A recent InnoChat Twitter chat topic was Design Entrepreneurship for Social Impact, and one of the questions was “What does Design Entrepreneurship cover that Design and Entrepreneurship severally do not?”

It was interesting to think about how the combination of those two words potentially changed the meaning. It didn’t truly hit home for me until I was working last week with teams for our statewide collegiate business plan competition, the Donald W Reynolds Governor’s Cup.

The Governor’s Cup is a competition I participated in while getting my MBA at the University of Tulsa, and I have mentored teams for TU every year since. I was helping with practice interviews for the teams and asking them to explain their product, technology, and business.

Each team this year has technology that was developed on campus by one or more of the team members, which is different from prior years when students looked for outside technologies to use for the competition. Because these students developed technologies during research and then presented them to be used in the business plan competition, teams were challenged with finding valuable uses for the technologies across any and all industries.

It presented an interesting contrast of entrepreneurship and what the #InnoChat defined as Design Entrepreneurship.

Design Entrepreneurship, particularly when focused on Social Impact, involves seeing a problem and finding a way to solve it. The design and creation is specific to the issue at hand. The Governor’s Cup teams have existing designs and technologies they are looking to use to solve problems. These are two very different ways to approach problem solving.

Invention Infographic

Via Askipedia

And you know I love to think about problem solving.

I do not think one method is better than the other, I can see benefits to both.

Designing something to solve a problem is talked about a lot in terms of big, world-changing innovations and rockstar businesses much more than adapting existing technology to a problem. Alan Turing wanted to break the Nazi code Enigma and created the basis for the computer. (I just saw The Imitation Game – go see it if you haven’t. Really.) Larry Page and Sergey Brin wanted more relevant search results and created Google.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles that say the best way to start a business is to find a problem to solve. This one from Entrepreneur and this one from Forbes are two examples.

However, some of the world’s great inventions came from a technology that was developed (sometimes accidentally) and a use or purpose had to be found for it. Post-it notes are a perfect example for this.

While designing a solution to a problem seems very obvious, taking an existing technology and trying to find a way to make it a solution can lead to fascinating results. Spencer Silver, the creator of the Post-It note, was trying to create a super strong adhesive, not one that was easily removable, and it took 6 years to figure out how the removable adhesive could be used to solve a problem.

In much the same way, the TU Governor’s Cup teams have developed cool and useful technologies, but they are still looking for the right problems to solve. They are using a different type of creativity and process to solve problems.

I think anytime someone finds a solution to a problem, it is a win. I love working with the teams and guiding them through the process.  I cannot wait to see if any of them are able to make their technologies viable businesses, turning research and invention into innovation.

Do you have experience with either of these problem solving perspectives? Do you think one is better than the other? I would love to hear your thoughts!