Notre Dame's IDEA Center + UserTesting

Discover how Notre Dame turns ideas into profitable business realities
Industry: Education
Company Size: Medium
Role: Executive, Marketer, Product Manager, Researcher
Customer Type: B2B, B2C

About IDEA Center

The IDEA Center is the University of Notre Dame’s collaborative innovation hub dedicated to nurturing and expanding innovations and business ideas of faculty, staff, and students from discovery to commercial application.

IDEA Center achieved

Validated 100+ new market opportunities
Of IDEA Center companies successfully launched
Increase in annual revenue generated


Notre Dame’s IDEA Center shepherds the university community’s best business ideas to the marketplace.

Standing for Innovation, De-Risking, and Enterprise Acceleration, the IDEA Center works with faculty, student, community, and alumni entrepreneurs on their commercially viable, early-stage product ideas and innovations.

Startups are responsible for nearly all net job growth in the US and have a profound impact on overall economic productivity in the economy. Between 2017 through the end of 2019, the center helped launch 64 startups, representing 99 full-time jobs, with an average salary of $72,000. Of the 64 startups, 36 are student-led.

But testing market viability for early-stage, sometimes very technical or niche, concepts can present unique challenges for founders, especially during a global pandemic. For example, how many people do you know have experience with exosome isolation and purification?

That’s where UserTesting and its diverse global testing panel network a key role in IDEA Center’s success.


Whether it is spices made with vitamins, at-home breast cancer diagnostics, information technology, or an apparel brand, all IDEA Center startups need to go through a rigorous market assessment.

As an idea, innovation or startup moves forward, the team begins working with Ben Hoggan, the center’s Director of De-Risking and a big advocate for UserTesting.

He said the teams conduct a mix of Live Conversations and unmoderated tests as they attempt to answer four questions:

  • Does the product or service idea work?
  • What is the problem they are solving?
  • Does anyone want to buy it, and who?
  • And are they going to love using it?

Hoggan said they love the benefits from highlight reels and transcriptions to learn and share what customers are saying about the business concepts, good or bad.

“But the thing that is most helpful is the variety of people in the UserTesting Contributor Network and the depth of feedback that we get,” Hoggan said.

He said being able to target specific audiences for testing and get fast customer feedback in as little as two hours has been invaluable for the IDEA Center’s entrepreneurs, as well as for those organizations investing in these companies.

"UserTesting's Contributor Network quality is always fantastic! It's significantly better than competitors,” he said. “Before we switched to UserTesting, I historically kept to in-person interviews because of the extreme specificity in criteria that we need for our interview targets.

“One of my very first tests was to see if I could find just one very hard-to-find contributor with specific healthcare technology experience as lab techs that were performing exosome isolation and purification. Imagine my surprise when I found not one, but THREE in UserTesting's panel! Hard to beat that.”


Hoggan said the IDEA Center in 2019 doubled the number of companies that were started in the previous two years. And of those 32 companies started in 2019, 27 of them received information or were started based on UserTesting insights.

“The benefit that I get out of UserTesting is I get to figure out really quickly, at a really early stage, whether an idea has legs or not,” he said.

Collectively in 2019, the 64 companies that have gone through the IDEA Center reported raising $6.6 million in investment and generating $10.9 million in product sales, a 584 percent year-over-year increase from 2018.

Ben Hoggan
Director of De-Risking at the University of Notre Dame's IDEA Center

UserTesting's network quality is always fantastic! It's significantly better than competitors. 400+ tests later, we couldn't be happier with UserTesting.