Hackathonmania finds inspiration from makers to open innovation during innovation marathons. In Brazil, Natura, leader in natural cosmetics, organized its own this summer with the MIT Medialab. Deciphering of a method.
São Paulo, from our correspondent (text and photos)
It has become the icing on the cake of innovation. The hackathon, makethon even createthon (sic)is now a part of company strategy. The hackathonmania embodies a company to accelerate innovation, the army,, and even the Republic at the Elysee palace. Originally, hackathons were lead by the free and open source communities in view of sharing and co-creation. The model has expanded and has been perverted to capture and privatize collective intelligence in exchange for visibility, a price, even hard cash..
Makery wanted to analyze that hackathon method that combines prestigious institutions and amateur coders, for better or for worse. Natura, leader in cosmetics of natural origin in Brazil, organized an internal hackathon in São Paulo at the end of the summer to develop new products. Co-organized by the prestigious MIT Medialab and the design agency IDEO in an over-equipped temporary lab, this makethon was supervised by a team of Medialab students.
Makethons, dedicated to the rapid development of tangible prototypes, are not only equipped with computers but also with machines, electronics and prototyping tools, like what one is likely to find in a fablab or a makerspace. For this collaboration with the Medialab, Natura organized a one-week sprint in fablab mode with eight students of the Medialab as fabmanagers.
According to Fabiana Tarabal, coordinator of this makethon at Natura, this event was “the opportunity to go in depth into the open innovation work we have been carrying out for several years. We have 200 researchers at Natura, but we know there is inevitably more intelligence outside our walls. When we develop certain new projects, we get the support of our network of universities, companies and start-ups to collaborate with them. The MIT Medialab has been one of our partners for several years.”
Stated objective: explore the possibilities offered by new technologies in relation to the use of cosmetics, since “the application of lipstick has barely changed since ancient Egypt”. And the question put to the participants was formulated as follows: “Can one innovate in the cosmetics user experience?”
Natura selected eight project leaders, invited to the offices of Natura in São Paulo during 6 days to develop their ideas in a very intensive way. Ari Adler, a former Medialab member, who works for the design agency IDEO, supervised the Brazilian students and the Medialab students immersing themselves in the Natura culture, understanding the issue by carrying out interviews of employees and especially meeting users of the products.
A three-day immersion “particularly useful for all the groups”, says Carol Rozendo, one of the students selected. “It allowed us to be aware of the challenges and users’ desires, meet MIT students…But we got rid of or tremendously modified the ideas thanks to which we had been selected…”
The client is king… of the prototype
The place of users was central. They took part on several occasions to talk about their habits, manipulate prototypes and offer feedback. For Fabiana Tarabal, “this way of functioning is known in the world of software, not so much in the cosmetics world. We are relying on users beforehand then during focus groups, but having them around for the whole length of product prototyping is new for us.”
During the second part of the Natura makethon, the teams comprising a Brazilian project leader, a Medialab student and Natura experts were given 72 hours to prototype intensively within a temporary fablab with a kitchen and an area to sleep, or at least, rest… For Joe Paradiso,director of the MIT laboratory Things that Thinkwho was present for the makethon, the mantra was simple: “It’s all about prototype”.
Isa Sobrinho, one of the participants summarizes: “We were asked to produce extremely simple physical prototypes to give the green light to each concept, each idea, and from there, if these concepts were approved, we would go into them in depth by developing new prototypes. Finding ourselves with these competent people from MIT is almost terrifying, but everything is going very fast.”
The Medialab students actually have a high level of knowledge in electronics as well as programming, in the use of digitally commanded machines but also in more classical prototyping made from glue guns, LEGO, cutting and assembling cardboard. For Gershon Dublon, Medialab student, “it’s an opportunity for us to work in an environment different from our MIT labs, meet new people and drop our daily issues.”
During these last three days, the teams got very little sleep, producing one creation after the other to present to users, ask Natura professionals for advice on formulations, the possible products and the rules to abide by. Ari Adler was moving from group to group to unblock certain situations.
A non cosmetic price…
The final presentation took place in front of several directors who assessed and chose the laureates. The two people selected were invited to pursue their project at Medialab for 5 months, Natura taking on all the expenses. Three other projects are being developed today at Natura in the open innovation logic. The students who started them remain consultants.
Surprisingly, the projects selected for the Medialab are neither the property of Natura or the students. Intellectual property is managed by the Medialab that offers members of its consortium the use of the patents filed for a certain time and free of charge. Mindstorm LEGOs originate from this system.
For Fabiana Tarabal, in charge of innovation at Natura, this type of event “invents new ways of working for large companies, much more agile, but also raises numerous questions of new culture. Make people understand that the ugly and unfinished prototype of this week will be different next week instead of six months later, it’s a challenge for the deciders as well as for the teams that would not want to show them”.