Students to Innovate Sustainable Business Models: Course Combines Real-World Cases, Design Thinking, and Tools to Foster Change and Protect Future Prosperity (NN7) 

Study Board BSc in Business Administration and Market Dynamics and Cultural Analysis
Course title Strategic Innovation and Design Thinking
Course type/size Mandatory course (approx 75 students)
Teaching format Blended

Learning consultants’ reflection on NN connections of this activity 

This course invites students to engage with the need for sustainable change and innovation in business and society. Working with companies and real-world cases, the students will use sustainable business model tools and design thinking to pitch sustainable and innovative business models. Gaining experience in translating theoretical knowledge into the context of everyday business practices, the course offers students an opportunity to learn how to understand and secure our prosperity today and innovate and protect prosperity for future generations. 

Teaching philosophy 

“The far majority of students come to this course thinking that the purpose of business is to make money. That’s kind of how we’ve been thinking of it for many years. The course starts by challenging that idea. For a business to start working thoroughly with sustainability (also for profit), sustainability needs to be integrated into every single element to be at the heart of a sustainable business model.” 

Kirsti Reitan Andersen  

Key objective(s) aligned with this activity 

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of theories and key concepts in the field of sustainable business model innovation and design thinking, as they relate to a specific case. 
  • Apply, discuss, and critically reflect on core theoretical concepts within sustainable business model theory and strategic innovation, as they relate to a specific case. 
  • Explain and translate consumer insights into a specific problem formulation that can inspire idea and concept development for strategic and sustainable business model innovation. 
  • Apply, discuss, and critically reflect on design thinking methods in the development of a specific idea and/or concept for sustainable business model innovation. 

Description of the activity:

In the beginning of the course, the focus is on building a solid platform of foundational knowledge. Here the students are introduced to design thinking, key concepts and the sustainable business model literature. This is done through a blended approach to learning. Hence, in preparation for class, students have access to lectures and case videos of no longer than 5 minutes. With the knowledge and tools acquired in the videos, the students continue to a more thorough reading of the literature in the syllabus. In class, the learning experience builds on the students’ preparations by actively engaging them in dialogue around the content, e.g., through group work, work questions, and discussions in class.    

The case is introduced early in the course, so the students know what company they are going to work with and what specific challenge(s) they need to solve. As an example, previous students have been working with Coop as a partner where the focus was on sustainability and the challenge was to strengthen the visibility and sales of locally produced products.  

The students are then divided into teams, where they gather data via field work which is analyzed at the workshops facilitated by the teachers. The data is transformed into findings and through design thinking processes (idea generation and prototyping) a prototype is produced and further developed. The prototype is turned into a business model using the tool Business Innovation Kit, which has an explicit sustainability focus. (See an example of the Business Innovation Kit platform here:  

The Business Innovation Kit platform guides the students through reflections, for example, by asking them questions such as ‘What would the organization need to do to take an idea to a market?’ and ‘How would this need to be communicated to the customers?’ Additionally, they are prompted to contemplate, ‘Considering the environmental, social, and economic pillars of sustainability, how does your business model address long-term viability and responsible growth?'” 

This idea would then be pitched to the company. The pitch is obligatory. 

The students are graded based on a paper they submit afterwards, and they are required to do the pitch to be able to submit the paper. The pitch is 5 minutes long and the theoretical reflections and experiences the students have had in the process of developing the business model are unfolded in the submitted paper.