In a recent speech outlining the Cayman Islands Government’s policy agenda through 2021, Premier Alden McLaughlin highlighted the need for a “radical new approach to public transport” in the Cayman Islands.
“All the evidence suggests that if we simply increase road capacity, then sooner or later the roads will just become congested again as our population continues to grow,” he said. “In anticipating tomorrow’s problems we must deliver alternative solutions.”
For the team at Dart Labs, redefining the status quo of commuting in the Cayman Islands has been the driver behind its three most recent pilot programmes: Camana Bikes, Better Commute, and ZÜN, the last of which launched in 2019.
Dart Labs is the organisation’s innovation lab, tasked with going beyond business as usual to pilot new products and services that complement existing parts of the business.
Dart Labs Manager of Business Innovations Paul Henry says that his department is responsible for collaborating with executives, different internal departments and even outside organisations to research and identify opportunities to innovate or test and implement new ideas.
“Our job is to test experimental initiatives related to our core business activities,” he says. “Once our executive agrees on a hypothesis or idea they would like to test, Dart Labs sets up a pilot project to field test the minimum viable product (MVP) and gather data that will inform the final investment decision.”
Although it may seem counterintuitive for a real estate developer to focus on alternative transport, Mr. Henry says Dart Labs’ current focus aligns with Dart’s business objectives and commitment to the sustainable economic development of the Cayman Islands.
“Studies have shown that real estate values increase when everyday mobility needs can be met by walking, bicycling and transit,” he says. “Diverse transportation options are linked with increased commercial activity, increased real estate values, increased wellbeing and an increased sense of community, all of which are essential to continued socio-economic development and improved quality of life.”
Dart Labs’ human-centric methodology begins with on-the-ground research that informs an iterative process.
“On-the-ground research is critical when venturing into new areas where experience is limited or existing data is scarce or not available,” Mr. Henry says. “It allows you to validate your hypothesis cheaply and identify if an opportunity even exists before committing larger amounts of capital.”
Rather than being led by technology, a key motivator for Dart Labs is enhancing value for customers.
“This is an important distinction for us: We are technology enthusiasts and are excited about the benefits offered by emerging technologies but we believe a focus on customer’s needs, both today and tomorrow, provides powerful insight into areas where innovation is required,” he says.
Once the Dart Labs team has defined their project, they utilise a combination of primary and secondary research methods to develop an understanding of the associated customer, market and business context.
“We also involve potential customers,” Mr. Henry says. “Co-creation with customers is a fantastic way of gathering first hand feedback that can be incorporated into the full design.”
In Dart Labs’ quest to pilot new products and services, Mr. Henry says failure is an almost inevitable part of the innovation process. Dart Labs provides a safe environment for Dart to experiment and explore while limiting risk to bottom line.
“A fear of failure can cripple decision making and lead to missed opportunities or losing ground to competitors,” he says. “Regardless of whether a pilot succeeds or fails, the data collected has immense value and can benefit future projects.”
Better Commute provides a case-in-point for Mr. Henry: Although Dart Labs decided not to pursue investment beyond the pilot project, the data collected provided valuable insights about employee commute preferences and the challenges to moving away from single occupancy vehicles.
“During the pilot project, we saw a total of 1,772 trips logged on the platform,” he says. “This new dataset and on-the-ground test experience will be applied to future initiatives.”
Dart Labs’ current focus is on ZÜN, a new car-sharing service developed in partnership with Arch Automotive. Mr. Henry says innovative business models like ZÜN can contribute to a broader solution for the country’s transportation issues.
"ZÜN is among a growing number of Caymanian start-ups that have embraced cutting-edge technology,” he says. “There’s no denying that many Cayman business owners have a visionary, entrepreneurial spirit and innovative goods and services such as ZÜN are being enthusiastically received.”
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