Refugee Crisis in Berlin?

Report on the Socialstartup Weekend Berlin 2015

Idea to Working MVP In Two Days with Lean Rapid Innovation

This is an interview with the founders of, two social entrepreneurs – Andrea Darabos and Daniel Ludwig.

Can you tell us more about why did you start and what need are you trying to solve?

Andrea: We started out with the ambition to bring together diverse, talented people and a powerful lean rapid innovation and design process to solve the Earth’s most burning problems. Each innovation challenge starts with a real local problem seeded by our partner companies, local government units or universities. The problems span areas like education, urbanisation, transport, integration of communities, citizen health and are closely linked to the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals.

Daniel: Correct. Of course, plenty of people – researchers, industry leading companies and organisations are working on these problems but the trouble is that in most cases the approach is slow and far from being entrepreneurial. We need to design solutions to these burning problems faster and in a more sustainable way – this is where social entrepreneurship and a rapid innovation process can help. Our ambition is to introduce these approaches to the wider community, inspire people, provide resources and run local events to eventually create sustainable, local solutions to these problems.

Sounds like a fantastic goal. So tell us about your weekend event in Berlin this October 2015. ‘Working on one problem at a time, reaching a working prototype in not more than two days.’ Really? Is that possible?

Andrea: In our work as entrepreneurs and lean innovation mentors for SMEs to large corporates, we see the power of design thinking and rapid innovation process every day. It is a striking approach to save time and speed up the design of solutions to a few days or even hours. The necessary pre-condition is a diverse, multi-skilled team with a shared interest in solving the innovation challenge. On our Berlin socialstartup weekend, we had people from multidisciplinary backgrounds, digital creatives, researchers, entrepreneurs and following the design thinking process we were able to bring observations ideas to business prototype stage in 2 days. It is magical how you can achieve speed and quality solutions with a good process and good facilitation.

Daniel: That’s true! We have a well-planned agenda that leads us through the lean design process. Time-boxes – limiting the time spent on each stage of the process – help us stay focused and not diverge too much on unnecessary details and keep up the enthusiasm and energy throughout the weekend. We have tested this process and agenda in our daily work a 1000 times and it is much in line with IDEO’s Human Centered Design Process and the Standford d-school process for  Design Thinking. Spending time outside of the building, immersing ourselves into the problem and getting feedback and insights from our users and solution stakeholders is an integral part of the process and the weekend. As Steve Blank – the lean startup guru and Professor – often says, Get Out of the Building as often as you can.

Daniel you mentioned an interesting point. You decided socialstartup participants to work on local problems using the rapid innovation process. Is there a reason for this choice?

Daniel: The core of Rapid Innovation is the interaction with people, observing their lives, getting feedback from them on possible solution ideas and early prototypes. To do this right, we – designers – need to be based where the problem is, i.e. in the locality. Especially for a short time period like a weekend, we don’t have the time to fly in people to remote countries, but we have the opportunity to go out and interact with people multiple times during the day.

Andrea: There are plenty of problems and opportunities around us, in our local neighbourhood that can be improved. This is equally true for developed countries as well as developing countries. We bring socialstartup participants to observe, immerse in their locality and design solutions to these opportunities. The IMPACT HUB Berlin location in the middle of Kreuzberg district was a perfect location to interact with minority communities and a developing neighbourhood in Berlin.

Could you take us through the main steps of your Rapid Innovation process – or as you call it, design process?

Andrea: The Rapid Innovation Cycle is essentially 4 steps performed repeatedly to design a solution to an identified opportunity. It starts with 1, opportunity identification, then 2, solution design, 3, market experimentation and 4, evaluation. This is a useful template on the cycle. The Human Centered Design process from IDEO is basically the same thing, with 3 steps of inspiration, ideation and implementation.

In our two-day program, we started out with an innovation challenge to improve either of the following areas in your city: Unemployment, Transportation, Integration of Communities and Access to Education.

As step 1, we used Inspiration techniques, Local Government Data to describe our observations on these opportunities. The participants of the program individually brainstormed specific opportunities or problems to solve, which they found personally relevant and interesting. Then we grouped these into similar groups and agreed upon a team specific design challenge statement. Let me give you an example of our initial design challenge statement:

Our design challenge statement and its evolution on Day 1

Our design challenge statement and its evolution on Day 1

Our discovery interview questions to refugees and their helpers (volunteers)

Day 1: Immersion and Dinner with Refugees in front of Moabit Registration Centre Berlin

Daniel: It is part of the Opportunity/Problem identification stage to work out, if our assumed problem is an important one to people impacted in the real world. So we went out and spent about two ours immersing ourselves in Berlin into the immigrants and their helpers in the neighbourhood. In my opinion, the observations and insights we got from interacting with these people really helped us understand the real problems to solve that matter. It was an amazing experience.

Andrea: We had two hours on the first day to go out, find refugees in Berlin, find helpers and volunteers who work with them, interview them, spend time with them and observe them in their own neighbourhood. We crafted interview questions, collected our assumptions and went out of the building. It was a big AHA-moment that it is a huge challenge to even find the refugees location and then figure out a way to interact with them – as there are very few English speakers. Luckily, we were able to connect with them on a human level, form friendships and even spend a dinner on the street together in front of the registration centre. This interaction led us to get invaluable insights on what problems we should solve.

This approach sounds very interesting and hands-on! How did you go about identifying possible solutions?

Andrea: On the first day evening, we went back with our notes and observations to summarise and share our findings and identify possible patterns of solutions. We used visualisation techniques like the user profile and user journey diagrams to summarise and update our findings in the team. Possible solution ideas emerged from the discussion.

User profile of Refugees after our Inspiration stage Day 1

Day 2: Hand-drawn rapid prototype of the designed solution: a social media campaign

Day 2 – Building the paper-based prototype for user testing

Day 2 – Market experimentation – Getting feedback on our solution prototype

Daniel: It is helpful to have a good night’s sleep after an intense day of observation and opportunity identification. This way we can take a step back, distance ourselves from the problem and design solution ideas with a fresh mind and body the next day. We needed it! 🙂
Andrea: Day 2 started with prioritising the observed pain points of refugees and their helpers, and designing a targeted solution to them. In our case, we found an emotional need for refugees to be recognised as valuable people willing to integrate in the German society and to raise awareness of their very human aspirations – wanting to learn German, finding a soccer team to join and so on. We also chose to raise awareness of their helpers, volunteer’s invaluable job to address these needs. Our solution idea evolved into a social media campaign and a landing page picturing profiles of local refugees and their helpers called #refugeesmile. Drawing and rapid prototyping are useful tools at this stage to speed up specifying ideas and create a testable version we can get feedback on.

Got it. If I understood the process correctly, your next step is to get out for feedback and experimentation?

Andrea: Yes, the next step is to test your simple solution prototype and get feedback from real people, users. This is step 3, market experimentation. We had two hours again to go out and interact with our target groups – refugees and helpers. We gave the paper prototypes to the hands of our users, told the story of how it would work, observed their reactions and listened to their concerns. We collected tons of insights just from this short feedback conversation which enabled us to refine our solution.
Daniel: the pictures show how we are interacting with the group of refugees on a paper prototype. We had a great number of assumptions which were wrong in the solution, and it’s great we got feedback on them in such a short time. This saved us time and effort to build the wrong product…

Andrea: The last step of the Rapid Innovation Cycle is to evaluate your feedback on your market experiment and refine your solution. We learned so many things from our experiment that we had plenty of things to adjust but overall we have found that the campaign could work, refugees, helpers would love to participate and it could help them integrate faster and better into the local community. We summarised our solution pitches at the end of Day 2 in the following videos and since then working together to refine and scale the campaign solution called #Refugeesmile.


I am impressed with how much your teams were able to achieve in just two days. Will definitely try the Rapid Innovation process myself. Do you think local government offices, registration centers and organisations could benefit from this approach to solve the refugee crisis impacting Europe?


Daniel: During the two days applying the process to the refugee problem, we learned so much and identified multiple possible opportunities to ease the arrival, integration and education of refugees. It is our ambition to help any organisation working on this problem apply this rapid innovation approach and design useful solutions to the crisis. To read more details about our observations, read this blog from one of our participants, Marcel.

Andrea: We are actively reaching out to press, organisations and authorities to offer our help. While the Rapid Innovation Process can be applied to any social problem, I think the refugee crisis is an important and urgent issue across Europe that lends itself to this process. You can contact us via the website to get in touch.

Smile on the face of refugees in Berlin with Socialstartup Weekend Berlin 2015! #refugeesmile

Can you tell us more about your plans for the future with socialstartup?

Andrea: We would like to bring the Rapid Innovation approach of socialstartup and our facilitation expertise to communities, organisations and universities who would like to simply change the world and improve lives around them. We have proven the approach works in a social context and in short period of time – in a few days or in a week – we are able to design meaningful improvements and solutions to social problems.

Daniel: Fully agree. We are reaching out to partners, organisations, and mentors interested in joining us on this journey. Looking forward to change the world with Rapid Innovation and social entrepreneurship!


You can get in touch with Andrea and Daniel on They run socialstartup weekends or week-long events for institutions, business and universities around the world.

An Overview of the Socialstartup Rapid Innovation Program

– Complement your innovation or educational programs with a hands-on workshop on design thinking and lean startup, so you learn to deliver an idea to an MVP solution within a few days via rapid innovation. As more and more universities and businesses implement a d-school (design school) curriculum, this program is a great complement.

– Work on social problems relevant for your organisation, the local and wider city environment

– Familiarise students with the latest stage (social entrepreneurship, business with a higher purpose, impact investing).

– Get access a network of previous socialstartup participants and mentors to support students during and after the event

– The program is relevant for not only social entrepreneurs, but also corporate intrapreneurs, non-profits and government organisations, universities, business schools worldwide.