MEMSI – The Process
By Eric Wong ’19
Today we decided to kick start our goal of tackling supermarket packaging waste by going on a field trip to a nearby supermarket to see firsthand what we’re trying to solve. At Taste, a mid to high tier market that is a few minute walk away from the HK Innovation Node, we were blown away by the amount of packaging that we saw. While there were your typical suspects of snacks, spices and seasonings, and grains, we also saw individually packaged fruits and pre-processed whole fish!
Plastic individual packing on fruits and pre-processed fish
We also unexpectedly stumbled across a section in the store where they were selling oils and vinegars in refillable glass containers that they had just recently started offering. In a quick interview with the worker stationed there, we found out that this type of service was fairly popular and offers slight discounts to people who bring back the bottles, but requires a bit of work on the workers’ side to service the customers.
These findings encouraged us that the problem we aim to tackle is a real one that would require a good amount of engineering to figure out a solution for all the different types of things that are packaged at a supermarket.
1.08: Primary Market Research
Today we continued our primary market research but with a more conscious goal of interviewing both workers and shoppers. We also chose to visit three different types of supermarkets: a zero-waste market, City Super, and Welcome to cover specialty stores, high end markets, and common markets respectively. At the end of the day, we had interviewed about 15 people covering the spectrum of experiences with packaging that we hoped for. The insights we received on the types of problems that exist with the current packaging situation, the complications to adopting a new system, and the difficulties faced by current zero-waste markets that will definitely be extremely useful in guiding our approach.
Food containers at the Live Zero, a zero-waste market
1.11: Requirement Prioritizing, Brainstorm Session, Market Segmentation
After the past two days, while we saw that no one was immediately saying that packaging waste was something that they wanted a solution for, their answers to tangential questions gave us confidence that it is something people do indeed want. With that in mind, we set today to using some of the exercises that they taught us in the Disciplined Entrepreneurship workshops to figure out what our customer base was and what things we would want our solution to address.
Ideating our project requirements
At the end of the day, we have a mentor session where we quickly explained the problem area that we wanted to address and the information we had gathered so far on it. In short, our mentors wanted us to narrow down the scope of who we were targeting as customers and nail down that the problem was one they explicitly said they would want a solution for.
We ended last night earlier to digest what we had heard during the mentor session so that we didn’t make any big decisions after what was already a long day. Going into today, we decided to each come individually with how we would want to move forward with the venture. After a team debrief, we decided to pivot. To facilitate this, we had a brainstorming session where we discussed a variety of ideas and utilized a Pugh Chart to help us objectively rate them and narrow down the possibilities. At the end of this exercise, we were down to four ideas, three of which we immediately started interviewing the rest of the MEMSI participants to get a sense of how common these problems we identified were.
Pugh chart of alternative ideas
By the end of the day, we decided to redefine the scope of our problem statement to focus more upon a demonstrated customer desire for more custom packaging of a variety of dried goods that we felt would be a common need across a few groups such as students and people living alone or with a partner. We ended today with a few tasks to tackle for the next day.
List of to-do’s for the next day
1.14: Task Forces: Engineering and Design, Market Analysis
With a new problem area that we felt confident as a whole team to move forward with, we decided to start splitting up the group to focus on the various aspects of the project. At this early stage, we just broadly defined two large areas that we felt split the team up well: engineering and design tackled by Mike, Maggie, and myself, while market anaysis was tackled by Tim, Ilona, and Janice.
We started off the day with a team check-in to make sure that we continue to share the same vision of our solution, in particular to talk through aspects such as our value proposition and market entry strategy.
In the afternoon, we have another check-in with the instructors Eliane and Marina who shared with us their concerns about the problem we identified being one that people would invest in. While they admired our shared passion for sustainability and approaching it through reducing supermarket packaging waste, they wanted us to confidently show them a market demand for a solution in this space.
The concerns that they shared with us were ones that we as a team shared, but didn’t put as much emphasis upon. However, we realized that to get the most out of the MEMSI experience, it was best for us to share the same emphasis as them. In that spirit, we fully embraced a full pivot and had another brainstorming session with a conscious effort to find a problem space different from what we started with.
Knowing the time pressure that we would need to overcome given such a late pivot, we grinded away as much as we could and had a present a half-figured out idea to a new group of mentors. By the end of the day, we we all burnt and had to call it a night but came away with a new idea: FYI-DIY, a not-for-profit social enterprise platform that enables a community of home-improvement doers of all backgrounds to come together and share with one another their hacked tools that make common tasks easier in a 3D printable format.
With just a few days to fully flesh out this new idea, we continued to put in as much effort as we could today. In this accelerated timeline, we quickly went through all the exercises we did with our previous idea and split the variety of tasks up. We were short handed as Janice was out of commission due to a flu that spread throughout a majority of the MEMSI cohort. Tim and Ilona were in charge of the pitch and economic sustainability, Mike was in charge of the web-interface design, and Maggie and I were in charge of ideating, CADing, and fabricating as many solutions to common home improvement tasks as possible as an example of what people would find on our platform.
While the Node had quite a few 3D printers, as every team started to reach the point in their progress that they were ready to make physical prototypes, we quickly learned that access to them would be limited as some started breaking down for a plethora a reasons and prints would range anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours to finish. With this in mind, I ended staying at the Node until around 2:30AM to get a final print started before leaving.
Ultimaker starting to print at 3 am
The grind continued today to make sure that we had enough time to make some final updates on anything that didn’t work or could be improved. While we got Janice back to help out with the web interface and slides design, Maggie caught the flu bug and couldn’t come in today. With me as the only person on the team with some CAD experience and the low availability of printers, I ended up staying overnight to get as many prints in as possible. By the end of the day, we were in a pretty good place with several different designs for a few common DIY tasks, a web interface framework, and a skeleton of a pitch and slides with plenty of content to fill it out.
A fully 3D printed design of a potential tool to help with DIY painting
1.18 Polish Polish Polish
With today being the last day to work out the last kinks in our work, the name of the game today was polish! I took two hours today off to go back to my hotel room to shower and nap after the long day yesterday. My team put in amazing work throughout the day, putting together a compelling pitch complete with a clear strategy to sustain our social enterprise economically and market research that demonstrated the readiness to adopt something like our platform. I join the slides design team and spent the rest of the day catching up on the presentation and helping clean up our slide deck.
One of the slides from our presentation!
Today was the day! After a long two weeks and two long nights, we were as confident in our final solution as we could be. In a 7 minute presentation followed by 5 minutes of Q&A in front of a panel of judges coming from a variety of backgrounds ranging from a partner in venture capital firm to brand directors and professors along with an audience of about 100 family and friends, we presented FIY-DIY.
A huge congratulations to team ATEM who won the judges award who worked to redefine the asthma inhaler to be a sleeker design integrated with a variety of smart features.We were honored to share the Audience Choice Award with them! Our team owes many thanks to all the instructors, TAs, and mentors who helped us out throughout our journey and gave us all invaluable feedback.
The team after a successful launch!