How startups can find success using an ideation process

In our latest Guest Post, Justin Eames, Head of Innovation at digital product development studio fish in a bottle discusses how startups can create an ideation process to boost innovation.

Many studies show that startups who adopt an ideation process are more likely to succeed than those who don’t.

If coming up with great ideas is key to the success of your startup, then considering how you can manage and improve that can give you the competitive edge.

This is particularly true for digital startups, where the complexities of software development makes getting from ‘great idea’ to ‘great product’ especially challenging.

In this short article I want to encourage anyone leading a startup, whether they consider they are inventing something new or not, to build an ideation process into the fabric of their business.

To get that off the ground you don’t need to make a big investment in time or money, or adopt complex processes. The benefits of a structured approach to innovation can come from just a small number of easy to implement steps.

The typical picture of a digital startup has a visionary founder – the entrepreneur – at the helm, driving the direction of a product while a team around them are tasked with delivering it.

The visionary founder usually works at the highest level of the concept while the team around them are responsible for making decisions about technology, design, customers, marketing and finance.

For the product to succeed, each of those areas must align and have input into the ideas that drive the business. Doing that without a process can be very challenging.

For startups, success requires them to identify where the needs of their users, the requirements of their business and the possibilities of design and technology meet. Once they find that point they are on their way to finding success. This is where an ideation process comes into play.

84% of executives say that innovation is important to their growth strategy, according to a study by McKinsey. Given that statistic, it’s surprising that so few identify it as an activity that someone within their business should own.
So all businesses should consider assigning someone to the role of Head of Innovation. Even the most resource-poor startup can do that as this doesn’t have to be their only role, or a major time drain. All that’s required is that there is someone with the authority and responsibility to ensure that the process of generating ideas is managed, in the same way that any other mission critical aspect of a business are managed.

Setting this up need not be a daunting task, there are tried and tested ideation processes from which to draw on and plenty of case studies demonstrating their success. For a long time, organisations that rely on ideas for their success have recognised that ideation, when untamed, is a chaotic and time consuming activity with hit-and-miss results.

As far back as 1942, Alex Osborn (the O of famous advertising agency BBDO) proposed techniques and strategies for generating creative ideas. His book, “How to Think Up”, argues that creativity is not an innate talent but a skill that can be developed through methods and practice. More recently, IDEO (famous for inventing the first computer mouse for Apple) coined the term “Design Thinking”, applying it to their set of ideation methods.

Any ideation process for digital products will do well to draw on those “Design Thinking” methods including empathising with users to understand their needs and experiences, formally defining the problem, ideating and prototyping possible solutions, as well as testing and iterating on those solutions based on user feedback.  This approach has proven to be highly effective and there are many case studies to support that.

For instance, Airbnb used design thinking to completely redesign its website and user experience, turning them from a failing business to a thriving business. An ideation process for digital products should segway comfortably into project management methodologies like Agile Scrum, joining up the complete digital product development process from vision to ideation and through to production and iterative delivery. It’s certainly never too late to build an ideation process into any business, but there is no doubt that doing so from the earliest stage brings huge advantages.

My advice is to keep your ideation process simple and appropriate for the outcomes you need. As your business grows you’ll find you naturally add stages and people to the ideation process. As your business grows, you can start viewing it as a part of a wider innovation function of your business.

Justin Eames is Head of Innovation at digital product development studio fish in a bottle. He’s the creator of The Ideation Framework, an open methodology that’s designed to improve innovation within startups and small teams.

Celebrating Female Founders on IWD

At AIN we believe that promoting female entrepreneurship is central to economic growth and meaningful innovation.

This IWD we wanted to celebrate female entrepreneurs and at the same time, acknowledge the need to boost both the number of female startups and also female investors to ensure we can truly democratise angel investment.

According to research from Pitchbook female-founded companies in Europe have received just 1.3% of VC funding since 2017.

Having more diversity across the whole startup ecosystem would help. Research by Beauhurst and the UKBAA found just 14% of female angel investors are women, but having more women investors could help to shift the dynamic.

AIN Head Of Impact and exited founder of GrubClub Olivia Sibony launched our Female Founders page to provide our audience with access to companies led by one or more female founder on the UK Angel Investment Network.

This is the first step in our journey to bring together a community interested in funding and supporting women-led businesses. Check out some of the innovative startups currently looking for funding.

According to Sibony: “Women represent 51% of the population. By far the largest under-served population in the world. In an increasingly uncertain world, we cannot succeed if we carry on with the status quo. A key to change, is to bringing new voices in to the narrative. Women have such a powerful voice that can help balance the perspective and help bring about fresh thinking.”

Over the past year we have been thrilled to support exciting businesses with female led founding teams including Period care and sexual health brand Here We Flo who raised £1.7m in an angel funding round, supported by AIN.

Here We Flo’s mission is ‘shamelessly natural care for life’s messiest moments’. The brand intends to challenge, shame and disrupt the period, bladder and sexual wellness markets with organic and vegan products. Here We Flo was created by university friends Susan Allen and Tara Chandra. (pictured at the top of the article.)

We also saw another incredible business, Birmingham-based smart-EV and energy storage startup WAU (We Are Universal) raising £650,000 in a pre-seed funding round. Crystal Drury (pictured above), co-founded the business alongside Linas Pozerskis. 

When asked about the importance of gender balance in founding teams they said “Diversity allows you to see the same situation from multiple powerful angles.”

Meanwhile sisters Katie and Amanda McCourt are co-founders of sustainable underwear disrupter Pantee. They raised successfully on the AIN platform last year, with investors buying into their creation of the world’s first underwear brand made from deadstock t-shirts. The duo are currently raising again. Check out their pitch.

Co-founders of Pantee, Katie and Amanda McCourt

We hope these successful startups can help inspire other women to launch their own businesses and potentially go on the become angel investors themselves.

According to Head of Marketing at AIN, Marisa Scullion: “We understand platforms such as ours need to help push the dial and make funding and supporting women-led business accessible and achievable. There are now many fantastic fundraising platforms made for women, led by women, inspired by women which is motivating. Women have a huge role to play in the growth of the tech industry and we want to help bring together our community interested in funding and supporting women-led businesses. It will benefit the whole startup ecosytem”

If you’re looking for an angel investor to help fund your business, then the Angel Investment Network can help. Sign up to pitch your business to investors all over the world