Customer discovery program: Q&A with Tawnya Means

· 3 min read

Customer discovery program: Q&A with Tawnya Means

Tawnya Means

A program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln is encouraging researchers to step outside the lab and view their innovation from stakeholders’ perspectives.

The program, Nebraska Introduction to Customer Discovery, launched its third cohort this fall with 11 teams representing departments across campus. It is modeled after the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, in which researchers interview stakeholders to understand their needs and then use that feedback to guide decisions about a startup company or technology commercialization.

The N-ICD program includes weekly office hours with staff from NUtech Ventures, UNL’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Invest Nebraska and the National Strategic Research Institute. It also includes sessions about value proposition and customer segmentation, which helps entrepreneurs narrow their focus to test specific hypotheses.

The free, non-credit program will be offered again in the spring semester and is open to UNL faculty, staff and students. To receive more information, email

Learn more from Tawnya Means, who is the director of the Teaching and Learning Center at the College of Business, as well as an assistant dean of business and assistant professor of practice in management. She completed the fall 2020 N-ICD program.

Can you discuss your project and objectives for N-ICD?

Particularly with the pandemic and the move to remote, online, or mixed modality teaching, faculty are missing interaction and engagement with students. Prior to the pandemic, many instructors would teach discussion-based class sessions by presenting content and facilitating conversations. Without being in-person at the same time and place, many have struggled to keep that element of their teaching. The video-based discussions tool that I have been developing is designed to help faculty reduce their workload in creating and managing content and interaction. The tool allows synchronous and asynchronous discussions to develop naturally around video content.

How did your project evolve while going through the N-ICD process?

The customer discovery process enabled me to see what faculty need, without my prior assumptions. I have a lot of experience with teaching and technology, and I have worked with many faculty to help them teach using technology. During N-ICD, I was able to interview faculty, test my hypotheses and determine how my software can best fit their needs.

What were some of your biggest takeaways from the N-ICD program?

I realized that the way we used to teach, the way we currently teach and the way we think we will teach in the future are all very distinct, and there are different needs for each time period. For long-term success, I realized I needed to take lessons learned in the past and present to build a tool for the future. I also realized that building a tool is not the only way I can support teaching in the future. As I described the customer discovery process during faculty interviews, N-ICD mentoring sessions and with other colleagues, I realized I may be more successful if I included additional services with my software tool.

Would you recommend the program to others?

I would highly recommend this program to others! The customer discovery process is life altering. Once you realize that your investment in a tool or idea can be improved by formulating a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis, reflecting on the data, and formulating further action, you will apply this thinking to every other avenue of your life.

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