How One Incubator Is Using Behavioral Science to Encourage the Products Customers Really Want

How One Incubator Is Using Behavioral Science to Encourage the Products Customers Really Want

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September 2015

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Most incubators focus on logistics to develop a necessary product, cultivate customers and gain market share. But the Duke University Social Science Research Institute is home to a new incubator for startups interested in using behavior change research to more accurately determine which products and services customers will want.

Led by Dan Ariely, the behavioral economist who heads the Institute’s Center for Advanced Hindsight, the Startup Lab will pilot its first class of entrepreneurs building decision-making tools in health and funding this fall. Participating founders – who do not need to be affiliated with Duke – will spend three to nine months in the laboratory.

“It’s a university incubator,” says Ariely, who is no stranger to the world of startups, having co-founded the Timeful time management application, now a Google tool. “We want to give people a place to breathe and think and be a little deeper. It is really about giving them time, hopefully, to develop something better. For example, he says, if entrepreneurs can build better tools to encourage people to exercise and eat well, they should be able to charge more for these tools.

The program will teach the founders to integrate consumer behavior research into the design of their products and services and to test each iteration using scientifically proven methods, says Ariely. Participants will receive office space and equipment, an operating budget and IT support. They will also receive mentorship from Duke’s business and engineering schools and will be able to work with the network of angels from Duke’s former investors and startups.

Ariely expects the incubator to be beneficial for founders and academics. “I hope to give people an understanding of what we already know, integrate it with what they do, and then create a roadmap for the things we need to start researching,” he says.

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