Design thinking among Larta's CAP companies

In March, Larta organized two FeedForwardTM sessions for this year’s cohort of NIH CAP entrepreneurs. This event provides CAP participants with the opportunity to receive individualized advice on their commercialization plan from a diverse roundtable of experienced mentors. While I observed the companies’ presentations and the discussions that followed, I was reminded of one of the social entrepreneurship classes I took at USC. In this class, we were challenged to create a for-profit product or service to manage Type 2 Diabetes using design thinking methodology. The commercialization process my classmates and I went through was far simpler and more condensed than the journey that these CAP entrepreneurs are on, but I found points of similarity between the two. Drawing from my experience with design thinking, I was especially intrigued by the ways that the design thinking methodology could be incorporated into the variety of businesses represented at the FeedForwardTM sessions.

What is design thinking?

According to Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO, “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” The process of design thinking can be synthesized into five interconnected steps, but at the heart of design thinking is a deep understanding of the people behind the problems that entrepreneurs seek to solve. By starting with this understanding, entrepreneurs are then able to create innovative solutions that are adopted and embraced because they’ve focused on their user’s needs and desires.

How can entrepreneurs incorporate design thinking into their business?

The best way that entrepreneurs can incorporate design thinking into their business is by practicing empathy. Take the time to talk to the people you are trying to help. Make the effort to step into their shoes and see the world from their point of view. By immersing yourself in their needs, you will gather insights that you will not be able to glean from merely looking at data.

For example, one of the companies that I observed at the FeedForwardTM sessions is designing a health promotion technology with the goal of preventing cancer by increasing HPV vaccination. Because there was a lot of confusion among the mentors about what product or service the company was trying to offer and who they were offering it to, one of the major conversations during the session revolved around the company’s need to truly understand the people they were trying to reach. By sitting in clinics to observe patients and talking to those living with or at risk of HPV, this company will gain a critical understanding of the context and complexities of their lives. As a result, the company will be much more successful at designing an impactful product because it will be directly informed by the needs of those who will be using it.

I saw the benefits of practicing empathy during another company session that I observed at the FeedForwardTM sessions. This company, which is creating a hemodialysis needle that detects needle dislodgment and stops blood flow, went through several iterations of their prototype before designing one that fits its user’s needs. By talking to nurses and understanding the process of dialysis, the company found that, in order for their needle to be adopted in the market, it needed to be as similar to the standard hemodialysis needle as possible. This insight led them to design a simple, cost-effective safety mechanism within a standard needle, which lowers barriers to entry since their device wouldn’t disrupt clinical workflow.

After participating in the FeedForwardTM sessions, I realized that design thinking isn’t just a philosophical idea that just sounds good in a business class; this process is an incredibly useful tool that can be applied to any company regardless of what industry they are in and what stage of the commercialization process they are on. By incorporating design thinking into their business toolkit, entrepreneurs may find the key to unlocking innovative solutions to the problems that they see in the world.

 If you are interested in learning more about the design thinking process and incorporating it into your business, check out the resources below: Creative Confidence: IDEO U: Stanford Virtual Crash Course:

Allyson Lim began her journey at Larta as an intern in April 2016, and after graduating from the University of Southern California (USC) in December, she joined the life sciences team as a Junior Programs Associate. She studied Business Administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship and is passionate about using entrepreneurial principles to create social impact.