You want to start up a business yet you are unsure of the type of businesses to start. Maybe you have a general direction on an industry that you are interested in such as Food and Beverages, Fashion, E-Commerce. However, you find yourself struggling to narrow down to a specific concept, or an interesting idea to kick start your startup journey.

Fret not, what you are experiencing is completely normal. Not everyone has the ‘AHA’ moment when they started out. If you are uncertain of what type of businesses you want to start up, it just means that you need to brainstorm for a business idea.


What is brainstorming?


Brainstorming is an activity that helps to generate more innovative ideas. It is one of the many ways of ideation and it occurred at the creative process. A large number of ideas you have generated will enable you to come up with a different solution for different problems faced.


Why brainstorming?

thinking caps

There is a saying that “Change is the only constant in life”. We need to put on the innovative thinking cap all the time because of the ever-changing environment. What works for today might not work tomorrow. Therefore, brainstorming plays a huge part to bounce ideas, stimulate comments and considering ideas without limitation. With that, gathering of people to brainstorm enable the people who are stuck to certain ideas to be unstuck, improve on team collaboration through communication as learning from each other through our thought process.


Rules of Brainstorming

Inspired by world-renowned design studio IDEO, SCOOP is introducing their 7 different rules of brainstorming on how to use certain steps and procedures to ideate in the most creative and productive way.

#1: Quantity

Focus on generating as many ideas as possible first without thinking if it is actually feasible. Set a numerical stretch target number of ideas that groups must reach.

#2: Defer Judgement

Hold off on the judging of so-called ‘bad ideas’, because we never know what these ideas may lead to.

#3: 1 at a time

Talk about one idea at a time without jumping to discuss others at the moment.

#4: Encourage Wild Ideas

An unrealistic idea may not be the road to getting the perfect solution, but it may lead to ultra-creative but feasible ideas.

#5: Visualize

Our brain processes visuals 60 000 times more than text. In fact, 90 per cent of the information transmitted to the brain is in the form of visuals. So doodle, draw and sketch. You never know what new connections you may be discerning.

#6: Build on the Ideas of Others

Instead of shooting down ideas, think of how one can build on the efforts that someone else makes. Say “and”, instead of “but”.

#7: Stay Focus on One Topic

Knowing the objective of the brainstorming session is important. Therefore, having one topic as the main object of discussion will allow the participants to be focused as they generate ideas.

Now you know the Whats and Whys of brainstorming, SCOOP is going to share with you 6 ways to brainstorm for a business idea.


#1- Let your creativity flow

creativity flow

Start reading about businesses that interest you – general business, business trends and social causes which can inspire you to come up with potential businesses.

If you have a particular industry or social cause in mind, you may spend your time to research on it. For example, if you want to start an online delivery service, you may read up more on the mechanism of how online delivery service works. You may want to speak to the deliverers on how it really works for them, what are their wants, needs and problems faced. If you are daring, email the founders of those online delivery services to know more of their business models. You never know that through all the research and interaction, one of the ideas will capture your thoughts to expand further.


#2 – Gather people to start the brainstorm session



Define the objectives of the brainstorming session, such as what you hope to achieve from the brainstorming session – clarity of social mission, business model, products, service, needs, wants and problems from potential customers, etc.

Gather potential business partners or even people who might not be supportive of your ideas for this brainstorming session. Why should you invite unsupportive individuals? As we defer judgement, we encourage more wild ideas! Allowing these individuals to share their own viewpoints and experience will enhance your business idea.

During a brainstorming session, be willing to hear suggestions and criticism as you pitch your ideas. Most importantly, thank people for taking the time out to brainstorm with you because time is valuable and their insights are even more precious for it stems from their personal encounters.

As brainstorming session is the first start, make sure you choose a quiet location which is free from distraction.


#3- Use tools to steer your discussion

As you conduct your brainstorming session, make sure you have the following items:

  1. Whiteboard / Flip chart paper
  2. Notepads / post-its pads
  3. Coloured markers / coloured pens
  4. Those notes that you have researched
  5. Laptops for research purposes.

Using the items above, I will introduce you the three tools of how I do my brainstorming session.


1st tool: Mind map

I learnt about mind mapping when I was P6. A mind map is a visual brainstorming useful tool created by Tony Buzan. It is not just for brainstorming, also good for examination notes as it helps to organise thoughts behind an idea or question.

All you need to do is:

  1. Start with a word or question in the middle of the paper.
  2. Branch out from the centre words with relatable words or concept. At this point, you can write as many ideas as you want.
  3. Continue to branch out from the second word to add words or questions related to the sub-topic.
  4. You may branch out more with related words or questions as long as ideas are popping up from your team.

mind map example

2nd tool: Sticky Notes

This is the most original and simple way to organise your thoughts visually. I once divided a dozen of students into groups to brainstorm business ideas for a Coop Club’s session.  I was surprised to see how the students came up with many interesting business ideas based on this single brainstorm session.

Here are the steps:

  1. Draw a line to divide the flip chart into 2.
  2. On the left write the header ‘COMPLAINTS’ and on the right write the header ‘IDEALS’.
  3. COMPLAINTS’ refers to the pains points/gaps/challenges of community/society faced. ‘IDEALS’ refers to the wish lists/ideals/solution that would be possible to solve the ‘complaints’.
  4. Write down as many of ‘complaints’ and ‘ideals’ on the post-it pads before pasting it on the flip chart under each of the categories.
  5. After the initial brainstorming, individuals may pose questions that would trigger their thinking of the ideas given. Insights of ideas pasted can be shared to facilitate more discussion.


3rd Way: SWOT Analysis

I was taught SWOT Analysis during my University days and used it widely in several of my university modules. SWOT Analysis is good for existing and new businesses. It can help put business owners on the right track as they assess the business environment and save the business from potential threats or future issues.

S.W.O.T stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. SWOT Analysis is typically conducted using the four-square template where it helps to organize the list of your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Strengths and Weaknesses are internal to the company.
For example, reputation, location. etc. These factors can be changed over time but not without work.

For Strengths, you may list some of the factors such as:

  • Advantages of your business compared to competitors.
  • Unique selling points of your business.
  • What are the internal resources your business have? For example, the skills, reputation, background, networking of the staff or management?
  • Think about the tangibles assets your business have such as its existing customers base, patents, technology owned, a good Research and Development department, etc.

For Weaknesses, you may list some of the factors such as:

  • Area of improvement to compete with your competitors?
  • What does your business lack? For example, expertise, capital, social mission, etc.
  • Accessibility to your company. For example, local or overseas-based, physical or virtual.


Opportunities and Threats are external factors affecting your company.
These factors, for example, your suppliers, prices, etc.are unchangeable. These risks are outside of the market and will always be constant, whether you like it.

For Opportunities, you may list some of the factors such as:

  • What are the external attractive factors of your business?
  • What are the opportunities you can benefit from the market?
  • Are there any opportunities due to the ever-changing environment in the market that can benefit your business?

For Threats, you may list some of the factors such as:

  • What are the uncontrollable external factors that could put your business at risk?
  • Who are your existing and potential competitors?
  • Are there any challenges due to the ever-changing environment in the market which may lead your business to decline profits?
  • Are there new products, services, technologies in the market which will make your business outdated?
  • What is the shift in customers’ behaviour, government regulation and the global economy’s situation?

Now you know what SWOT Analysis is, let me show you how it was conducted:

  1. Draw a line vertically down to the middle of the flip chart. Follow by drawing a line across the middle horizontally.
  2. In the upper left box, label ‘Strengths’ and the upper right box as ‘Weaknesses’. In the lower-left box, put ‘Opportunities’ and the lower right box as ‘Threats’.
  3. In each box, your brainstorming team can identify factors in each of the four categories as they pen them down.
  4. Once you are done identifying the factors, you may reorganise the factors according to the highest priority at the top to the lowest priority at the bottom.


Credit: jeanlouis_zimmermann

Lastly, everyone loves food! Provide some snacks and beverages to perk everyone up during the brainstorming session for it kept the team hydrated and focused.



#4- Think of the pain points in your life

pain points

What are the problems you faced daily?

It could be:

  1. The constant breakdown of public transport at peak period.
  2. Bags with an open pocket that will tempt a potential thief to action.
  3. The high surge price of private cars during peak hours.
  4. The lack of inclusive of wheelchair-friendly locations.
  5. The lack of family-friendly places in public areas.
  6. Signal for data connection is weak.
  7. Pedestrians having to speed up their steps due to the short time frame given to cross traffic. This will endanger the lives of everyone, especially the elderly who required more walking time.
  8. Losing your valuables and never getting a chance to retrieve it back because you forgot where you misplaced it?

Do you wish there were ways to solve the above issues? If these issues are commonly felt by a large number of people, this is the moment where you can narrow it down to a business idea!

For example, meet Bobby the anti-theft backpack which solved one of the above pain points of having belongings stolen by thieves due to open bag pockets.

#5- Questions your selected business ideas

ask qns 5w1h

This is the most crucial step in the brainstorming session where a large number of business ideas get generated. It is the time where questions are asked one at a time, without jumping to discuss other ideas at one given moment. You may ask questions to consider other alternatives, re-work on assumptions or continue with current thoughts of the business ideas. Defer your judgement by asking open-ended questions and allow your team to have time for response.

As you stay focused on your business ideas, you may now assess the ideas to see whether these ideas can be turned into fully-functioning business ideas. Consider real hard on the following questions:

  1. Do you have a team of the right person to build on your business idea?
  2. Do you have the capital to startup?
  3. Will your business ideas be appealing to the mass to keep your business sustainable?
  4. Is the current market open for your business idea? Are there any potential competitors?
  5. Are your operations costs high or low?
  6. What is the financial projection of your business idea?
  7. What is the long-term plan after 5th years of projection?


#6- Pick the best business idea

pick the best business idea_checklist

Finally, this is the moment of truth. After considering real hard on the above-mentioned questions, you have the answers for your chosen business idea. With the social mission and business model chosen, you can move on by crafting out a business plan to give this business idea a try!

Stay tuned for the next article where SCOOP will guide you on how to write a business plan, specifically co-operative business plan!

Here you go, 6 ways to brainstorm for business ideas. Get started for your brainstorming session, especially if you are joining our Creathon 2020 on 18 to 19 Jan 2020.