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3 Things to Know About Business Innovation Lab

MMM Co-Director Greg Holderfield talks about the unique elements of Business Innovation Lab, the culminating course in a student's MMM experience.

Greg Holderfield believes a human-centered approach, and a design thinking methodology can be applied to any area of human experiences. As executive director of the Northwestern University's Segal Design Institute and co-director of MMM, a dual-degree program between Northwestern Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management, Holderfield has spent the past decade showing students how human-centered design can help solve problems of all shapes and sizes.

The human-centered design approach is emphasized throughout the two-year program, but nowhere is it more prominent, and potentially more impactful, than in the program's Business Innovation Lab (BIL), a two-quarter culmination of lessons learned during MMM. 

Greg Holderfield"Business Innovation Lab gives students a highly contextualized learning experience that ultimately builds their confidence as an innovator, while enabling them to see two years of learning brought into practice in one class," Holderfield said. "That's very unique, and very tangible."

In the course, groups of four to six students are led by a design faculty member and directly engage with an industry partner to address a challenge facing the business. Topics range from social, environmental, lifestyle, transportation, hospitality, healthcare, and financial innovation. The most recent BIL partnered with:


Holderfield recently sat down to share three important things to know about BIL and how students benefit from the course.

Business Innovation Lab offers a unique training ground to implement the lessons learned in MMM and have a real impact on a company.

"The goal of Business Innovation Lab is to build our students' confidence as they leave MMM to go out and do innovation. Part of the pedagogy of MMM is to have a certain level of repetition of subject matter, because we don't believe you can take one design thinking class and become an expert at design thinking. This class builds in some repetition that enables the students to practice and learn through a real experience — not theoretical, not case-based, but a real application with real constraints. We believe that's the best path forward to learn this type of work. You're putting the students in context with the stakeholders, with the challenge, and with the constraints, so they're living it."

The BIL projects are for some of the biggest-named companies in the world, and these companies recognize the value and uniqueness of MMM. 

"One of the things I hear over and over from our challenge partners is the MMM program and these students are exactly what we need and who we need to hire. They say that they didn't realize business students had these skills. Being innovative and doing innovation work is hard. Not everyone has the mindset or the skillset to do it, but MMMs do, and it positions them really well to go on in a variety of business innovation roles."

One of those roles is product management, and Business Innovation Lab is a great test-run at the life of a product manager.

"Business Innovation Lab is a perfect product management playground. You're seeing and acting on the problem end-to-end, and that's what a product manager needs to do. They need to see and act holistically. This really galvanizes the learning for them in a really intimate and unique way."

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