I came into this semester very unsure of what “open-source design” was and why a company or individual would ever choose it over patents or trademarks. After all, how could a company ever benefit or turn a profit from a design that is made available to everyone? This is the skepticism with which I entered the course.
I first began seeing OSD benefits in our study of the Tesla model: how they were able to capitalize on shared designs and blueprints, how they were able to work with companies all around the world to create the best possible electric car and yet still turn a profit, how they managed to create a market for electric cars by generating interest after their designs went public. I started to understand the ways that OSD could be incredibly productive and helpful to companies and inventors.
The values and actions that characterize the steps of OSD felt counter-intuitive at first to the profit-driven, capitalist mindset of our society. Yet once I understood that OSD is a business strategy that focuses on maximizing profit, value, and innovation in the long run, I was able to truly appreciate the genius of its structure. I especially witnessed this firsthand with our hydroponics system. We would not have been able to build the systems that we did without the help of dozens of other hydroponics designers and agriculturalists out there. But because the design is open-sourced, we were able to join in the global collaborative project to create the best, most efficient hydroponics systems in an effort to bring food and value to impoverished areas such as refugee camps.
On Tuesday, our class had the opportunity to speak with Duron Chavis, a Richmond urban gardener and the founder of Happily Natural Day. We had the chance to not only learn about what he does and how got there but also to ask him specific questions pertaining to our own hydroponics design. The exchange of information between our class and Mr. Chavis embodied, in a small way, the vision of Open Source Design: the communication between different designers and entrepreneurs about their similar projects for the sake of mutual betterment. To be fair, I don’t know how much he learned from our side, but we certainly gained more insight from him about how to improve or adjust our own hydroponic systems.
I particularly loved his thoughts on how to maximize the value of hydroponics systems. My team asked “Which do you believe would bring more value (at least for the project we’re working on- helping refugee camps): a system that is highly advanced and efficient in one specific area and that requires a higher level of maintenance, or an incredibly simple design that could be widely accessible and translatable across different refugee camps, plants, and environments, but isn’t as specialized or effective?” He said that he believed the best type of system would be one of simplicity and minimalization, something that doesn’t require a high level of maintenance. It’s better to have a simple design that is easy to understand and translate across different cultures, climates, and plants.
I read the article about the open-source tractor business that is being run in Cuba by two men of Cleber LLC. Their tractor model, known as the Oggun, is simple, classic design that is then being combined with new technology. The two men, Clemmons and Berenthal, have decided to open their business in Cuba, a huge step since the lifting of the 1960 embargo. Having seen the daily struggle of Cuban farmers first-hand, these men have opened a business that is both sustainable but also very socially-minded. This emphasis on furthering social good can most be seen through their decision to open-source, rather than patent, the Oggun tractor design.
“Clemmons says their ‘make it live longer’ model sets them apart from other equipment companies that use patented, proprietary components,” the article stated. I love the work that Clemmons and Berenthal are doing, because they are fighting against the natural “profit as the end goal” mindset, and instead are focusing on improving a business that is dedicated to helping Cuban farmers. Stories and exmaples such as this are helping me see how incredibly beneficial and valuable it can be to adapt the OSD model, rather than choosing to patent.
Now a few weeks into our experiment, I think it’s time to revisit the business model canvas that our team created earlier in the semester. Does the hydroponics system still follow the general bulletpoints of our model? What needs to be change or adjusted? Will its value impact still be about comparable?
Many of the general aspects of our canvas are still accurate, such as Key Partners and Key Activities. Our Activities include “production of the hydroponics system, distribution of the products, and receiving feedback from customers.” These are broad enough that the changing of our actual system structure does not merit the fixing of these parts of our business canvas. This also holds true for our Value Propositions section. The value created by our system still includes refugees growing their own food, helping a market devleop in these areas, giving refugees a productive activity, and growing kale which is rich in nutrition. The main aspect of our model that needs adjustment is the Cost Structure. In building our actual system, we switched out many of our planned materials for different ones, which definitely changes the cost structure of what we have built. Instead of counting buckets, manaul air pumps, and “wick material” as part of the cost, we need to substitute those for one large container, a plant trough, cotton material such as socks or a tshirt, and an electric air pump with an airstone. After fixing these details, our system will continue to be on track with what we orginially planned it to be in our business model canvas.