The Co-up Lab

The Co-up Lab is a novel education approach for hands on learning and spurring innovation in the life science context. Based on co creation, the pop up space creates an interface for interaction on site between students and stakeholders. It makes citizen outreach of education and education of citizen outreach.

Pilot Co-up Lab in Flemingsberg, Karolinska Institutet Library May 9, 2019

The Co-up Lab combines “pop up” innovation spaces and an incubation programme focusing on early incubation. Students develop ideas in co-creation with stakeholders, professionals and end-users. With the mobile innovation spaces we “pop up” at different locations such as the entrance of a hospital, forming an interface between the classroom and the public, the learning and real context and the innovation process and the user. The educational offer is designed as a semester-long educational experience with 3 “co-ups” that follow a user-centred approach. However, each “Co-up” is open to students eager to learn either the theme of that co-up or to work with their idea at one event instead of the semester-long programme.

Key concepts: co-creation, user-focus, experimentation, interdisciplinarity, improve health.

The Co-up Lab project 

Society is facing many challenges. The aging population alongside the growing chronic diseases are putting extra pressure on the welfare state and healthcare systems. These challenges need professionals ready to take action, co-transforming with the system. But this is not how students are trained today. In research-driven institutions, there is lower priority for entrepreneurial learning approaches, such as hands-on interaction with external partners, team projects and having teachers acting as facilitators. Entrepreneurial learning and training for a changed mindset relies on hands-on training and follows a process built on user-centred design. However, user-centred approaches need access to users, and this is not possible with the regular courses today, where the education is located at specific campus areas.

The aim of the project is to develop and test an educational approach that prepares students to take entrepreneurial action to address key priorities within healthcare through innovation. The project also aims to explore innovation spaces - what can happen and should happen in a creative space and what do we need to offer in such a space? With this project, based on a concept where we “pop-up” with a creative innovation space at different locations, we hope to find the first answers and guidelines. 

The project was developed and the training offered for the first time in 2019. It turned out that there is no problem at all to facilitate training in a public space like a library or hospital entrance, and indeed rewarding for the students, “-Talking directly with patients and staff has given me a new perspective on how to approach a problem”. Two Co-up labs were set-up; one in Södersjukhuset and the other at Tekniska museet. Both were insightful and valuable to have students integrate with the public to get feedback and co-create ideas. Learnings from the pilot year include that the students had little time to participate in a semester-long programme that is not offering credits. In the second year, students were also able to participate in individual Co-Up Labs, depending on interest and what areas of their learning process they need to develop.

Main project partners

As a consortium for this project, we share an interest in exploring entrepreneurial education, co-creation in research and innovation and spaces for innovation. Together we want to empower students to become entrepreneurial change-makers of tomorrow.

Unit for bioentrepreneurship, Karolinska Institutet, offers a two-year global Master's programme and single-subject courses. Special interests are entrepreneurial learning, process design and facilitation. Activity leader. 

Stockholm Region/Sös Innovation is the regional knowledge centre of health innovation services focusing on service design and innovation close to caregivers and patients. 

Tekniska museet/The Technical Museum (TM) is the second-largest science centre in Sweden. Of specific importance for the Co-up Lab is their interest in educational spaces in Stockholm. 

Karolinska Institutet Innovations (KIAB) is a science business incubator at KI with expertise in business development and coaching.

Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship (SSES) is a platform that provides courses and incubation for students of five of Stockholm’s universities.

The Co-up lab incubation programme

The Co-up lab incubation programme was designed for students who want to explore ways to learn skills that can accelerate their career, expand their potential or educate themselves about the complexity of the healthcare context. The Co-up Lab incubation programme was tailored to empower students with an interest in healthcare and/or life science to bring their own ideas to life and become future “change agents”, taking a stake in the future of healthcare.

During the autumn semester in 2019 and 2020, students had the chance to take action and develop solutions to address key healthcare priorities, such as patient empowerment through actually doing real innovation. The participants worked on their own entrepreneurial journeys in small teams. They were provided user-centred methodologies and business tools to advance the projects. Teachers and experts held seminars and coached the teams to facilitate the incubation and learning progress.

The programme is designed as a learning journey, with a basis in the Co-up Lab concept, ie education is happening through co-creation with stakeholders at remote sites. The programme provided support in form of educational activities and coaching from the various partners of the project. Being a project within EIT Health, the Co-up Lab offered its participants the possibility to tap into the vast opportunities within this network.

The programme is focused on two key concepts: 

User focus, including contextual user research to understand latent needs, user testing and co-creation, facilitating patient-driven medicine and healthcare.  

Experimentation, including prototyping, iteration, involving the creation of physical space for experimentation. 
In order to bring the work closer to the actual users, we take the learning and project work outside of the classrooms, with a “pop-up” at different locations in so-called Co-up Lab “events”. With these pop-up events, we occupy various relevant arenas (e.g. the entrance of a hospital) with a physical creative space for co-creation and innovation for 2 days. On the first day of the Co-up Lab pop-ups, seminars and workshops will prepare the teams for the immersion and research which will take place on the following day.

Themes for the events are aligned with the projects of the enrolled participants and educational seminars and workshops are set to be in line with the projects development stage, according to the user-centred process:

  • Co-up Lab 1: (at Södersjukhuset): Understanding 
  • Co-up Lab 2: (at Tekniska Museet): Testing and creation
  • Co-up Lab 3: (at Tekniska Museet): Communication
  • Exhibition (at Karolinska Institutet Library Solna): Implementation

Study pace and learning activities

Hands-on work focuses on the practical incubation of ideas with the help of design and co-creation methodologies, making use of the temporary Co-up Lab innovation spaces at the different locations. The education aims to provide guidance and preparation that enables the project teams to co-create the “pop-up” events together with the local host, to collect data, test their ideas in the real setting and make sense of the information collected, to further develop the projects. The lecture and seminar part of the incubation programme run throughout one semester but is concentrated mainly on the Co-up Lab event days.

The team's projects are be documented through a reflective journal as well as photos illustrating recent developments, break-through moments as well as difficulties. In this way, we aim to be able to share stories and allow other interested people to take part in the process. 

The Co-up lab incubation programme run over one semester. The participants are expected to spend a minimum of 10 hours per week on the programme, corresponding approximately to a 7.5 credits course. (Active attendance is the prerequisite in order to receive a certificate).  

Learning objectives and outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

  • User-focus and health innovation
  • Product and service development within healthcare and life science
  • Healthcare market, stakeholders and complexity of the healthcare system
  • Basics related to regulatory, IP and IPR

Competence and skills

  • Design thinking and specific user-centred tools (e.g. empathy maps, customer-journeys, storytelling and communication)
  • Develop and test prototypes (MVPs), analyze feedback from users and other stakeholders
  • Basic business tools, e.g. SWOT, NABC and BMC

Judgment and approach

  • Critical understanding of entrepreneurship
  • Identify how and when to apply methods taught
  • Reflect on entrepreneurial opportunities and see these as relevant for one’s
  • future career

A certificate by EIT Health is handed out upon successful completion of the programme. Active attendance is a prerequisite for this.

The Co-up Lab incubation programme in 2020

  • Start: 21 September 2020
  • End: December 2020
  • Expected time investment: approximately 10 hrs/ week (which corresponds to a 7,5 credits course)
  • Available spots: 15
  • Certificate: Yes, provided by EIT Health 

The programme acknowledges the importance of own real experience and follows the user-centred process. In concrete, learning will happen through hands-on project work, peer to peer learning, stakeholder interaction and “real-life setting implementation” of new knowledge. This year's projects centre around our challenge of “Future of health care”.

New for 2020, students could both participate in the whole programme or visit just one of the events. If you are a student interested in exploring an idea or immersing yourself in one step of the user-centred design process, you can apply to be part of only one Co-up Lab event (or several). You will not receive coaching in between the events if you are not a part of the programme.

CoUp lab project

Education as outreach and outreach as education

At Tekniska museet we also used the space to focus specifically on citizens, inviting families to be “innovators for an hour” with the task to re-design their personal experience of being sick (or the experience of being at the hospitals). Children and their relatives were first interviewed about their experiences to get started. After this, they were introduced to the creative space and started to ideat, draw sketches and built simple prototypes using the material available in the space.

Co-up Lab workshop

Questions and answers


Please reach out if you have questions, ideas, or feedback!

Anna Birgersdotter

Project leader
EIT Health is supported by the EU, a body of the European Union