Multidisciplinary Design Thinking

Baltimore’s Hackable team has taken a deep dive into the city’s growing social enterprise sector. Our team is exploring what an entrepreneurial pipeline could look like in the context of a vacant downtown office building. We’re proposing a triple hack: a building that’s part high school, part coworking/incubator and part work space for small-medium sized start-ups.

Our work thus far has been informed by six primary drivers and we have assembled a brain trust of leaders in the education and innovation sector. Thought partners include representatives from the Economic Alliance, theSocial Innovation Lab, the Digital Harbor Foundation and the Baltimore Design School.

To push our ideation further, or potentially flip it upside down, we reached out to MICA’s MA Social Design (MASD) program. As a recent MASD Alum, I knew the experience would elevate our current proposal, and would also allow the students to test some design thinking methodologies. Here’s a quick summary of the two days we had with them:

Monday: Brain dump. Elaine Asal, an associate in the Gensler Baltimore office, spent a few hours at the MASD studio sharing with the students about Gensler’s design process and Fourth Sector initiative. She gave context for the project, brought them up to speed on our process thus far, and then let the information marinate. She asked the cohort of ten to focus on two broad questions over the next two days:

1 – How could the building support young entrepreneurs in the city?
2 – How could the public support young entrepreneurs?

Thursday: We invited MASD students to our office for a day of creative brainstorming, dialogue and presentation. They did a quick review of information gathered over the past two days, and we asked them to organize their feedback onto the wheel we have been using to explore issues that relate to social impact. The wheel breaks down social, economic, and environmental issues into twelve categories. As students populated the wheel with post-it notes, they were able to visualize knowledge gaps and identify areas to further explore.

After some brainstorming and ideation, the students focused on four areas: Core Values, Programming, Mentorship, and Cohesion (blending three spaces/functions). We asked for an analog presentation of final ideas (Post-It Pads, some diagrams, colored markers and short text blurbs). The poster proposal included three core tenets: The Nest, The Hub, and the Mentorship Model.

The Nest: New entrepreneurs and ventures will occupy a “Nest” on the top floor, with close access to a fab lab and makerspace. This area provides high intensity learning and prototyping. As companies and ventures grow, they will move spatially down the building, ultimately gaining access to retail space that engages with outdoor foot traffic.

The Hub: This component embraces the building’s immediate access to transit, and also recognizes some of the cities de facto socioeconomic and racial segregation. The plaza space would serve as a storefront and showroom, and would bring the transit lines into the space. “Make transit sexy” and encourage interaction among the varied demographic of potential transit users.

The mentorship model: A new charter school that operates from an open education model. Outside corporate partners in the space could work directly with students and occupants to train and develop new workers as well a expand their own services. “Ultimately we want to see employers, students and teachers all learning and collaborating on a multitude of projects.”

As the pitch wrapped up, students discussed funding models and economic sustainability with the Director of Baltimore’s Economic Alliance. Everyone left energized and enthusiastic about the potential of the ideas.. “How do we get these ideas to the Mayor’s office?” and “Will you present to our Board of Directors,” get us excited about where this could go.

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