An Experimental School Teaching Designers to Become Founders

The Light Phone, one of the first 30 Weeks projects to come to market.

Design for Lift

Pop quiz, hotshot – what do the founders and cofounders of Etsy, Airbnb, Pinterest, and Behance have in common? They all come from a design background.

In 2014 execs at Google Creative Labs realized the world needed more designer-founders and they decided to do something about it.

The result was 30 Weeks, “a founders program for designers”, which Google developed with Hyper Island, a creative, tech-focused business school regarded by some as “Digital Harvard”.

With partners at SVA, Pratt, Cooper Union, and Parsons, the program launched in 2014 to help budding entrepreneurs with a background in graphic design, industrial design, architecture, and advertising launch their own business.

“The idea is that by running them through 30 weeks of ideation, validation, and iteration, the designers will come up with amazing ideas,” Marianne Aerni, a consultant and strategist and, until recently, 30 Weeks’ co-director, told us. “And it really has worked.”

The 30 Weeks program itself went through some iteration. After the first class, the program was shortened to 15 weeks of entrepreneurship modules. Participants can then reapply for another 15 weeks of free coworking space and mentorship if they’re interested. “30 Weeks is a really long time to just ideate if you don’t come up with a product,” Aerni said. “And supporting yourself in the city in all that time can be very difficult.”

Among the program’s earliest successes is Light Phone, a credit-card sized phone that promises the ability to go off-the-grid without sacrificing the ability to make an emergency call.

“The program is built out of this amazing hypothesis, that designers should be at the founding table of companies,” Light Phone cofounder Joe Hollier told us, “that design isn’t just an add-on, it’s part of everything a company does… The biggest thing was giving me the space away from the freelance struggle to create something – that was a big catalyst for me. And having the support of Google made me think bigger than I would have thought if it was just me in my room.”

After a massively successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $415,000, the Light Phone is currently being mass produced by Foxconn and will begin shipping in June.

For Meghan Carreau, who is now halfway through the program, 30 Weeks has been critical in the development of Tuckrbox, a farm-to-lunchbox food delivery service for school kids. “You’re sourcing problems and conducting user interviews and really digging super deep to see if your idea is worth pursuing,” she said.

Although the future of 30 Weeks is still undecided, you can check out Hyper Island’s full lineup of New York programs and courses right here.