Nelson Mandela wrote that one: A winner is a dreamer who never gives up. Like many others, I am deeply inspired by the greatness of that little phrase. Rising back up from bankruptcy in 2010 and nearly going overboard again following the economical fallout of Covid-19 I am now exactly where I need to be. To many I owe my deepest gratitude. Some of you will be mentioned in this article. All of you are forever in my heart.
This is a story about inspired entrepreneurship and the power of setting your goals. It all begins Christmas Eve 2016.
My first Design Sprint
Only months earlier I experienced my very first Google Design Sprint. Not as a Facilitator, but as a participant. I had taken on the task to help develop a platform for mentally vulnerable people and was faced with a very tight deadline. "Stop your thinking", declared Jeroen Soeterbroek, founder and CEO of Connect Holland. His company could possibly help me. "We'll run a Google Design Sprint. In only 5 days you will have a prototype of your platform. Tested by real users". It was my first Design Sprint and it changed my life.
Looking back at that very first Design Sprint I realise we basically did everything wrong. If Jake Knapp - the visionary Godfather of the Design Sprint - would have seen us then he would have either laughed or cried. Probably the latter. But despite all the screw-ups in that first one we nailed it: we came up with a prototype and the testers loved it! So much that tears literally fell from their eyes. "Please tell me this is true", exclaimed one of them. Three months later the platform was live and till this very day thousands of people suffering from mental vulnerabilities find help and relief on the websites of MIND.
That first Design Sprint was my homecoming. After spending 15 years on the forefront of technological innovations it dawned on me. I didn't need to develop new digital products and services. I needed to help others to do so. And the Design Sprint was my tool.
On Christmas Eve 2016 Jeroen Soeterbroek and I shared a vision. What if we didn't just use Design Sprints to build better websites? What if we would use this amazing tool to help build a better world?
Setting the North Star
We set our North Star, or BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal): in 2020 we would travel the world helping to spark innovation and entrepreneurship in places where it is needed most. From Kopenhagen to Cape Town.
We built ourselves a roadmap and every milestone we've reached was a step closer to that goal. In 2016 we started in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. A year later we had a team of 4 Facilitators and we were making waves in the Dutch innovation landscape. In 2018 we had the opportunity to help start-ups at the Brightlands Smart Services Campus where we opened up a hybrid innovation lab. 2019 meant another great leap forward talking to Google on Design Sprinting for Good, opening up a third venue in Valencia, Spain and receiving Master Class training for our team of 8 by Jake Knapp in Paris.
Setting that North Star really helps. It helps you to follow a set course and reach your objectives.
Nearly there and then everything went south
In the summer of 2019 I crossed paths with Fréderique Veldhuis in Mozambique. She shared the same vision in helping to spark innovation and entrepreneurship in places where it is needed most. Fréderique joined our team and we set off to start our Global Impact Tour in Mozambique. With the help of the Dutch Embassy in Maputo and the Orange Corners Program we would collaborate with local service providers and entrepreneurs. Issues like gender equality, fair acces to water, electricity and food and a sustainable footprint for young entrepreneurs were on the agenda. Tickets were booked and then everything stopped. Covid-19 hit the world...
On a micro level it hit us, too. Within 48 hours our complete order book evaporated in front of our eyes. Not because of WHAT we did (Fast forwarding impactful innovation), but because of HOW we did it (real life best of class Design Sprints). It was no longer permitted to be in the same close quarter rooms with 7 other people. Our Design Sprints required you to do exactly that.
March 2020. We facilitated 100+ Design Sprints across the globe. Helped to apply innovation for young start-ups, Forbes 500 companies, NGO's and governments. And then everything stopped.... and we nearly went out of business.
The economic fallout of this pandemic forced us to close our innovation labs and completely re-think our business model.
Improve and adapt
We took our own medicine. Ate our own dog food. Start from scratch and do a Design Sprint with an open mind. Be ready to fail a 1000 times. Just like we teach all those start-ups. Always improving and adapting. We challenged ourselves to come up with a new innovation lab that could help find answers for the new world. An innovation lab that would leave zero footprint and massive positive impact. An innovation lab that would not have an office while operating on a "glocal" scale. An innovation lab with a strong moral compass and the best-of-the-best-of-the-best Facilitators and Change makers. We challenged ourselves to come up with The Next Lab.
It is now nearly Christmas Eve 2020 and we made it. We have set a new definition of what an innovation lab should be. Thanks to a special bunch of amazing team members and co-founders 2020 turned out to be our best year ever. And the very best part? We just won a tender given by The Netherlands Enterprise Agency RVO to help spark innovation and entrepreneurship among students in Ivory Coast, Africa. The Global Impact Tour is on! Thank you to all the wonderful people at Orange Corners and RVO. Thank you to all our partners in Ivory Coast. Thank you to all the people who helped us get to this point and beyond. In return we can't wait to help students in Ivory Coast to get to their point and beyond. It is just the beginning.
Remember: A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.