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Students studying in Sauder’s d.studio are making a tangible difference for the companies they work with, including one team this past semester that created a whole new product which may soon find its way to store shelves.

In Design Strategies for Business Innovation, an interdisciplinary class now open to students from across UBC's campus, students from a range of academic backgrounds work in teams to solve challenges for real businesses. Every student brings a different perspective to the table as each group applies the d.studio strategic design principles to solve a business problem for a different company.

The freedom to take risks

One team worked with Terramera PlantScience, a Vancouver-based startup creating plant-based and environmentally friendly products to replace conventional pesticides.

The students had the freedom to make their own project, so they chose to work in Terramera’s growing consumer sector, which recently landed a deal with Walmart.

“We wanted to work where we could add the most value,” says team member Gurleen Singh Bhatia, a BCom student specializing in marketing. He and his team workied closely with Terramera’s VP Strategy Maria Pacella, who Bhatia says let them make their own choices in the project.

“She gave us the freedom to experiment and to take risks,” he says. “We would come up with creative and even crazy ideas and, instead of shooting them down, she would help us evaluate them one by one.”

He says that at one point in the semester, he and his teammates were growing frustrated as they felt they couldn’t make as much impact as they initially envisioned – so they decided to up the ante and propose an entirely new product for Terramera. Pacella told them to go for it.

Going beyond normal

They came up with a concept for an all-natural gardening pesticide, with numerous features backed up with an extensive market analysis.

Mock-up by Kara Anderson“We found that pesticides didn’t appeal to consumers because of the way they look, so we decided to focus on designing new packaging and a brand that helps consumers know the product is not just a ‘traditional’ pesticide,” Bhatia says. “The whole point of this class is to go beyond normal, and offer innovation through design thinking. If the company would come up with the same idea, then they wouldn’t need us.”

The students pitched the product not only to Pacella, but also to the company's founder and to a few retailers and wholesalers interested in taking the product to market. Pacella says Terramera may well roll it out within the coming year.

“In the end, we were more than thrilled with the output and the process,” Pacella says, adding that she didn’t know what to expect from Terramera’s first time working with the d.studio. “It was great to see them come up with a concept from scratch and take it all the way to a full proposal.”

The lecturer for the d.studio class, Dharini Thiruchittampalam, says the Terramera project was just one example of the impact that d.studio students are making on the organizations they’re working with.

“Every client this semester has expressed an interest in implementing at least part of what the students put forward,” Thiruchittampalam says. “We’re very proud of the creative ideas and practical plans they came up with.

Bringing business skills across UBC

This year was the first year the design strategies class was open to students from across campus, part of a developing pattern at Sauder of bringing business skills to non-business students. Bhatia was working with two other marketing students as well as students from economics and environmental design.

Kara Anderson, the environmental design student, says she enjoyed how the class was a departure from any other course she’d ever taken.

“I actually see business school in a different light now,” she says. “I can see how valuable it was for me to learn a different way of thinking.”

The other students in the d.studio this past semester worked on projects for nine other clients including the Vancouver Canucks, Habitat for Humanity and iRobotic Aviation, a Vancouver social enterprise working with drones and employing Aboriginal youth.

The class is part of Sauder’s BCom program and run by the d.studio, established in 2009 by Sauder Professor Moura Quayle, who is now Director of UBC’s Liu Institute for Global Issues. This semester’s classes were taught by Thiruchittampalam as well as Lecturer Patrick Pennefather. Quayle continues to lead the d.studio, which applies the toolkit of the designer to business challenges.