When Wells Fargo’s internal innovation group came up with a new client services concept, they turned to the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic for help validating their idea.
The Clinic is the applied learning home base for NC State’s graduate and undergraduate students interested in entrepreneurship. It’s where the students, with the guidance of their professors, work with clients – from startups to corporations – to help the clients validate their solutions and identify next steps.
“The Digital Business Development and Innovation team at Wells Fargo is a small, tightly knit group that operates more like a startup within a traditional large enterprise,” said Danny Sanford, in response to an email interview about the project with Poole College Communications.
Sanford, an NC State alumnus, and Steve Perez are members of the Digital Business Development and Innovation at Wells Fargo; Perez was the student team’s liaison for the project.
“One of our main goals is to accelerate digital innovation. Last fall, we connected with the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic to leverage their capability oriented partnership program,” Sanford said.
“The diverse background and functional expertise of the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic provides a great complementary independent perspective on key strategic assessments through the lens of someone outside of the financial services industry,” Sanford said. “It’s a valued perspective, especially for Wells Fargo, because everything we do revolves around the customer. So, having multiple approaches to understanding our customers is a valuable exercise for our team.”
The Wells Fargo project was one of several presented to students in the NC State Jenkins MBA program’s Launching Entrepreneurial Ventures course (MBA 590) at the start of the fall 2018 semester. A team of four MBA students in that course – Taylor Utecht, Cody Shipman, Shyam Ram, and Krupa Stephen Gadde – thought their combined technical and entrepreneurial skills were a good fit for the project.
“We selected the project after looking at the company’s application and deciding that we wanted to tackle a Fintech challenge in a huge market,” Gadde said.
The team developed MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and POC (Proof of Concept) – tools that startups use to verify the assumptions about their final product. They also developed a prototype of the platform and tested it with potential customers before submitting their results to the company.
A Resource for Innovation Teams
Prior to bringing the project to the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic,” Sanford said, “Wells Fargo conducted an internal ideation session that resulted in a potential product in the financial service space. We engaged NC State to explore the market for the product and to develop a working prototype.
One of their first steps with the NC State MBA team, Perez said, was to work with the students to develop a survey, to execute primary research and assess the market demand for this type of tool, options to scale up the tools, and customers’ willingness to participate.
Results of that survey “helped us better understand customer demand and the broad areas of interest for customers,” Perez said.
The students’ working prototype of the product “helped surface some of the technical, business strategy, and design issues we needed to address to bring this to market,” he said.
“The Wells Fargo team we worked with was very happy with the outcome in the end,” Gadde said. “They were glad that their concept was tested with customer validation and research, and appreciated our weekly communications regarding the status of the project and the deliverables. They also appreciated our recommendations for making the platform successful,” he said.
The students, in turn, leveraged the partnership approach that the company brought to the project, including “providing some of the data from their perspective that enabled us to remove bias from the survey analysis,” Gadde said.
“We had a positive experience working with students in the Clinic,” Sanford said. “After we initially explained the concept to the students in detail, they approached it like a consulting engagement, asking probing questions, defining the scope, and providing updates via videoconferencing. The four-person team was multidisciplinary, and included students with backgrounds in consumer technology, manufacturing, and engineering.”
What the Students Did
“As a team, with the help of Professor Jeff Pollack and Gabe (Gabe Gonzalez, program manager at the Clinic), we delivered the full scope of the project, including the MVP,” Gadde said. “We also did UI/UX (user interface and user experience) testing for the MVP, and provided end-user feedback. In this sense, we did more than the scope and what Wells Fargo asked us,” he said.
“We followed agile methodology and two-week sprints to track our deliverables, and had weekly updates going to the Wells Fargo Innovation team, as well as to Professor Pollack and Gabe,” he said.
“We also provided the risks involved in the conceptual idea, the obstacles to its success and our recommendations – based on research and analysis – to make the idea successful. And, we provided the data privacy and user privacy recommendations and regulations involved in making the platform successful,” Gadde said. “Our presentation of the MVP that we built for the concept, via a Zoom conference call, was attended by many of the WF team members,” he added.
The NC State students’ work helped Wells Fargo determine whether to pursue this product, a process still underway, Sanford said.
“For me, I learned the process for turning concepts and ideas into products. It also was a great experience for me to learn how internal innovative ideas are tested for validation in the real world” Gadde said.
“It was wonderful to work with my team members. I think this is the best team that I ever had in my life (career as well as school). And, it goes without saying that Professor Pollack was a huge help in making this project successful, as well as Gabe.”
About the MBA 590 Course and the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic
The Launching Entrepreneurial Ventures course (MBA 590) was established in fall 2017. While based in the NC State Jenkins MBA program at Poole College, the course is open to all graduate students at NC State who meet the qualifications. Students enrolled in this course form part of the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic, a part of entrepreneurship education at NC State University.
Participating companies submit projects that students pitch to win and then execute over the course of the semester, following the Clinical Model. Students, serving as clinicians, meet with their partner company representatives and together generate an action plan that describes the project timeline and deliverables to be created. Once approved by the partner company, the team starts project development, engaging with the company’s point of contact weekly to monitor project execution. The Clinic team’s work ends with a presentation of their deliverables to the partner company.
This MBA course was created as a result of the expanded engagement of the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic to include multiple disciplines and majors across campus. The goal of the course is to expose students to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and allow them to solve real problems with entrepreneurial ventures. Students who engage with the Clinic are expected to leave their courses with a deep understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset and how to apply it with startups and larger corporations. The partner company gets a fresh perspective on a problem and a unique take on their challenge. Additionally, the Clinic serves as a talent pipeline for companies looking for entrepreneurial leaders.
In the fall of 2018, the Clinic had 167 students enrolled coming from five different courses both at the graduate and undergraduate level. Through projects, the students engaged with 44 different partner companies. As a whole, students participating in the Clinic represented 19 majors across NC State’s academic disciplines.
This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.