Case studies

Designing a new venture for small business talent risk

The Hartford Small Business Innovation Lab
InsurTech | HR Tech
Hartford, CT

We collaborated with The Hartford’s Small Business Innovation lab to redefine how small, crafts-focused businesses manage risk.

The Hartford Small Business Innovation Lab was launched with the goal of reimagining the world of small business risk management.


We partnered with the Lab to help kick off their transformative efforts, working together to tackle our first design challenge: how do we build a holistic and trusting risk management relationship with small business owners?

Our goal was to help the Lab team empathize deeply with small business owners and to identify areas of opportunity that it could pursue to develop new, innovative solutions for this market.

Inherent in this design challenge were a number of additional questions. What does risk mean for small businesses? Do we all view risk the same way? What does trust in a relationship actually mean?


To start tackling these questions, we kicked off an “Explore” phase of ethnographic research, where the team left the office and focused on speaking with small business owners at work and at home. This included a wide range of business owners, including florists, landscapers, realtors, restaurateurs, and pest managers. 

This work allowed us to understand the day to day of small business owners, understand their view of risk, their views on insurance, what digital tools they rely on, and understand what opportunities might be out there. We brought prototypes of early concepts and assigned a number of different research homework assignments to provoke different types of interview feedback. 

After weeks in the field, we began to see a number of thematic patterns that helped us truly understand small business owners and their definition of risk. Insights emerged and we began to feel strongly about four areas of opportunity that could allow the Lab to take a bold step forward in redefining how small business owners manage and mitigate risk. 

The team quickly decided to create focus on a niche segment and one particular opportunity with the belief that we could develop a deep understanding for a small segment before broadening the scope. We specifically chose to focus on small, local crafts-focused business owners and the demand-planning and talent challenges they face. 

We felt strongly about the segment and the chosen opportunity area, and we next kicked off our “Design” phase of work. In this phase, we leveraged weekly research, design, build and test cycles to quickly learn and iterate. 

Each week had a beginning, middle, and end, where we focused on different questions:

  • Beginning: What are our learning goals? What hunches do we want to explore? How might we solve the problems our users are facing?What can we build to learn best? At what fidelity?
  • Middle: What research can help us learn what we want to learn or can inspire solutions?
  • End: What did we learn? How does that inform our Point of View? What was validated or invalidated? What still needs to be?

To dig into these questions, each week we employed three research approaches:

  • Primary | Interviews: to stay human-centered and to get actual feedback
  • Secondary | Market Research: to understand current solution sets and market trends
  • Inspiration | Lateral Exploration: to learn from other industries and solutions

Each week, we designed new, digital prototypes to show to users. These ultimately informed our concept point of view and our high fidelity digital experience that we created for the Lab. 

With confidence in a concept hypothesis, we explored the proposed digital experience with the broader Lab stakeholder team. We worked together to design a venture model for this solution to help build the vision and to inform experimentation. 

Together, we identified and prioritized hypotheses to test, and we defined an experimentation and learning plan for the Lab team to take action on as they launch iterations of the product into the market. 


At the end of our partnership, the Innovation Lab team had a fully developed software concept to experiment with and build. This included a digital prototype of the solution, a venture plan, an experimentation plan, a prioritized MVP feature list, and a secondary market assessment.

Client Testimonial
“Their deep empathy extracted nuances and insights that we would not have been able to gather on our own. Luke and his team’s storytelling ability allowed our executives to feel as if they had done the work themselves, truly “getting” the power of customer-centricity. Uniquely, the team has a broad business skillset that brought forth tangible and actionable concepts for us to build and launch.” “

Other case studies
The Hartford Small Business Innovation Lab

Through customer discovery work, we designed a new software venture for small business talent risk

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Other case studies
The Hartford Small Business Innovation Lab

Through customer discovery work, we designed a new software venture for small business talent risk

Read More