Prof. Steven Dow
Spring 2017, 
T/Th 2:00-3:20 pm
Location:  HSS 1346

Attention entrepreneurs, designers, scientists and engineers!  In this course, students will learn tools and processes for innovating novel business concepts to solve problems involving the interaction between humans and technology. Students will work with an interdisciplinary team to understand unmet user needs and to create a value proposition that balances technical feasibility, financial viability, and desirability. Ultimately, student teams will prototype a novel mobile information service, write a business plan, and produce a video sketch suitable for launching a crowdfunding campaign. To inform the innovation process, students will learn new techniques for leveraging social media and crowdsourcing to discover users' needs and to obtain feedback on preliminary concepts. Selected readings will cover ubiquitous computing, service design, business modeling, creativity methods, crowdsourcing, and crowdfunding.

Learning Objectives

Students will learn how to adopt an attitude of trial and error. How to be a lean startup. How to alternate between exploration and focus. How to reframe problems and explore/refine design solutions. Students will learn to conduct productive design critiques and interviews with potential stakeholders.

Leverage the internet for research, ideation, and feedback. Students will learn how to use Web-based resources — including online collections, Web analytics, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and social media — to inform and drive an innovation process. How to collect feedback online. How to conduct an A-B test.

Articulate value in the mobile service market. Students will learn about the emerging market for location-based, just in time, context aware, and highly social applications. They will learn how to assess and communicate value proposition. How to conduct a competitive analysis. How to visually represent a service design that comprises people and computers.  How to pitch your idea through writing, oral-visual presentation, and video.

Course Topics

  • Mobile information services and app design
  • Value proposition, business models 
  • Needfinding, interviewing, analyzing social media
  • Divergent thinking, brainstorming, generating alternatives
  • Synthesis techniques and problem framing
  • Storytelling, storyboarding, and video production
  • Prototyping/blueprinting for mobile services
  • Crowdsourcing, web analytics, A-B testing

Course History

Startup Studio originated as a course called Mobile Service Innovation developed by Prof. Steven Dow, Prof. Jim Morris, and Prof. John Zimmerman at Carnegie Mellon University. Prof. Dow taught this course for several years at Carnegie on the semester system and has now adopted it for UC's quarter system. 

Projects from past years

Spring 2016

     No one knows a university better than students. Brandpackers helps mid-sized companies establish an on-campus presence by training student ambassadors that can grow your brand and discover talent. Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder  Video

     Volo connects travelers with cool locals so they get to see offbeat places and have an authentic and personal experience. Locals earn cash! Kickstarter  Prototype  Home Page  Team Folder  Video

     It’s time to reinvent the way we shop for clothes. Introducing Fitted, an innovative system that provides personalized sizing recommendations at your fingertips. Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder  Video

     An interactive lecture supplement for both students and professors. Discourse facilitates collaborative learning through in-class activities and generates comprehensive study materials. Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder  Video

     Top Knot delivers top-notched evidence-based UX research and design by recruiting and mentoring talented young designers in your area. Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder  Video

     Feeling stressed or down? Petals helps you find a therapist you can truly trust, and talk to immediately, whenever you need. Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder  Video

     Our service aid seeks to bridge the gap between you and your doctor. Our personal help bots will keep track of your recovery in between visits. Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder  Video

     Saving money with those closest to you can be stressful. FamFund is a fun and easy way to team up with friends and family to work towards a common financial goal. Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder  Video

Spring 2015
     Geekline connects individuals who need help learning new technologies with tech savvy mentors through community workshops.
  Prototype  Team Folder  Video

     Missing a great event because no one wants to go? Clique helps create new social connections around events. Find new friends and buy tickets for concerts, sports, and shows. Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder   Video
Discover where your creativity unfolds with Locadora, an app that helps creative individuals find inspiring places to innovate.
Kickstarter  Prototype  Website  Team Folder  Video

     Wander makes travel planning fun and easy by allowing globetrotters to collaboratively discover and adopt travel itineraries from others.
Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder  Video

     GiftBook makes gift giving less stressful, less time consuming, and more fun by helping you find inspired and highly personalized gift ideas for friends and family. Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder   Video

     Salt & Pepper helps foodies connect with local chefs for unique personalized cooking experiences, from choosing the freshest ingredients to mastering the kitchen. Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder  Video

     FitMate helps runners and other athletes connect with new workout partners, enter challenges together, and motivate active lifestyles.
Kickstarter  Prototype   Team Folder  Video

     DropBy offers fast and cheap shipping from local retailers by opportunistically enlisting other shoppers as delivery drivers.
Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder  Website

     Sunny Side Up offers convenient, affordable breakfast delivery to working professionals. Kickstarter  Prototype  Team Folder  Video
Early years
     UrbanBite is an online marketplace for homemade food that allows urbanites to buy home cooked meals and sell their own dishes to others. Kickstarter  Prototype  All deliverables
     VICI is a social mobile app that offers themed scavenger hunts in multiple locations and allows users to explore and learn about their cities. Kickstarter  Prototype  All deliverables
     HUE is an e-commerce service that provides a seamless shopping with multiple brands and allows shoppers to create and visualize outfits with different looks. Kickstarter  Prototype  All deliverables
     Spotter is an app that helps drivers easily find parking spots by providing information on public parking spot availability and letting users rent out their personal parking spots. Kickstarter  Prototype  All deliverables
     SmartPark+ allows people to pay for parking through their mobile phone. It works by scanning a QR code that would automatically pair their car to the spot until they returned....more
     Get a low-cost data plan for your visit to the US. No advance planning, pick it up at the baggage claim. Return it from any airport. ...more
     Get the best deal on the street right now. Keep your restaurant or shop full with just-in-time, just-enough discounts. ...more
     SportUp has two main functions: polling and betting. The user purchases a team's season that he wishes to follow and participate in polls and bets happening throughout the game. ...more
Rwanda Headlines provides news items to cell phone users in a place where newspapers are expensive and television rare. ...more
     Family book provides a photo-sharing app specialized for sharing family pictures and creating summary books for special occasions. ...more
     A service designed to help disabled voters learn about voting locations and to arrange carpools on voting day....more
     A website service and certification board to help consumers identify restaurants that responsibly recycle their food waste....more


Steven Dow is an Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science at UC San Diego where he researches human-computer interaction, social computing, and creativity. Steven received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2015 for research on "advancing collective innovation." He was co-PI on three other National Science Foundation grants, a Google Faculty Grant, Stanford's Postdoctoral Research Award, and the Hasso Plattner Design Thinking Research Grant. Before UCSD, Steven was an Assistant Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. He holds an MS and PhD in Human-Centered Computing from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a BS in Industrial Engineering from University of Iowa.


Adam Mekrut is a PhD student in the Cognitive Science at UCSD where he researches project and studio based pedagogy in large university classes. He has been a teaching assistant for Cogs 120, Cogs 121, Cogs 102B, Cogs 102C, Cogs 187A and Cogs 187B.  He has also been involved in many cultural and academic events aimed at connecting San Diego and Tijuana including working with All My Friends Music Festival, Workshop Uniting the Californias (Ubiquitous Computing),  the U.S. Consulate to bring Learning Equality to Tijuana, and the Binational Advisory Council for Tijuana Innovadora.

Akanksha Grover is a Masters student in
Computer Science and Engineering, planning to specialize in Systems and Artificial Intelligence. Prior to this, she worked in industry for two years as a Software Engineer developing financial software where she learned how social processes intersect with technology. She recently took a class on Corporate Entrepreneurship for Global Competitiveness. This summer she will be working at Intuit and learning software design and development.


Ryan Hill is a current student at UC San Diego. He currently serves on the boards for Triton Engineering Student Council and Triton Entrepreneurs. Ryan is the founder of SD Hacks, UC San Diego's annual intercollegiate hackathon of over 1000 students. His work experience is dotted with startups, as well as strategy consulting and product management at larger companies.

Jessica Kwen is a 4th year International Studies-Political Science major and Business minor. She also recently completed a UX Design certificate through UCSD Extension's LAUNCH scholarship program. Previously, Jessica served as a UX Design Intern at DIRECTV and the U.S. General Services Administration. This summer, she is excited to work at Illumina under the Product Design team in San Diego.