University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 45: McMillon Student Directors, Kyle and Natalie, Discuss the Studio’s Impact and Opportunities

November 06, 2019  |  By Matt Waller

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Kyle Berger is the Undergraduate Director for the McMillon Innovation Studio. In the Walton College, he is studying Finance and Entrepreneurship with a focus in Small Business Administration. Natalie Means is the Graduate Director for the McMillon Innovation Studio. Natalie is currently in the full-time MBA program at the Walton College. Together, they are responsible for leading student teams in the McMillon Innovation Studio in the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

Upcoming at McMillon Innovation Studio

With nine Project Leaders, the studio allows students to join innovation design teams to tackle real problems in business. The studio will be hosting Demo Day on December 6 from 3-5PM to present their work. Learn more at the McMillon Studio website.

Episode Transcript

00:08 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality, and what those values mean in business education in your life today.

00:29 Matt Waller: I have with me today two students from the University of Arkansas. One is an undergraduate in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, and the other is in our full-time MBA program, but what they have in common is they both work for the McMillon Innovation Studio. And the McMillon Innovation Studio was created a few years ago by the generous gift of Doug and Shelley McMillon. And for those of you who don't know, Doug is the CEO of Walmart and he's also an alumnus of the Walton College. So, the undergraduate I have with me is Kyle Berger who is from the Kansas City, Missouri area, actually from Overland Park, Kansas and Natalie Means who is the Graduate Director in the studio and she's in the full-time MBA program, and she's originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Thank you both for joining me today.

01:32 Kyle Berger: Thank you, good to be here.

01:33 Natalie Means: Thank you.

01:34 Matt Waller: So, right after I became Dean, I went around the state talking to alumni... Not just the state, the whole country actually, talking to alumni, and trying to understand what they would like to see in the Walton College to help us achieve our mission more effectively. And Doug McMillon really had the idea... He said, "What students need today is they need to be more innovative." How does the studio helps students to become more innovative?

02:13 Natalie Means: I believe the studio does a great job of encouraging not only its project leaders and project team members, but everyone who walks in its doors or is involved with it, to think differently than they ever had before, and that is through a process that we call human-centered design. It's something we teach in the principles of our orientation and in some of our curriculum that we give to other companies outside of the studio that we work with.

02:46 Kyle Berger: One advantage I think we have in the studio is that students often do group projects in their course work, but they are doing it within their major and within their college. And one thing in the studio we work toward is having teams that are interdisciplinary, so there are eight project teams led by an undergraduate, and that is a paid position. And those first couple of weeks of school, they are actively recruiting students from all over campus and all majors. And I think that all of those opinions help to promote innovation because they all have very different backgrounds and interests.

03:34 Matt Waller: What is meant by human-centered design?

03:37 Kyle Berger: In the studio, when we talk about human-centered design, we typically start by talking about empathy, and we think of the user of whoever we're designing for and we empathize with their needs, and we try to step into their shoes and experience the pain points that they're experiencing. So, the biggest portion of the project process is customer discovery. We pay special attention to the feeling words that they're using. So, we have something called the empathy map and when we're interviewing or we're having surveys we're looking for the words of how they are feeling when they're experiencing the problem they're experiencing. So, if the problem is making them feel confused, if they're feeling frustrated, whatever they're feeling when they're experiencing it, we are documenting that. And that allows us to stay centered on the human perspective of who we're solving for.

04:45 Matt Waller: We know the key to entrepreneurship is solving problems for people and I think that's the key to intrapreneurship as well within a company. I mean, companies that are successful whether they're startups, small businesses or large companies, if they're solving real problems for customers they're gonna do well. So this is a pretty valuable thing to learn.

05:15 Natalie Means: And I think that hits a key point that we also try to make happen in the studio, and that is encouraging our project leaders and team members to be involved in the decision-making processes that we actually use within the studio. And what I mean by that is when you mention intrapreneurship, we don't give them a clear cut rubric like some of their classes do. We don't give them a, "Here's what the end product that we're looking for is." We give them, "Here's the problem, you're going to start with the customer, and then we're going to talk about the solution. And you have to find out every step of the way to get there."

05:57 Matt Waller: Well, that's a good point Kyle because when students are going through college, no matter what they're majoring in or no matter what university they're going to, they get a syllabus, they get rubrics. The syllabus tells them what they're doing every day, when the tests are. The rubric tells them how they're gonna be graded. Everything's very clear. Then they graduate and they take a job, and nothing is clear. There is no rubric. [chuckle] That's a big benefit of the McMillon Studio. Now, the project leaders aren't all from the business school, right? They're from other colleges.

06:36 Natalie Means: Yeah, that's correct. We don't only want project leaders to be from the business school either. That would actually be going against what we believe at the studio, which is that interdisciplinary teams can achieve more and actually achieve greater innovations.

06:53 Matt Waller: Let's talk about an example project that you all have worked on. Let's pick one and explain how you came upon the project and what the project's about, and that kind of thing.

07:05 Natalie Means: Talking about a project that we had last year, Nick was his name who was one of our project leaders that developed a laser system for truckers. And this laser system would have been placed on the hood of a truck to indicate to drivers surrounding the truck the distance that it needed to safely stop and not cause any collisions. Because truck drivers' main pain point that they expressed to Nick through his customer discovery was that drivers too often cut them off on highways and even many small roads. Nick innovated on this even further and allowed this laser to even help with crosswalks. So signaling to vehicles how far they needed to begin stopping so that they wouldn't potentially injure a pedestrian that was within a crosswalk. We now have another project leader, this year 2018-2019 was Nick working on the laser, and now 2019 to potentially 2020 will have Josue is another one of our project leaders who will be also working on crosswalk safety and has gotten some of his insights from that project to this one. So I love how that example is one that builds on and could possibly even continue into next semester or next year.

08:34 Kyle Berger: Josue is working with the American Heart Association on the walkability of Springdale. And a pain point that he found was that often pedestrians don't feel safe when they're crossing because cars will drive past right as they're trying to walk across. So he is working to prototype a physical barrier that would come up from the road as pedestrians are walking across. So he has iterated on Nick's idea from last year.

09:05 Matt Waller: Going back to the lasers that were put on the hood because it came from knowing that drivers, truck drivers, feel like they get cut off a lot, how did you get the project in the first place?

09:20 Natalie Means: That's a good question. So last year we had a little different model in which we would allow the project leaders to completely create their own problem statement. And so Nick, being a Supply Chain major at the Walton College of Business, decided that he wanted to assist with the truck driver shortage. So he set out to begin his customer discovery strictly with truck drivers and asked them how he could best help them.

09:51 Matt Waller: How many truck drivers did they interview?

09:55 Kyle Berger: I know that he and his teammates went to the nearest truck stop and stayed there for hours and waited for truck drivers to stop at the truck stop, and they would interview them while they were on the job. And I remember a quote. I went to Demo Day in the spring where the project teams showcase their projects and their solutions. And I remember them saying one time when they were interviewing one of the truck drivers, the truck driver said, "I save lives every day because I'm constantly driving so defensively to protect the other drivers around me who are constantly cutting me off or tailing me." So I thought that was interesting.

10:43 Matt Waller: How did you collect data? Did you all just stand by a crosswalk and talk to people? How did you do that?

10:52 Natalie Means: Josue, who collected this data on the crosswalks this year, he did actually. He went to Springdale and stood by different crosswalks, street signs, and asked random people why they felt that they were either safely or unsafely walking. He allowed them to express their feelings and tell him basically what their major problems were with walking in Springdale.

11:24 Kyle Berger: The downtown Springdale area, I think, is quickly being developed. And I think new businesses and upgrades are coming in. And the question was posed of why aren't more people walking around in downtown Springdale? And Josue's goal was to interview the people that were walking downtown, and find out why more people weren't, and what their pain points were.

11:53 Matt Waller: I think this is so valuable learning this customer discovery process because, if you're gonna be in business, you have to learn how to extract information from customers and potential customers. And along the way you find out all kinds of problems you can solve for them. That's one neat thing about business in general that a lot of people don't realize. Business really is about solving problems for people in a cost-effective way. You mentioned Demo Day a couple of times. What's Demo Day?

12:27 Natalie Means: Demo Day is one of my favorite days, personally, because that's where our project leaders get to show off all their hard work and the project teams get to get their well-deserved recognition because they get to present that solution that they've been working for so long to find. And I think it's a really incredible day because people who are stakeholders in many different ways, whether it be actually working within the studio, sponsoring a team, you name it, there are so many different people that basically just appear in the studio and it's packed. And it's a fun, energetic, day where people come and share with each other how these innovations have helped change users' lives.

13:17 Kyle Berger: All of the project leaders will be practicing their pitches for Demo Day, this next month we'll have panels that will listen to them practice their pitches and on Demo Day they present their prototypes, whether it's a physical prototype or they've used technology to create a prototype, so you can go and interact with the things that they've created after the pitches.

13:44 Matt Waller: As you know, this Be EPIC Podcast, a lot of the students listen to it, but a surprising number of alumni listen to it and from all over the world, not just in Northwest Arkansas, 'cause we have alumni all over the world. But every now and then I get comments or emails about it and... So, if one of our... Let me restate that. If an alumnus is listening to us and they think, "Well, I'd like to get involved." What are some ways they could get involved?

14:26 Kyle Berger: An alumni can get involved by mentoring a project team. We do the projects for a semester length so we will have all new projects in the spring. Some will continue on, but for the most part we'll have all new projects and we will need new mentors. This semester I think we had over 30 mentors. Each project has about three per project, and so mentoring or sponsoring a team, and sponsoring a team those funds allow them to prototype and get customer discovery. And another way is we offer a lot of programming during the fall and spring through workshops. This semester we had 17 and they're held either in the studio or in the hub for students and the community. We have even some that are startup support so we have all different kinds and our core workshops go over that human-centered design process from start to finish. So we have workshops, you can sponsor a team, and if you are interested in coming to Demo Day, Demo Day is December 6th from 3:00 to 5:00 in the McMillon Studio which is attached to the Harmon Parking Garage, very close to the Walton College on campus.

15:53 Matt Waller: So with the McMillon Studio you were talking about sponsoring student teams, companies can sponsor student teams. And one benefit they can get out of it is other than just being of a great help to the university and to the students, but they could actually get customer discovery out of it which is valuable and hard to get. Does that seem to be something that the companies are interested in? The sponsors are interested in?

16:27 Natalie Means: Yes, I think they are interested in the insights that we bring in from our customer discovery process because college students offer a very unique perspective when they're talking to users. They are talking to people on a different level that potentially other companies that do something similar to customer discovery might not have that age range or that type of experience that they've had in the studio to ask certain questions that evoke those emotions from customers. And so, yes, I definitely think that if you sponsored a team and were interested in receiving some of those insights, that's a great resource that we are willing to provide.

17:19 Matt Waller: McMillon Innovation Studio exists to shape the future of commerce by inspiring students to be catalysts of innovation. Do you feel like it's accomplished that in your lives?

17:32 Natalie Means: I absolutely think that I have become a catalyst of innovation because I think so differently about problems from some of my peers who maybe haven't had the same training because I now know that instead of starting with a solution and just testing whether or not someone will buy it, I know I can instead flip that on its head and start with a problem and a user and a customer and then work my way to a sellable solution.

18:09 Kyle Berger: For me it's encouraged a lot more creativity in the way that I'm solving problems, and it's taught me how to fail quickly and to not fear failure. It's something that we embrace in the studio and it helps improve our ideas, so there are often times where projects will pivot, and they'll iterate on their ideas, and it makes them better because they're not afraid of making mistakes. And because it's not in a classroom environment and it's not graded, I think students feel more freedom to pursue their creative ideas.

18:51 Matt Waller: I mean, that... What both of you said, what each of you said really is transformative. It's subtle, but most people never learn that in their whole lives. And yet no matter what you do, if you learn those concepts, it gives you so much of an advantage in life.

19:09 Kyle Berger: Thanks.

19:09 Matt Waller: Thank you for taking time to do this with us.

19:11 Kyle Berger: Absolutely.

19:12 Natalie Means: Of course. I enjoyed it.

19:14 Kyle Berger: Yeah.

19:16 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be EPIC podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcast. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching "be epic podcast" one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now Be EPIC.

Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is dean emeritus of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and professor of supply chain management. His work as a professor, researcher, and consultant is synergistic, blending academic research with practical insights from industry experience. This continuous cycle of learning and application makes his work more effective, relevant, and impactful.His goals include contributing to academia through high-quality research and publications, cultivating the next generation of professionals through excellent teaching, and creating value for the organizations he consults by optimizing their strategy and investments.

Walton College

Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

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We're sitting down with innovators and business mavericks to discuss strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. The Be EPIC Podcast is hosted by Matthew Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Learn more...

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