Learnings from the Summer Innovation program

shashi1.pngThe Summer Innovation Program is something special. It is not a typical internship where you spend the summer working on one project with one group or engineer. We asked our interns to work together to build a product using a creative design thinking process, test it with customers, and build a prototype. For most of the interns, it was their first exposure to group work, customer interviewing, rapid prototyping, and having a lot of creative control over their assigned projects.

We chose students who have done interesting things – some have apps in the App store, some have amazing volunteer experience, and others are running their own businesses. This resulted in a pleasant mix of technical, artistic, and business skillsets. In fact, we had a number of generalists in our group. What they had in common was a willingness to think different, to take risks and step outside of their comfort zones. In my experience, the most amazing things happen when you are outside of your comfort zone. You are forced to apply uncommon thinking to the problem at hand, you’re willing to learn from others, and you’re willing to try solutions you might have previously dismissed.

We pulled our interns out of their comfort zones by having them conduct face-to-face customer interviews on the very second day of their internship.  This is important because we wanted them to build products that struck a nerve with their customers and interacting with them is the best approach! We taught the interns how to have open-ended conversations to develop key insights about problems people experience. The interns became expert interviewers- they could identify a few key characteristics of their customers with two questions and could get to useful key insights within 5 minutes.  One group spoke to 79 people in eight hours, another 140 in two days!


Using what they learned, the interns sorted the pain points by severity. We asked them to find a “migraine” problem- one so severe, you will do anything to make it go away. Contrast this with a “headache” or minor problem, where you may have a lot of options- sleep it off, take a cheap Tylenol, meditate, etc. Customers will tell you when they have a migraine by expressing frustration, anguish, or resignation with the problem, and offer ways they work around it. By focusing on these problems, the interns learned to let go of ideas that sounded good, but didn’t really solve anything. This is really tough lesson for any entrepreneur to learn, but the flip side is that when you’re solving a big problem, you will delight your customers.

Once they had a migraine problem, we asked the interns to build something. For our one-week interns, we asked them to refine their concept into a presentation, with a short demo or low-resolution prototype (made literally with crafting supplies!). Our two-week interns actually built functional mockups of their concepts using code and hardware.  We had our teams work together, bounce ideas off each other, and constantly test their mockups with customers. By the time they were done, each team came back with stories of customers they interviewed wanting to order their product (concepts)!

The very last part of the internship focused on storytelling. We didn’t want dry presentations about facts and figures. Instead, we wanted the interns to build a story around a persona, their ideal customer, and their journey with their product.  In doing so, they were able to envision not only how people might use the product today, but also, how they’d want to use it in the future. That’s where the really interesting concepts came from.


Figure 1. UI Mockups of a Painted: Makeup Selection App


Figure 2. We encourage visual storytelling

Watching it click

We loved the projects that the interns come up with in the program and we’re eager to see what they do with what they learned. Many of the students told us that this summer really changed the way they look at problem solving. We taught the interns the how of what they’re doing as well as why they’re doing it this way. We know that they will meld that together into a framework that they understand, that’s integrated into their own behavior. It’s amazing to watch that unfold.

These young people can get so much done when they push themselves beyond their comfort zones, they set a goal, seek out a big problem, right-size the process, and most importantly, get out of the building and talk to people. With this simple framework, we saw students push themselves harder and results that impressed seasoned engineers Inside of Intel (so much that we’re building on some of the projects). We can’t wait to do this again next summer!