What can start-ups learn from design thinking?

28 Mar 2017

Lesley Tully, head of design thinking, Bank of Ireland. Image: Connor McKenna

Bank of Ireland’s Lesley Tully on the core principles of design thinking and the start-ups she has tipped for success.

Design thinking is being adopted by organisations big and small as a new way to tackle problems. According to Lesley Tully, head of design thinking at Bank of Ireland, there’s no reason why this methodology can’t work for start-ups.

“One of the core principles of design thinking is its human-centric approach to problem solving. What that means is design thinking is focused on generating deep consumer insights; hidden needs around consumers and non-consumers of your product or service,” she explained.

“Any start-up, any business that is using that methodology will allow itself [to] understand its customers better.”

‘Any start-up using that methodology will allow itself to understand its customers better’

Tully will bring her insights on design thinking to the Inspirefest stage this summer, where, last year, aficionados such as Lorna Ross and Mark Curtis offered helpful advice on this new approach to business.

Curtis, co-founder of Fjord (part of Accenture Interactive), outlined a three-point process involving design thinking, design doing and design culture. Ross – who was then director of design at the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation but has since joined Curtis at Fjord – explained how her perspective as a designer helped to drive innovation in healthcare.

For Tully, who has a background in the arts, her design instinct is brought to bear on an age-old institution intent on modernising and staking its claim amid the start-up ecosystem. Lately, Bank of Ireland has been actively pursuing entrepreneurs through a variety of inviting platforms.

Just days ago, the six start-ups selected for StartLab West, Bank of Ireland’s incubator based in Galway, were announced. This follows another recent announcement that saw the bank open an incubation space for Irish start-ups in New York City.

Outside of its own operation, the bank supports mature entrepreneurs on the ISAX programme at DCU Ryan Academy, sponsors Startup Grind speaking session in Dublin and Limerick, and is headline sponsor of the Startup Awards 2017 (which has been extended for entries up to 3 April).

And then there are the Bank of Ireland Workbenches in Galway, Dublin, Limerick and Cork. With hot desks and coffee at hand, these spaces give start-ups what they need to get down to business without private office space (which is a significant cost for early-stage companies to bear).

Success stories

While a start-up supporting bank cuts an attractive figure for fintechs and payments players, Bank of Ireland is open to working with entrepreneurs in any sector. “We’re certainly seeing an increase in [artificial intelligence] (AI) and [internet of things] (IoT) start-ups,” said Tully.

“We work closely with an AI company called Atrovate, which is a machine intelligence company. And then we also work with a company called HaySaver, which is an IoT company.”

To date, though, the bank’s biggest start-up successes are working in transactions. Tully singled out Deposify and Plynk as the “two greatest success stories from Workbench”.

Deposify is, according to Tully, “targeting a very broken problem in society” by tackling the fraught tenancy-landlord relationship with security deposit management. Plynk is a social payments start-up with an app they are now scaling throughout colleges in Ireland.

These and more start-ups are passing through Bank of Ireland’s Workbench network. Dotted around the country, the Workbenches are built as bright, productive spaces suited to both collaboration and independent work – not to mention that all-important design thinking.

“Creativity is vital and it’s no longer a question in organisations or workspaces, so Workbenches and our StartLabs are deliberately designed to harness creativity and collaboration,” said Tully. “It’s very much a space for people to have organised chaos, as we like to say.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get your Early Bird tickets.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.