Urban Business Lab

A practical, hands-on and hugely interactive programme for entrepreneurs.

A Fronesys initiative for CityLabs, the Urban Business Lab programme will equip you with the understanding and the practical tools you need to address the business issues of product and service development, specifically in the digital economy. In just two and a half days you will work with a select group using the MK:Smart data-led business canvas to explore and help define the steps for development of your concept into a reality.

Whether you are a start up with a new idea or an established SME seeking to develop existing products or build new ones, once you have signed up with CityLabs you can join the next Urban Business Lab programme.

Programme overview

Analysts tell us that the Smart Cities market will be worth £400 billion by 2020, and yet nobody seems interested in my new urban software product”

“Creating a new enterprise is hard – it is much, much harder when customers don’t know that they need a Smart Cities product, don’t know where to look for one, and have no idea what such a product costs”

“If the customer does not know how to deal with these issues, what can I, the would-be entrepreneur, do to find customers, sell them my product and build a business?”

Urban Business Lab Programme is a practical, hands-on and hugely interactive programme for entrepreneurs who want to prosper and succeed in the digital economy. We use a data-led business canvas (developed within the MK:Smart Initiative) to shape the working of the programme.
The data-led business canvas outlines a journey for a typical start-up:

  • Identification of the target customer
  • Identification of the problem the customer wants to solve
  • Co-creation of potential solutions to the problem
  • Encapsulation of the target solution in to a product or service
  • Identification of channels to deliver the product to the customer
  • Revenue models
  • Cost models
  • Using metrics to manage the startup process

What we do with the business canvas is to focus it on how you, the entrepreneur, will use it in a data-centric way, either because data might be at the heart of the problem/solution (such as in smart cities) or because data can inform the creation of an innovative solution to a given problem.
But we don’t just give you the theory. We provide tools that are proven in helping startups build valuable businesses. These tools include the best thinking from lean startups, design thinking and customer development:

  • How to understand the needs (often unspoken needs) of your target customers through ethnographic profiling
  • Choosing which customers to engage with, and techniques to engage them so that you build a strong degree of empathy with them
  • Defining a problem statement that your customers agree with, and want solved
  • Ideating ways in which you can solve your customers’ problems – and getting them to be part of the process
  • Constructing prototypes of your ideas to test customer acceptance and to help them buy your solution
  • Learning how to iterate your work so that it is always improving
  • Making customer development a natural part of your new product thinking process
  • How to use urban data stores to drive your own entrepreneurship process while creating a successful Smart Cities business

For many years, the common assumption was that a start-up is simply a small version of a large company, and so people have attempted to apply the principles of how to run an enterprise to get their start-ups going. With varying degrees of success. The same idea applies to established companies seeking to produce innovative new products. Applying the business principles and planning of established businesses to new products, services and companies just does not work.

Instead, we now understand that start-ups are completely different from established and mature companies, and we need different tools to understand how to make them prosper and succeed. This workshop programme will explore those tools and give you ample opportunities to work in teams to develop your own start-up and new product ideas. Lessons from this course will not only be valuable to budding software entrepreneurs but to everyone who wants to understand and influence how software transforms business and society.

Urban Business Lab is designed to provide new enterprise creators with a holistic understanding of digital entrepreneurship: it combines topics from innovation, business planning, finance, business management as well as software design and digital technology. This follows the understanding that successful software firms are often characterized by a close alignment of technology and business innovation.

But it is not just about teaching. It is about walking alongside innovators and mentoring them through the use of these tools.

Our expectations of you – and the application process.

The programme is suitable for entrepreneurs and business leaders with a wide range of backgrounds. It is primarily designed for those with a business or software background, but is equally suited for those with any other background (engineering, social science, design, …). The key requirements for the Lab are the willingness to work in teams, the desire to build a solution or business that addresses a real need felt by customers and the work ethic required to drive a business idea forward.

The Lab will require students to seek out and engage potential customers to gather feedback and refine ideas and assumptions.
To join the Urban Business Lab Programme, you will need to participate in a CityLabs Programme Introduction which will prepare you for the application process. You will then need to complete an online application, which will help us understand the target market you are going after, the business or technical problem you intend to solve, and the resources available to you (either in terms of experiences and skills, or an existing business platform or financial capital).


Urban Business Lab in delivered in three parts:

  1. The CityLabs Programme Introduction will expose you to the key concepts on the course and walk you through the Urban Business Lab application process as well as outline the Technical Evaluation and Prototyping Programme, the CityLabs Grant and the MK Data Hub.
  2. If your application is successful, you will join the Urban Business Lab Programme, which starts with a one-day course on the key concepts you need to get started with your own urban business innovation project. Alongside the teaching, you will get access to mentoring on the use of the business tools discussed in the programme, technical help on your product development, and even some cash to help you with costs.
  3. A second one day course (delivered about one month later) will be held to to check your progress in building your innovation, product or business, expose you to further business techniques, and to work out solutions to the problems you faced

Course Faculty

The course will be taught by an academic and software professional (Prof Gerd Kortuem) and an entrepreneur working in software, social enterprise and sustainability (Jyoti Banerjee). The course has been developed by Fronesys, a consortium member of cityLABS.



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