This month, Dart Labs makes a noteworthy public debut, an endeavour of vision and ingenuity that holds a promise of extraordinary things to come.
As an intelligent research and development engine with collaboration and innovation at its core, Dart Labs’ mission is to fuel the creation of new products and services and test new business ideas.
At the helm is Business Innovations Manager Paul Henry, who is charged with the “pursuit of innovation that intends to create original solutions to enhance the value we give to our customers, progress the way we do business and improve our environment.”
Henry explains that for many years the Dart group of companies has pursued many innovations; however, with no dedicated department it was often difficult for busy teams to commit time to all of them.
“There was a need to put some structure around these special projects and now we can with Dart Labs,” says Henry. “We live in an age of technological disruption and we’re seeing major examples of businesses using technologies to disrupt established business models.”
At first, Dart Labs will be focused specifically on transportation and finding ways to improve local travel. “We want to disrupt the status quo of commuting in Cayman,” says Henry. “Initially, our range of projects will be centred solely on transportation within Camana Bay. But we have a long-term vision driven by innovation.”
Innovation is in Dart’s DNA. It is one of several company values that is embedded in all of Dart’s projects and manifested across its real-life ventures, such as Camana Bay. Teamwork is another of those values.
Dart Labs expands its list of values beyond innovation and teamwork, zeroing in on a philosophy that is centred around people (human connection and relationships), fearlessness (no fear of failure), and curiosity (an inquisitive approach that challenges conventions). These principles are inspired by design thinking and lay the foundation for an approach that is iterative, human-centric and creative.
Design Thinking is a human-centric methodology used across various industries by businesses, universities, think tanks and other groups seeking creative strategies and a decision-making model to help them solve problems or successfully bring ideas to life. It is characterised primarily by its focus on real people and an iterative process allowing concepts to be prototyped and tested in real life situations. Simply put, it relies on human connection and flexibility to achieve specific goals.
“Including people in our process from the start is critical,” says Henry. “We’re not developing theories or hypothetical concepts and taking them straight to market for testing. We disrupt habits, we are creative and we have a repetitive process that depends on the contributions of real people — our staff, our customers, our business partners — in real life situations.”
Henry explains that one of the first steps is to empathise with people.
“By engaging with them and understanding their experiences, we can better define and frame the problems we want to solve. And that’s when we can begin exploring and testing a world of ideas, repeatedly, in order to truly create meaningful innovations.”
PEDALLING TO INNOVATION
Dart Labs’ pilot project, launching in Camana Bay this month, is positioned around the concept of bike sharing. The programme could have various benefits for the Town Centre such as less traffic congestion and increased parking, as well as personal health benefits for riders and a reduced carbon footprint for the island.
Dart could easily adopt a popular bike-sharing system that has been tried and tested in major cities. However, Dart Labs has remained true to its mission by not taking a cookie-cutter approach.
“It wouldn’t be too hard to implement a programme mirroring Citi Bikes in New York City,” says Henry. “But that system is not designed specifically for Camana Bay or the people of the Cayman Islands. That would be a gamble deprived of on-the-ground research.”
Instead, Dart Labs has structured a competition between participating Camana Bay tenants in order to design a truly functional and beneficial system. The challenge requests that contestants, represented by company teams, devise a bike-sharing program and put it to the test.
“We are setting teams up for a successful trial,” says Dart Real Estate Senior Property Manager Marvin Cox, a tenant liaison during the competition. “Dart Labs will provide plenty of guidelines and support to all tenants. They’ll also provide some pretty cool ‘Camana Bikes’ — a fleet of stylish and sporty bicycles that people will actually want to ride.”
The “Camana Bikes” competition is expected to last several months with results announced once a meaningful trial is concluded. In the meantime, Dart Labs continues to collect ideas it can develop and test. More than 50 concepts are currently on the table and they include several transportation ideas that may resonate with the Cayman community, including car sharing and alternative transport.
The vision guiding Dart Labs includes expansion beyond transportation in years to come. In the short term, that expansion includes immediate growth as it hires new innovators to join the team.
“We’re very excited,” says Henry, who works closely with a number of internal participants from various Dart companies and departments. “Our team of collaborators and innovators is taking centre stage. This is the beginning of a new age for Dart.”