A New Online “Pre-Accelerator” from Steve Blank and Startup Weekend

10/30/12Follow @wroush

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shorter period. Marc came up with something intermediate, which was the four-week concept. That’s good enough to give you the basic skills.”

In Blank’s view, there’s an emerging set of skills that every early-stage entrepreneur needs to know. He calls it an “entrepreneurship API,” in reference to the application programming interfaces that today’s Web and mobile developers use to connect diverse services.

The first skill is the ability to sketch and revise a business model, using the business model canvas thinking tool developed by the Geneva-based management consultant Alexander Osterwalder. The second is “customer development,” an idea developed at length by Blank in his 2005 book The Four Steps to the Epiphany and expanded by Blank and co-author Bob Dorff in their 2012 book The Startup Owner’s Manual; it boils down to the practice of “getting out of the bulding” and collecting feedback about a product idea from target customers. Finally there’s the philosophy of agile product development—an idea borrowed from agile software engineering that emphasizes rapid product development cycles with frequent modifications based on customer feedback.

“Once you know these three things and have practiced them, then we can begin a discussion of how to build a startup,” Blank says. “That is essentially the goal of the class, teaching this entrepreneurial API. If we can graduate people who can talk about business models and customers and pivots and prototypes, it will be a home run.”

Nager says the online course idea was a natural fit for Startup Weekend, which is famous for its trademark 54-hour startup-creation marathons. These weekends have been staged in 350 cities around the world, have been attended by nearly 60,000 entrepreneurs, and are credited with helping to launch 5,000 startups. But “attendees have always asked ‘What’s next?’ after Startup Weekend,” Nager says. The focus of Startup Weekend Next will be “creating more capable teams,” he says.

Startup Weekend has enough staff to support about 30 local instances of Startup Weekend Next in 2012, Nager says, and he hopes that the program will expand significantly in 2013. The core demographic for the program, he predicts, will be the same as that for Startup Weekend: “25- to 40-year old working professionals. We expect to see a high conversion from the Startup Weekend events themselves, and in fact we are strongly recommending that anyone entering a Next program have attended a Startup Weekend before, as it helps ensure a baseline understanding of the methodologies, culture, and community.”

Blank says some of the most important payoffs of participating in a Startup Weekend or the Startup Weekend Next course are emotional. The session gives proto-entrepreneurs the opportunity to work with other people to build a team, to test their mettle, and to decide if the startup life feels right.

“What I saw in the San Francisco prototype course was exactly what I was hoping, which was that about a quarter of the teams melted down and the people said ‘Boy, startups are hard, that’s not for me,’ which is perfect,” Blank says. “It’s great to see all the cultural and emotional stuff that goes on in finding the right team members and figuring out what to do. If you are thinking about this as a career, then spending four weeks and $150, in terms of price-performance, is the best thing ever.”

Here’s a video in which Nager and Blank introduce the Startup Weekend Next concept.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • 4Gbill

    The Blank methodology is a part of what is the fourth generation (4G) of innovation theory and practice that was first practiced in 1978 with open innovation to create the first supplier of modern software engineering tools as a start-up spun out of Bell Labs, first published in a paper in 1995, published in 1998 in a book, Fourth Generation R&D, and recently published as a chapter in Wiley’s Encyclopedia of Technology and Innovation Management. There are 12 principles and practices in 4G. The Blank methodology teaches one of them – the innovation process which includes an iterative process of development, interacting with customers to uncover latent needs and then testing prototypes with users, and simultaneously iteratively building and testing business models. The other 11 principles and practices overcome barriers and fill gaps to increase the yield and speed of innovation while reducing the cost. These are test questions given to students of 4G. Why did AT&T in 1985 underestimate the size of the market for cell phones by a factor of more than a 1000? Why would 4G have produced a correct estimate? What company used 4G at the time to get a correct estimate? Did Facebook use the core of 4G? Does Apple use parts of 4G?