study participants including role identification, day-to-day experiences, organizational environment, teams, networks and community, education and support systems. With web work, we engaged a geographically distributed set of EI in a variety of research activities—self-documentation, journaling, group discussions, and projective exercises (exploration of attitudes, thoughts, and feelings that are difficult to detect by straightforward questioning)—asynchronously, over a period of two weeks. The two approaches, fieldwork and webwork combined, gave us deep insight into the experiences of entrepreneurs inside.

Human-centered design is an ongoing effort within the Lab that helps us move beyond the capture of insights to identification of opportunity spaces that define where and how we begin experimentation. Ultimately, transformation of the entrepreneur experience requires that we try more things. With a human-centered approach—designing, prototyping, and testing—we learn quickly what works and iterate towards an improved experience that encourages more individuals inside organizations to practice entrepreneurship.

Types of entrepreneurial efforts inside organizations

The majority of participants we engaged (81%) were involved in three types of entrepreneurial efforts ranging from the development of a new market-making innovation, product, service, or program (e.g., a new wellness plan) to the creation of an entrepreneurial culture within their organization or community (e.g., developing a culture that embraces customer-facing programmers within an S&P 500 company) to catalyzing change across a networked infrastructure (e.g., addressing food deserts through public-private community networks). The remaining 19% focused on strategic leadership efforts that allow for a complete rethinking of an organization’s strategy or innovation capabilities (e.g., a CEO of a product manufacturing company, a university president) or building a business within another business (e.g., an agent building a training consultancy within a real estate company).

(5) Term coined by Kim Erwin, IIT Institute of Design and Diane Fraley, D.S. Fraley Associates; IIT Design Research Conference 2010