Education, Service Design, UI / UX

Business model research for Northwestern University edtech startup


Northwestern University’s Delta Lab explored business models for its startup, ForgeWorks, and first product, The Loft, a web platform that helps novice designers tackle complex, real-world problems with the support of an online community. 


Forgeworks, an EdTech startup concept from researchers at Northwestern University’s Delta Lab, needed funding to support development efforts for the Loft. Initial funding efforts targeted the Natural Science Foundation I-Corp and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs. Scope of work included defining the vision for The Loft, understanding customer needs, outlining product hypotheses, and conducting user research.


From interviews with the founders, we defined the product vision — the product’s primary goal is to create a virtual community to support novice designers and social-entrepreneurs. Once we aligned on the vision, we looked to understand our target customer – the jobs or tasks each customer hopes to accomplish, the details of those actions, and the motivations behind them. The Loft’s target customer segments are novice designers in social innovation networks, schools and organizations, and design leaders, such as studio leads, teachers, and managers. With such a broad audience base, we looked to simplify and prioritize feature develop to meet audience specific needs moving forward. We crafted hypotheses on the value each feature provided to each audience’s unique perspective, expertise, and job needs.

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After defining our hypothesis for different product components, we interviewed Design for America (DFA) studio leads and students, representing two of our customer segments, to discover how users use different features of The Loft, their value, what potential changes can be made to better suit their needs, and how much they are willing to pay for the platform.  From this research, we created a business canvas and honed product features that provide the most valuable, streamlining our product development and focus.


Through research, we gained insights into the user experience, validated the customer need for the Loft, and developed a subscription model. We also successfully won the grant, and the core team is now pursuing incorporating ForgeWorks outside of Northwestern.

Client Work
Question Box Studio
Collaborators: Matt Easterday