We held our 3rd H4E class last week and we can safely call it The Week of the Pivot. Prior to class, the 6 teams conducted 53 interviews and, with this handful of interviews under their belts, a few of the teams modified their business theses and BMCs based on the new intel. In our experience running PowerBridgeNY and teaching NSF I-Corps, we have seen that it is around this time that teams experience their first pivot, and will pivot a few more times before the end of their 100 customer interviews. Pivoting indicates that an entrepreneur is taking seriously the feedback that they are getting from their interviews and is responding to those lessons with an adjustment to their business model.
In addition to the interviews, we asked the students to dive a little deeper into the Customer. We had them read about customer segments and then create a diagram for each customer segment relevant to their project, visualizing how they work and make decisions. To help them think through who their customers are and why they care about their solution, all the teams created a value proposition canvas for each of the identified customer segments. You can see the results of this exercise in the student presentations below.
Student Presentations - Week 3
Some highlights from Week 3:
Here are this week’s presentations:
We kicked things off with Sustainable Catalyst Group. This team did a major pivot this week, based on interviews between last week and this week, deciding to focus on homeowners as a customer and have moved away from utilities. The entrepreneur instructors, though happy this team is learning from their interviews, cautioned that the team may not have enough data to be so confident with their pivot and recommended that the team do more customer discovery to validate the change.
Next up was Li-ionNYU. This team heeded our advice last week and changed their customer segments from organizations to people, but the customer diagrams they developed were simple, and the entrepreneur instructors recommended that the team spend time putting more detail into them. What we do like is that this team is learning a lot from their interviews and taking those learnings seriously. For example, after speaking to sustainability officers for education institutions, public agencies, and private entities, the team started to see how each type of organization may have different priorities when looking for EVs.
After Lion-NYU was Team EVE. Team EVE also did a pivot based on their customer interviews, changing their business model to a service business focused on the O&M of EV charging infrastructure. The teaching team was really impressed with EVE this week. They did a nice job outlining their customer diagram with specifics and showing what hypotheses they were testing in their slides. They now need to test whether their newly identified customer segment, charging infrastructure owners, have as big of a problem maintaining the chargers as they think they do.
Team Re-ACT was up next. This was another team that did a nice job explaining their business thesis. It is great to see the students refine how their solution solves the problem at hand. This team did 10 interviews this week and also made their own pivot, deciding to switch from the residential market to commercial. We thought this was a logical move, since the “smart homes” seemed like a potentially small market, but we are curious to see what challenges they may find in this new segment.
Re-Act also got a tip from another team’s mentor in the room. When describing their desire to make their solution user friendly to the building managers, the mentor interrupted the team to say “Our engineers don’t get bored with the Building Management System because it is their job to monitor the BMS.” This was a great piece of insight - the students need to understand how to find the true motivation and value for a customer to use their product.
Team AggregEn was this week’s penultimate presenter. The first thing we noticed is that they added a Team Slide with photos of the team members, which we were happy about (!) because it made the deck, as well as the company, look more professional.
AggregEn also pivoted from last week by narrowing their focus to the financial industry. They also have a new MVP: a pricing model that investors can use to assess distributed energy resources (DER), We were happy to see them formulate a new MVP and focus on this Customer Segment, but validating this hypothesis will require the team to take a crash course in how the financial industry works and if they will find value with their product.
Our final presentation came from Team PowYorker. This team conducted 8 interviews this week to better understand what role their company and product would play with utilities. Through customer interviews with ConEd, the team learned that any kind of manhole sensor needs to have a battery that will last for 8 years, but the batteries for the sensors would not last if they increased their sampling rate from once a day (what it currently is) to every 15 minutes (what Con Edison wants). However, the team realized that using current power harvesting techniques, providing that much power would be impossible. Therefore their product is not going to be the immediate solution to stop manhole events entirely, but they can reduce their frequency and help workers be better prepared to handle them when they do happen. . However, with some energy harvesting, they might be able to increase the frequency that the sensors report data, which would still be valuable to Con Edison even if it is not ideal. They want to talk to the individuals who are servicing utilities, as they might be a better path to getting their technology into the hands of the utility.
Energy Lecture - Week 3
Professor Bradford provided and overview of electricity regulation in the United States, and how that may influence who might be the “customer” for the student teams’ solutions.
Lessons Learned - Week 3