The Lean LaunchPad Educators Class
The Lean LaunchPad entrepreneurship curriculum has caught fire. This week 100 educators from around the world will come to Stanford to learn how to teach it.
Life is full of unintended consequences.
Ten years ago I started thinking about why startups are different from existing companies. I wondered if business plans and 5-year forecasts were the right way to plan a startup. I asked, “Is execution all there is to starting a company?”
It dawned on me that the plans were a symptom of a larger problem: we were executing business plans when we should first be searching for business models. We were putting the plan before the planning.
So what would a search process for a business model look like? I read a ton of existing literature and came up with a formal methodology for search I called Customer Development. I wrote a book about this called The Four Steps to the Epiphany.
Teaching “Search versus Execution”
In 2003 U.C. Berkeley asked me to teach a class in Customer Development at Haas business school. In 2004 I funded IMVU, a startup by Will Harvey and Eric Ries. As a condition of my investment I insisted Will and Eric take my class at Berkeley. Having Eric in the class was the best investment I ever made. Eric’s insight was that traditional product management and Waterfall development should be replaced by Agile Development. While I had said startups were “Searching” for a business model, I had been a bit vague about what exactly a business model looked like. For the last two decades there was no standard definition. That is until Alexander Osterwalder wrote Business Model Generation.
Finally we had a definition of what it was startups were searching for. Business model design + customer development + agile development is the process that startups use to search for a business model. It’s called the Lean Startup. The sum of these parts is now the cover story of the May 2013 Harvard Business Review. Bob Dorf and I wrote a book, The Startup Owners Manual, that put all these pieces together.
But then I realized rather than just writing about it, or lecturing on Customer Development, we should have a hands-on experiential class. So my book and Berkeley class turned into the Lean LaunchPad class in the Stanford Engineering school. The class emphasizes experiential learning, a flipped classroom and immediate feedback as a way to engage students with real world entrepreneurship.
Students learn by proposing and immediately testing hypotheses. They get out of the classroom and talk to customers, partners and competitors and encounter the chaos and uncertainty of commercializing innovations and creating new ventures.
Then in July 2011, the National Science Foundation read my blog posts on the Lean LaunchPad class. They said scientists had already made a career out of hypotheses testing, and the Lean LaunchPad was simply a scientific method for entrepreneurship. They asked if I could adapt the class to teach scientists who want to commercialize their basic research. The result was the NSF Innovation Corps, my Lean LaunchPad class now taught at 11 major universities to 400 teams/year. ARPA-E joined the program this year, and in the fall we’ll teach a Life Science version of the class at UCSF. And other countries are adopting the class to commercialize their nations scientific output.
One of the most surprising things that came out of the National Science Foundation classes was the reaction of the principal investigators (these were the tenured professors who leading their teams in commercializing their science). A sizable number of them went back to their schools and asked, “How come we don’t offer this class to our students?”
While I had open-sourced all my lectures and put them online via Udacity, I was getting requests to teach other educators how teach the class. I wasn’t sure how to respond, until Jerry Engel, the National Faculty Director of the NSF Innovation Corps, suggested we hold an educators class. So we did. The Lean LaunchPad Educators program is a 3-day program designed for experienced entrepreneurship faculty. It is a hands-on program where you experience the process, and be given the tools to create, a curriculum and course plan you can put to immediate use.
We offered the first class in August and had 50 attendees, the January class had 70, and the one being held this week we had to cap at 100.
Where Are We in Entrepreneurial Education?
Entrepreneurial education is in the middle of a major transition.
Entrepreneurship educators are realizing that curricula oriented around business plans and “execution” fail to prepare students for the realities of building or working in startups. Startups are a fundamentally a different activity than managing a business and “search versus execute” require very different skills. Therefore entrepreneurial education must teach how to search the uncertainties and unknowns.
Educators are now beginning to build curricula that embrace startup management tools built around “searching for a business model” rather than the “execution of a business model” tools needed in larger companies.
But we’re just beginning the transition. Like other revolutionary changes there are the early adopters and others who adopt later. For the Lean LaunchPad classes we’ve seen adoption fall into five categories:
1. Those who get how teaching students how to “search versus execute” changes our curriculum.
They say, “Here’s how we are going to add value to what you started.”
2. Those who get how teaching students how to “search versus execute” changes our curriculum.
They say, “We’re teaching the the Lean Launchpad class as is. Thanks!”
3. Those who get that there is a major shift in entrepreneurial education occurring and we understand business model design + customer development + agile engineering is at it’s core
They say, “We are going to rename each of these components so we can take credit for them at our business school.”
4. Those who are not changing anything
They say, “We don’t buy it.”
5. Those who really don’t understand the key concepts but feel they need to be “buzzword compliant” to seem relevant
They say, “We’re throwing Lean on top of our ‘how to write a business plan’ and other standard classes.”
The good news is that it’s the marketplace that will eventually drive all schools to adopt experiential classes that teach Lean principles. We’re incredibly proud of those educators who already have.
There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come
The next Lean LaunchPad Educators Class will be held in New York, September 25-27th. Info here.
We’ll also offer a version for incubators and accelerators in New York, September 22-24th. For information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Entrepreneurial education is in the middle of a major transition
- Transition from startups are a smaller version of a large company, teaching execution
- To teaching that startups search for a business model
- Business model design + customer development + agile development is theprocess that startups use to search for a business model
- Lean LaunchPad is an experiential class that teaches students how to search
- It’s part of a broader new entrepreneurial curriculum
- We teach this in the Lean LaunchPad Educators Class