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Students at Stibo Accelerator Are Encouraged to Ask: What If?

An interactive price tag, built with 25 Raspberry Pi minicomputers, guides the customer around the four breakfast shelves in Stibo 1000.

IT company Stibo invites Master’s students to think up crazy ideas and radical innovation for their thesis projects.

IT company Stibo invites Master’s students to think up crazy ideas and radical innovation for their thesis projects.

This article is made in collaboration with ‘Stibo Accelerator‘ – one of the amazing partners making the magazine ‘From University to Unicorn 2021’ possible. You can read the full magazine here.

It’s the smallest supermarket in the city, but it’s also the most technologically advanced. When you choose a product from the shelf, smart price tags guide you to an alternative product, better suited to your allergies or your budget. And when you put that product in your shopping basket, it registers automatically and the tablet affixed to it loads suggestions for potential meals you could make with the product you’ve just chosen.

A futuristic scenario indeed, but the experimental supermarket, ’Stibo 1000’ was up and running back in 2016—a collaboration between IT company Stibo Systems, the supermarket chain Rema 1000 and three Master’s students studying IT Product Development at Aarhus University.

“The initial idea for our thesis project was to find out how we could bring digital features to a physical business such as a supermarket, instead of it always going the other way around, where businesses are moving more and more online. From there we pretty much had free reign to define the concepts,” says Søren Lundtoft, one of the students behind the Stibo 1000 project, alongside Laurits Langberg and Anders Nies.

Innovation from within

Many thesis projects are conducted in collaboration with companies, to ensure real-world business relevance, but when Stibo Accelerator invites students to collaborate on projects, the goal is not necessarily to solve a problem the company currently has, but to experiment and inspire more radical innovation within the company.

“For us, it’s such a privilege to work with young students who think differently and believe anything is possible. We’re up against the same obstacles as every large organisation: we know we have to think creatively and out of the box, but we’re also stuck in our routines, our repetitive Monday mornings. That’s why we are so open to radical ideas and innovation—they are essential for our own learning in the company, and for developing a culture of curiosity at Stibo,” says Karsten Dehler, director of Stibo Accelerator.

A total of 215 students have been through the accelerator so far, and have tackled questions like “Would ultra-transparency in retail actually work?” It’s this kind of approach that encourages students in the accelerator to explore not just the trials and tribulations of today and tomorrow, but to begin to shape the future in five to 10 years from now.

It’s not about new products

For the Stibo 1000 project, Rema 1000’s management were initially presented with 14 concepts—the wildest of which involved the customer sitting in a shopping trolley, wearing a VR headset and then shooting at the products they wanted from the shelves in a virtual world. For Dehler, this paints a very good picture of what Stibo Accelerator is all about.

“If the success criterion was to develop a product that could be put into use tomorrow, then this project would have been a total failure. But that was never the intention. The intention was to test out ideas and demonstrate the potential for what could be done,” he says, adding that parts of Stibo 1000 project have today, a whole five years later, become a reality for Amazon Go and Wholefoods in the USA, which shows just how good an indicator the project was for where things were headed in the future.

As for what happens to the thesis projects conducted at Stibo afterwards, they can become everything from inspiration catalogues to concrete commercial concepts, entire new startup companies or a full-time job at Stibo. The latter was the case for Søren Lundtoft, who looks back at his thesis period fondly.

“Some people prefer a concrete project where they have to solve a tangible task for a company, but for those who prefer to look at a field of technology and imagine all the many possibilities, the ‘what ifs’, Stibo Accelerator is a great place to really test out those ideas,” he says.

About: Stibo Accelerator

  • Stibo Group began as a printing company in Aarhus over 225 years ago. Today, the company’s subsidiary, Stibo Systems, is one of the leading master data management solutions in the world and the group employs 1,700 people across 21 countries.
  • With Stibo Accelerator, the foundation-owned company is able to offer students a place to conduct business-oriented thesis projects. In addition to an office space and lunch, writing a thesis at Stibo includes access to the company’s network of partners as well the possibility to run ideas by any of Stibo’s own employees.
  • 40 of the 200+ Master’s students who have been through the accelerator over the years have consequently been employed at Stibo.


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