2 March 2007

Venture philanthropy fund uses design thinking and ethnography to help solve real-world problems [Business Week]

Be the first to share

Acumen Fund
Billing itself as a nonprofit venture capital firm, the Acumen Fund uses the principles of design to solve the problems of the poor. Just as the Procter & Gambles and Motorolas of the corporate world conduct extensive ethnographic research on consumers, Acumen finances companies that create from the bottom up. Instead of shoppers at a Los Angeles mall, however, it begins with people in villages like those in Thathia, a tiny village in Kannauj, India.

“Start with the individuals,” says founder Jacqueline Novogratz. “Build systems from their perspective. Really pay attention, and then see if they can scale.”

Under Novogratz’s leadership, the New York-based fund manages $20 million in investments in companies that fall within three portfolios: health, water, and housing. It’s not a lot of money compared with any of the traditional venture funds in Silicon Valley. But Acumen’s goal is not to launch initial public offerings. Rather, Novogratz and her team are building prototypes for new business models that measure returns in social benefits as well as monetary rewards.

Observing customers to uncover their unmet needs, creating prototypes of new products and services for them, iterating and improving those until they work, looking for new business models—these are all the critical fundamentals of design that Acumen uses in its work. At a recent workshop given by Tim Brown, chief executive of the innovation consultancy IDEO, these same principles of design thinking were inculcated in eight Acumen Fellows, the young professionals the venture fund sponsors to work with its companies in Africa and Asia.

Read full story

Be the first to share
1 May 2015
The most important part of self-driving cars will be human control
Until now, the public dialogue about self-driving cars has centered mostly on technology, writes Michael Nees, Assistant professor, Lafayette College. The public’s been led to believe that engineers will soon remove humans from driving. Researchers …
30 April 2015
Designer and researcher: the new creative partnership
In the 20th Century creating a close partnership between copywriter and art director led to a creative renaissance in advertising. In the 21st century the relationship between designer and researcher will do the same, argues …
19 April 2015
Nudging to improve public policy, health care and our relationship with technology
On Nudging In Public Policy By Alon M. August, University of Redlands (USA) April 6, 2015 This thesis examines nudging, a technique aimed at making individuals act, choose, and behave in the ways deemed rational by policy makers. …
16 April 2015
Putting technology in its place
Kentaro Toyama is a former Microsoft Research Executive and now an associate professor at the University of Michigan. Toyama calls himself “a recovering technoholic”—someone who once was “addicted to a technological way of solving problems.” …
16 April 2015
Essay Collection: Designing Democracy
Designing Democracy: How designers are changing democratic spaces and processes An inquiry by the UK Design Commission March 2015 Abstract Featuring essays from leading designers, MPs and policymakers, 'Designing Democracy' asks what contribution design could make to improving both …
15 April 2015
The woes of a corporate anthropologist [Novel]
Satin Island: A novel by Tom McCarthy Knopf, 2015 From the author of Remainder and C (short-listed for the Man Booker Prize), and a winner of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize, comes Satin Island, an unnerving novel that promises …
10 April 2015
We are citizens, not mere physical masses of data for harvesting
The deal we have struck with the information society over the extent to which our lives are shaped and our privacy invaded requires urgent renegotiation, argues law professor Julie E Cohen at the annual Law …
7 April 2015
[Book] Practical Empathy
Practical Empathy: For Collaboration and Creativity in Your Work by Indi Young Rosenfeld Media, 2015 Synopsis Conventional product development focuses on the solution. Empathy is a mindset that focuses on people, helping you to understand their thinking patterns and …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

16 March 2015
Better Health and Wellbeing: Giving the elderly in Singapore sparkling golden years

Invitation: sharing session, Singapore, 30 March 2015   What are the hopes and fears of the elderly in Singapore? How can designers offer solutions that support the elderly in managing their health and wellness? What can healthcare professionals do to help them keep active? What role can technology play in the elderly’s daily lives? Design consultants […]

1 January 2015
Happy Playful New Year
21 December 2014
Experientia’s Twitter feed live

Experientia has now its own Twitter feed. Four months of Putting People First posts and other links have already been uploaded. If you followed Experientia on Twitter through the feed of its CEO, Mark Vanderbeeken, make sure to now also follow the company (but don’t unfollow Mark, who will keep on tweeting away). And while […]

19 December 2014
Putting People First blog redesigned

Experientia’s Putting People First blog has been redesigned. It is now entirely responsive, allows for easier browsing, searching, and filtering, and features larger images on the posts. The entire history of posts remains accessible as before. We are still tweaking things and welcome any feedback.

27 November 2014
Why the world needs anthropologists – an update

Why the world needs anthropologists – Coming out of the ivory tower Location: Padua, Italy, Centro Culturale Altinate/San Gaetano Date and time: Friday, 5 December 2014, 13:00 – 18:00 Padua, Italy, 5 December 2014 – The second edition of the international symposium of applied anthropologists attempts to erase the boundary between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ anthropology, […]

30 October 2014
The BancoSmart ATM by Experientia for UniCredit selected for ADI Design Index

Last year Experientia designed the interface of an ATM of UniCredit, a major Italian bank. The interface is now rolled out across the bank’s ATMs in Italy, to great satisfaction of the bank and the customers alike, since interaction speed is much faster and error rates went down dramatically. Last year UniCredit and Experientia also […]

See all articles