Participants in the EADA International Master in Sustainable Business & Innovation Valentina Quiroga (Bolivia), Teresa Vaz (Portugal) and José Ramón Benítez (Puerto Rico) based their final project on a real business proposal. The challenge lay in bringing to market the innovative technology developed by the spin-off company Mosaic. This technology, which belongs to the Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, enables the installation of rooftop urban gardens and integrated greenhouses on top of public and commercial buildings.
Mosaic: An innovative system of rooftop agriculture
Mosaic developed an innovative system of rooftop hydrophonic agriculture that promotes local agriculture as well as being environmentally sound and sustainable. Hydrophonics is a method of growing plants without the use of soil, minimising water consumption through the use of mineral nutrient solutions. This cultivation technique, when applied on an urban scale, can be a key factor in using resources efficiently.
For Valentina, the Mosaic project offered a first-hand look into a circular economy. “The Mosaic system makes the most of local resources, guarantees the re-use of materials, supports local production and has a low environmental impact,” she points out. “The system captures rainwater, sunlight and residual energy from buildings that is in turn reused in greenhouses integrated onto rooftops — one of the most unused spaces in today’s cities.”
According to José Ramón, the social inclusion aspect of the project was particularly inspiring. “These urban gardens can be used for horticultural therapy and for growing food for disadvantaged communities,” he says. “In this way, it achieves the triple bottom line in social, environmental and financial impact.”
Design Thinking for sustainable products
To complete the final project, the participants integrated Design Thinking, a problem-solving methodology employed throughout the master programme. Design Thinking uses five different phases to create and reinvent products, services, processes and business models.
The first phase is about empathising with the user in order to uncover hidden patterns, desires and needs. This is a key step in defining the core problem (the second phase). The participants began their project by interviewing approximately twenty potential consumers and creating an empathy map integrating their comments and concerns. “We just had conversations with them,” says Teresa. “It was more like an ethnographic exploration than a typical interview.”
In the second phase, the problem is defined through a thorough analysis of the data collected – in this case, from interviews. This analysis leads to the next step, idea generation. “We spent hours identifying possible solutions and selecting the most promising ones,” explains José Ramón.
The process then moves on to the final stages of prototyping and testing carried our with real users. “The big advantage of Design Thinking is that it allowed us to confirm if our proposals were adapted to the expectations of the users and if they answered their real needs,” says José Ramón. “Instead of doing the typical market research, we explored the market from a human-centered perspective.”
The final project provides participants with the opportunity to apply what they have learned throughout the year to a consulting project with a real company. Participants use the the hard and soft skills that they have acquired during the programme to identify solutions that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.