Business Planning for Biomimicry

An introduction to identifying a market strategy

This section provides an introduction to business planning that will help you identify potential pathways to market. First, we’ll introduce you to two business innovation tools that you can use to start planning: the Business Model Canvas and The Value Proposition Canvas.  Next we’ll  provide some suggestions for how to make sure your innovation fits and provides value within the context of your customers’ needs.

Why Business Planning is Essential

Biomimicry is a powerful force for sustainable innovation. However, the reality is that many innovative ideas, biomimetic or not, do not find success in the market. Some fail because they were not designed in context for a specific, viable market need, others due to a lack of resources needed to get to market. Biomimetic solutions are often disruptive innovations that can be seen as a threat to entrenched competitors’ interests. For these reasons, market entrants need to identify mutually beneficial ways of working with industry players and points of entry into a market ecosystem. Alternatively, innovators must sometimes create their own ecosystems to get their product or service to market. It all starts by taking a systems view.

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With the support of our partners and global network, the Biomimicry Institute’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge Accelerator program offers design teams mentorship, advice from industry experts, and the opportunity to compete for cash prizes to overcome these market entry hurdles. Visit the challenge website to learn more: challenge.biomimicry.org

Business Innovation Tools

The Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas are business innovation tools developed by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur and featured in their books Business Model Generation and Value Proposition Design.  These iterative, ideation tools work well for entrepreneurship and disruptive innovations.  For the purposes of this introduction, we’ll focus on two sections of the Business Model Canvas – value propositions and customer/stakeholder segments.

Business Model Generation (2010) and  Value Proposition Design (2014) by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur.

Serial entrepreneur Steve Blank, developer of the Lean LaunchPad approach to start-ups, highlights two reasons for using the Business Model Canvas: to organize one’s thinking and to turn hypotheses/guesses into facts.  Steve recommends “getting out of the building” to gain customer insights, as a planning step that comes before writing a (business) plan.  We agree, and in the case of biomimicry, we naturally recommend getting outside to gain nature’s too.

A Biomimicry Business Model Canvas

Because we want to remember to use nature as mentor in all aspects of design and business innovation, we have integrated some of nature’s unifying patterns into the Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvase to create what we call the Biomimicry Business Model Canvas.

A good method for using the Canvas is for your team to jot down individual thoughts and ideas onto sticky notes that can be grouped and moved about on the canvas.  Visualizing a variety of scenarios will help you identify priorities and needs in your design process.

Biomimicry Business Model Canvas (PDF)

Download a three page PDF of these tools.

Click image above to enlarge the gallery. The Biomimicry Business Model Canvas is adapted from the Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas. The original tools are available at www.strategyzer.com.

Fit: Designing in context

 

Fit is the essence of how nature works.  An organism must fit into its ecosystem by exchanging value with other organisms or its environment in some manner. Good fit is essential in the business environment, too. In the early phase of business planning and innovation, you must find a fit between a specific value you might create and a customer.

Source: Value Proposition Design, Strategyzer.com

Fit is the result of a winning connection between two (of nine) blocks in the Business Model Canvas: value proposition and customer segment.  These blocks are the priority to consider in the early design phase of your biomimetic idea.

Nature’s designs fit into a specific ecosystem and context; so should your design.  Think about fit to connect your design concept to a viable market niche.  Fit is hard to find and maintain and, just as in nature, your business model needs to fit a niche and then be adaptable to disturbance. Your team will start with hypotheses, or guesses about needs and wants for a customer segment.  You will prove or reject your hypotheses as you research and iterate.  Prototyping your solution will provide the opportunity to assess for true product-market fit.

Customer/Stakeholder Segments


A customer/stakeholder segment defines the people or organization(s) an enterprise aims to reach and serve.


 

Customer segmentation is the first step in thinking about value proposition. Focusing on the most important, most frequent or most bothersome job your customers face will help identify the value you can offer to a specific customer segment. A “job” is anything your customers are trying to achieve. A job is context specific to its environment. Some jobs are more important than others and a job can be a functional task or a social/emotional role.

Some customer segments are bigger or more profitable than others. Some have highly specialized needs. Many social enterprises focus on important needs that are not profitable in our current market economy and not all problems can or should be monetized.

A student from the German University in Cairo interviews a stakeholder in Fayoum, Egypt. The University’s team, Egy-Osmo, developed a camel-inspired irrigation and pest-control strategy that won grand prize in the 2012-13 Biomimicry Student Design Challenge.

Many of the global challenges we face today are the result of flaws in our economic models and require people to look more broadly to system level solutions. In order to address these market failures, teams may address needs of both “customers” AND “stakeholders.”  Stakeholders include investors, funders, program intermediaries or service providers, beneficiaries and other constituents. Whether the stakeholder is exchanging a monetary currency or not, the value proposition should still meet the criteria of helping solve one of the stakeholder’s jobs, while creating gain and/or reducing pain. Teams should consider the scale of the need for stakeholders and customers in their design concepts.

Value Propositions

A team from Belgium demonstrates the Wakati value proposition of reducing food waste with an efficient, low-cost evaporative cooler inspired by honeybees. The design won second place in the 2012 Biomimicry Student Design Challenge.

A value proposition is a bundle of products and/or services that you can offer to a customer. It is a list of features, advantages and benefits that can range from tangible goods to intangible experiences. Nature’s strategies are multi-functional and locally attuned and responsivea value proposition should be, too.

Value comes in many formsinsurance that provides access to future health services, immediate online recommendations for books, and experiential value from attending a concert. Whatever the bundle of products and services you offer, the combined value should help your customer or stakeholder meet an essential need or want, or help them perform one of their jobs. A value proposition must be compelling in the context of existing alternatives and resilient to future disturbances.

In Value Proposition Design Osterwalder and Pigneur state, “You achieve fit when customers get excited about your value proposition, which happens when you address important jobs, alleviate extreme pains, and create essential gains that customers care about.”

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