Interview with Michal Kabatznik
Co-founder & Head of Business Development @ Milestone Studio Labs

Milestone Studio Labs (MSL) is a company focused on social innovation with real and sustainable impact in the area of assistive technologies for people with disabilities and ageing populations. Our unique dual approach and R&D methodology help us work directly with the user (we call them need knowers) to understand their unmet needs which we then distill into really concise challenges. The MSL team believes that in today’s technologically advanced world, solutions can and should be developed for society’s biggest unmet challenges. While the current focus is on people living with disabilities and ageing populations, future work will include other unmet needs particularly those in developing countries. The Milestone team have developed a unique methodology that puts the user and his/her challenges at the centre of the design and prototyping process, fostering empathy and ensuring that actual needs are addressed. MSL prides itself on breaking down silos and gathers together individuals from different backgrounds into multidisciplinary teams to begin to create solutions to the challenges - believing that different skills and expertise only enrich the process and expand creativity. The MSL team facilitates a variety of social innovation activities (events, makeathons, workshops, courses, and more) with a diverse set of partners from the private sector, academia, the public sector, and non-profit organizations. These events focus on concise social challenges and solutions are developed together directly with the user.
Michal, what were your main motivations behind co-founding Milestone Studio Labs? What was it like deciding to co-found a company of your own?
When we open Milestone Studio Labs six months ago we had a really simple idea, we wanted to create solutions for some of the world's biggest unmet needs. Unmet needs are needs that just don't have a solution today because of market failure, a perceived lack of audience or just lack of interest. We really found it unfair that in a world where telephones are constantly developing and the phones in our pockets will be obsolete within a year, the crouch will look like a pair of sticks, the wheelchairs were barely innovated since the 19th century. We want to change that. We're bringing the world of technology and need together in order to solve the challenges in a creative and effective way. Finding our own company was very nerve-wracking. It takes a great leap of faith, a leap of faith in yourself, in your partner and in your idea in order to found a company. It's been an absolute rollercoaster ride and basically going to school back all over again. We're learning so much and growing every day, and despite all the ups and downs, it's been completely worth it.
Milestone Studio Labs was founded earlier this year. What kind of growth has the company experienced since, at what stage of development is the company?
Since we started Milestone Studio Labs about six months ago we spent our time honing our message focusing on what we really want to do, and finalizing our pitch. At the moment, we're at the stage where we're starting to secure some really strong partnerships with different universities, companies, international organizations. We have a dual revenue model, we're already bringing in revenue on our social innovation activities, while still working on raising the seed for product development. At this point we're in a strong place where we are getting the word out, pitching ourselves constantly raising the seed, and still generating revenue. We hope to close the seed within the next three to four months.
What's next for your work with Milestone Studio Labs? What are the main technologies, methodologies, and sectors you'll be focusing on in 2019?
In 2019 Milestone is looking to grow and to scale. We're staying true to our focus area of people with disabilities and aging populations. But we hope to dive in deeper, identify some true unmet needs focused on these populations. We have a really exciting new partnership in the area of VR. Understanding how VR and A.R. can create solutions to help these populations. There really is some interesting work being done there. We also are attracting a lot with students, engineering students and piloting a new approach to see how we can have students work together with elderly populations to not only create solutions to their challenges but also to learn together and learn new technology and learn 3D printing and CAD design to help enrich both sides toolboxes. We really want to focus on identifying two or three really strong solutions that we will take down to prototype level and then hopefully by the end of 2019 have them hit the manufacturing line and go ahead and do full development for a full market-ready product to be ready by 2020.
How did you develop the company's user-centered philosophy? Could you tell us a bit more about how this philosophy is manifested in the world of Milestone Studio Labs?
At Milestone we really believe in nothing about us without us. We work directly with the user and with the organizations that work with them to understand the basic needs that they have what is unmet, what is out there and what needs to be done. We believe that the user has key insights, and key input and when you match them with the designers, the engineers the programmers, creative genius actually happens. Most product designers have never actually sat with their user during their design process, during their creative process. They usually get a user brief on a piece of paper but they never get the life feedback. We put all these different worlds together, there is definitely some conflict but ultimately incredible creative solutions come out, everyone's minds are expanded and is really phenomenal to see. We really think all of our work is done in direct collaboration with a user themselves, we call them need-knowers or someone who works in the field, an institution, organization a school a hospital and they're called professional need-knowers. The need knowers understand best his or her needs. The professional need knowers knows exactly what's out there, what's in the field and what's available. They can give us invaluable feedback on what are the real true unmet needs, where improvement can be made where we need to come in and create new solutions.
What are some of the most socially innovative projects and products to come out of Milestone Studio Labs since the company was founded? What are the social impact goals of the company?
At Milestone, we focus on social innovation with scalable impact. We see a lot of people have all kinds of social innovation activities, hackathon, makeathon, workshops. It's all incredible. We're focused on what happens the day after, how many times have you been in a hackathon, and it's been very exciting and emotional and people have created wonderful prototypes, but what happens the next day when everyone goes back to work, and the solutions just lie to the side. With Milestones. It's our goal to take these solutions to the next level. We want to understand how we can take social innovation, take that creative energy harness it and create real impact, a scalable impact that will grow and really make a difference in people's lives around the world. We only work on unmet social needs. We believe that there are abundance of issues around the world that do not have a solution today and that in today's world of advanced technology there's no reason for that to be the case. We're starting off focusing on the areas of disabilities and aging, but the sky's the limit. Our methodology can handle and tackle all different kinds of unmet needs, whether it involves water solutions, neonatal solutions, developing world, the developing world has a whole host of unmet needs that need to be met, the sky truly is the limit, and that's where we're focusing, always on social impact and always on a scalable sustainable approach to it..