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Extreme Blue Belgium – nurturing talent behind the next generation of IBM products

The IBM Extreme Blue internship program gives students the opportunity to work directly with real-life clients, developing a product or service that addresses an actual market challenge. In the process students gain valuable first-hand experience of interacting with clients, creating business plans and building a prototype – not to mention the opportunity to work with cutting-edge new technologies. And it’s not just the interns who benefit: through the program, which takes place across 15 Extreme Blue labs worldwide, interns have submitted more than 400 patent disclosures, made more than 60 contributions to the open source community and helped create solutions for key clients, effectively taking to market the next generation of IBM products.

As always, the 11 participating students joining the Belgian 2012 Extreme Blue program reflect a diverse mix of nationalities and academic experience. Split into three project groups comprising of one business student and three technical students, each group is allocated a client with a specific challenge to address. In their teams students work together to develop a business plan and build a prototype for their client, supported by a host of IBM mentors.

Here’s a snapshot view of the phases of the program and what students have learned along the way.

Week 1 – Analysis: Assessing customer need
From the outset the program engenders teamwork and a sociable environment – this is a unique opportunity for the students to connect and engage with a diverse cross-section of nationalities and academic backgrounds. The social aspect of the program embraces an ethos of “work hard, play hard” and actively encourages students to collaborate, share ideas and learn from each other. The first week of the program is dedicated to client interviews. For many, this is their first experience of dealing directly with clients and a key element of their coaching from the IBM mentors begins with learning a few crucial consulting and communication skills to help conduct effective interviews and gather the most useful information for the task ahead.

Weeks 2 & 3 – Idea: Brainstorming approximately 75 ideas
The next two weeks are spent brainstorming ideas that will ultimately be narrowed down to three key concepts, which in turn will lead to the development of one final prototype selected by the client. To guide the process they are coached on a range of creative thinking techniques. The general guiding philosophy is “no idea is too crazy”.

Week 4 – Concept: Specify three concepts
At week four things generally get tougher as creativity collides with business reality. While the previous two weeks are all about unrestrained creativity, the students now start the arduous process of narrowing down their many ideas to three key concepts. To guide the process it’s time to evaluate their ideas across a few key criteria by asking which ideas can truly be described as innovative, achievable, having the “wow factor” and, of course, meeting the customer’s requirements.

Weeks 5-10 – Prototyping: Build the business case and proof of concept
After a tough week of killing off ideas that don’t quite make the grade, the students eventually converge on three or four more robust concepts. Together with the client, the most promising idea will be selected and developed into a solid business case and prototype. While each student can now draw on their academic background – business students will focus on defining the value of the solution in business terms, while the technical students focus on the deeper development of the prototype – the groups still work as a team gaining insight into both the business and technical aspects of the project. It’s also time to start experimenting with some of the exciting new technologies at their disposal.

Weeks 11 & 12 – Wrap-up: Prepare the demo and final presentation
By the end of their internship, the students emerge with a broad range of new skills relating to essential business activities such as client contact, communication and presentation, consulting, developing a business plan, building a prototype, filing a patent and working with new programs and technologies. Language skills are also given a boost.

All this contributes to a far more confident group of interns compared to the beginning of the program. The fifth and final stage of their internship concerns a visit to the European Expo along with Extreme Blue students from across Europe, to present their final end-product to IBM’s Executive Management, international press and fellow European student teams. But perhaps the ultimate accolade is the knowledge that their hard work and creativity has launched a new product or service that will actually be put to use out there in the real world.

Interested for 2013? Read more and apply.

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