How service design tools can facilitate business ideas development: Learning from Startup Weekend

Drawing insights from the Busan Expo2030 Techstar Startup Weekend, this article discusses challenges faced by participants and proposes the creation of a service design toolkit to enhance startup ideation.

Service Design can help define the problem and ideate solutions with the needs of the target users in mind. However, Service Design tools are not well-known in the startup communities. In this article, we observe the Startup Weekend event and explore how service design tools can be helpful during the early stage of business idea development.

Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend is an international event that brings together entrepreneurs, designers, developers, and others to share their ideas, form teams, and pitch startup ideas in just 54 hours. Startup Weekend is a program licensed by Techstars, a global startup network, ensuring the program’s quality and reliability.

On the 24th of July 2023, the Startup Weekend was held in Busan by Korea’s global impact accelerator South Ventures, which specializes in counseling and organizing government programs to assist foreigners secure startup visas and establish business in Korea. The event was held in the Busan Small Business Support Center in Korea's biggest Fish Market region, where foreign attendees may immerse themselves in local culture.

Startup Weekend Venue

Busan Small Business Support Center

Due to the low number of participants, Startup Weekend is being done in one day rather than the usual 54-hour model. Over 20 people from more than 15 different countries took part in total. The participants are divided into seven teams of three to four persons each. Despite the fact that there were fewer attendees than expected, the event mood remained cheerful and energetic.

In the morning, a team-building exercise was held, followed by a brief session. Jay, the session's principal organizer, presented examples of business ideas in both English and Korean during the workshop. Following that, participants were invited to discuss how specific businesses made money. Following the training, attendees form groups and begin brainstorming company ideas.


Teams working on their startup ideas

After lunch, the teams got 1:1 mentoring with mentors for 20 minutes per session. There were six mentors, and each team got to meet three mentors.

Introducing mentors

Mentoring session

The rest of the afternoon was for the teams to develop ideas and prepare for a 5-min pitch. Here is an overview of the startup weekend schedule.

9:00 ~ 10:40             Team building & Workshop
10:40 ~ 12.00           Brainstorming
12:00 ~ 13:00           Lunch
13:00 ~ 15:00           Mentoring
15:00 ~ 16:20           Preparation
16:20                         PPT submission
16:20 ~ 17:00           Preparation
17:00 ~ 18:00           Pitching and award ceremony

Busan Expo 2030 Startup Ideas

The theme of this startup weekend is the Busan Expo 2030. Busan is among the three candidates that aim to host the World Expo in 2030. In preparing the city for such a global event, participants were encouraged to develop ideas related to Busan Expo 2030, social issues, urban challenges, logistics, and content creation. Here are the ideas that were pitched at the Startup Weekend.

English Study Buddy to improve English communication skill
Busan End to End
- a safe bike route and rental shops around Busan tourist areas
Global Connect -
a platform that connects international visitors to foreigners living in Busan [Best teamwork prize]
Trash to Treasure - a recycling machine [Grand Prix prize]
- a mobile app with information about local places
- transforming abandoned school buildings into affordable tourism and experience center
Neva project
- standardizing qualification testing

Preliminary study

The research goal of this study is to explore opportunities for a service design toolkit to facilitate startup idea development. To do so, we aim to understand what needs to be added to the current workshop. We observed the mentoring sessions and noted what mentors said to the teams. This way, we could infer what should be improved in the idea. We then analyzed the data and extracted the main keywords. As this study is in its early stages, the methodology may not be rigorous, but it can provide some preliminary insights or indications.

Observation results

Based on the quotes we collected, we organized the problems with the startup ideas and categorized them into five main keywords.

Problem (The Why)
Solution (The What)
Target user (The Who)
Making it work (The How)
Differentiation (The Where)

Here are the challenges that come up during the mentoring sessions. The first one is the problem (or the Why). Startup ideas may need a clearer problem definition. For example, teams may develop interesting ideas but fail to identify a real problem. Also, it is likely to try to solve many problems all at once. The lack of focus on the problem makes it difficult to understand why the idea is needed in the first place.

The second challenge is the solution (or the What). Teams often develop great ideas but find it difficult to conceptualize them. Here, mentors came in to put a name to the idea. For example, Team B wants to utilize empty spaces like schools for tourism. The idea can be called a space rental. Besides, it is also common for teams to want to do many things. Mentors ask questions like ‘What is the one keyword that describes your business idea’ or ‘What is the core of the business.’ Without the ‘one’ strong idea, the ideas can’t portray the impact and could be confusing.

The third challenge is the target user (or the Who). When focusing too much on the solutions, teams can lose focus on whom this solution is for. This issue is related to the first issue about the problem. It is advised that the team think about their target users and their problems, then propose a solution that solves those problems.

The fourth challenge is making it work (or the How). Teams often come up with great ideas but need more details on how you can overcome challenges to get them done. For example, the teams need to think of how they are going to make money (the revenue model) or who are the stakeholders involved. Due to the limited time, this challenge may be the most difficult part of the startup idea. Often, ideas that have yet to be executed already present challenges, and startup ideas should address how they will overcome them to make them work.

The last challenge we observed is the differentiation (or the Where). No ideas exist in the vacuum, and there are usually already many solutions out there. It is essential to show how your ideas are located in the landscape and how they differ from existing ones.

The issues we observed regarding the idea are the five challenges, the Why, What, Who, How, and Where. There is another issue with idea presentation or the ‘narrative.’ Mentors show the team what to include in the pitch deck and how they can structure the idea. They are also advised on presentation techniques, such as how many slides they should use for the 5-min pitch or how they should try to squeeze in the related information in one page instead of putting them on separate slides. Although most teams can naturally present their ideas, it seems helpful to have some guidelines on how to pitch.


Based on what we found from the study, here are some of the ideas on how service design tools can help facilitate startup idea development. Considering different stages of idea development, we could develop tools to help startup teams:

Capture ideas: How might we record ideas that came up instantaneously?
Expand Ideas: How might we develop more creative ideas from existing ideas?
Organize & select ideas: How might we sort and evaluate ideas?
Conceptualize & present ideas: How might we effectively tell ideas?

The Why, What, Who, How, and Where need to be considered in every stage, while ‘narratives’ are primarily relevant to the last stage.

Concluding thoughts

We have presented our findings on issues regarding the development of startup ideas and proposed directions to develop service design tools to address these challenges. As concluding thoughts, we want to share our overall impression of the event, what we learn, and future work.


Startup Weekend is a truly global event that brings together diverse individuals. It’s remarkable to see people from various nationalities. Even more impressive is that many foreigners are fluent in Korean, and Koreans are fluent in English. Nonetheless, the organizers accommodate both English and Korean speakers. This reflects how inclusive this Busan startup community is.

We express our gratitude to the Startup Weekend organizers, South Ventures, for allowing us to observe the event firsthand. Witnessing the enthusiasm of the participants has been truly inspiring. We would also like to credit Busan Small Business Support Center for providing a lovely venue.

Overall, this startup community provides an excellent platform where foreigners and Koreans driven by an entrepreneurial spirit can discover inspiration, mutually learn, and support each other.

Group photo from Organizers


We had anticipated a higher level of structure being provided to the participants, but the program did not heavily influence the development of ideas. Despite the program’s minimal interference, the participants managed to develop comprehensive ideas within a short timeframe. They were enthusiastic about sharing their ideas and engaged in lively conversations throughout. This made us question whether an additional tool was necessary. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to discover the extent to which they could further leverage tools to enhance their ideas.

What’s next

We are considering developing a service design toolkit to aid startup teams in ideating and developing their ideas. Then, we can test, evaluate, and improve the toolkit. Collaborating with event organizers who host events like Startup Weekend would be valuable in this regard. Finally, we can expand the use of the toolkit in more extended idea development periods, such as in startup accelerator programs.