Sustainable Product Design & Enterprise Plan Development

UIUC presentation by Sun Oven founder Paul MunsenSince 2006, we have offered a year-long graduate-level course on subsistence marketplaces that is a direct outcome of our research and social initiatives (previously titled Sustainable Product and Market Development for Subsistence Marketplaces):

Fall – Sustainable Product Design & Enterprise Plan Development I: Bottom-Up Immersion & Design (BADM 332/532)

Spring – Sustainable Product Design & Enterprise Plan Development II: Bottom-Up Innovation & Enterprise (BADM 333/533)

New product development lab courses are not unique; however, what is special here is the pioneering attempt to design a course that focuses on developing products and services to serve the needs of those living in subsistence marketplaces. We teach a year-long course that includes an international field trip, where students identify technologies and develop products for subsistence marketplaces. The course spans business to design and engineering in terms of content. It covers, at one end, the bottom-up understanding of buyers, sellers, and marketplaces beyond literacy and resource barriers. At the other end, it covers the technologies that could be used to develop innovative products. In between, the course covers issues in product and market development as well as the nature of research methods to employ.

Students in business, engineering industrial design, and other majors spend the Fall semester understanding subsistence marketplaces through immersion in this context and through emersion of business principles. Five weeks of virtual immersion in subsistence contexts in Fall include a poverty simulation, analysis of interviews of subsistence individuals, analysis of life circumstances in subsistence, development of conceptual models of poverty, low-literacy, and consequences, and development of conceptual models of needs, products, and market interactions of subsistence individuals. The next six weeks are spent in emersion of principles using a rich set of cases, and guest speakers ranging from social workers to technologists and entrepreneurs. In parallel, student groups are formed in the first five weeks of the course to balance technical and business skills and match interests with our company sponsors. During the next six weeks, student groups generate and evaluate a long list of possible ideas, and narrow them down to a smaller set. The final weeks of the semester are spent on designing market research to be conducted during a field trip.

2014-12-30 13.40.16The class travels for immersion in the context and to conduct market research during part of the winter break. The field trip has been conducted in India, Tanzania, and Argentina. Students observe households in urban and rural subsistence contexts, as well as retail and wholesale outlets. Students interview low-literate, low-income individuals in urban and rural settings regarding product ideas for group projects. Students also visit educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and corporations engaged in the development of innovative programs and technologies for subsistence contexts. The field trip geared to visiting the environment of the urban and rural poor requires considerable planning and rehearsal, and has been a transformative learning experience for the students. The Spring semester is spent converting concepts to workable prototypes and developing manufacturing, marketing, and business plans.


Examples of Prototypes from the CourseActivEdge nutritional powder

Videos about the Course

One of the 10 Best Entrepreneurship Courses of 2011 – Inc. Magazine

Student Group won Gold Award at Spark Concept Design Awards, 2011, for design of Disaster Shelter – Design can be found here


Course Information

Sample Course Syllabus (PDF), which includes:

  • Course Description
  • Fall Course Schedule
  • Spring Course Schedule
  • International Immersion Experience
  • Assignments

How to Apply

To take this course, you will need to follow an application process. First, download the application form. This is a fillable PDF file. Please follow these steps to fill the form:

  1. Download the PDF here and save the file locally on your computer.
  2. Open the saved PDF.
  3. Fill the form.
  4. Save it locally and include your last name in the filename.
  5. Email the completed form to Madhu Viswanathan.

After submitting your application, you will be contacted when a decision is made regarding your acceptance into the course. Upon acceptance, you will be asked to complete additional steps before you will be able to register for the course using the University’s online system.