The Lean LaunchPad Goes to Middle School

While the Lean LaunchPad class has been adopted by Universities and the National Science Foundation, the question we get is, “Can students in K-12 handle an experiential entrepreneurship class?”  Hawken School has now given us an answer.

Hawken is an independent school for grades K-12 in Cleveland, Ohio, committed to the idea that students learn more “by doing than by listening.” Experiential education is threaded in the school’s DNA.

Doris Korda, spent the first 15 years of her career in the high tech industry and is now the Associate Head of School. Natasha Chornesky, who ran a publishing business, is the Director of Entrepreneurial Studies. They both attended our latest Lean LaunchPad Educators Class. These two posts are what they did when they returned.

Part one was about Hawken School’s experience using the Lean LaunchPad curriculum for high school seniors, this post is what happened when they used it for 6th- to 8th-graders.

6th  to 8th Graders: from Pitch to Prototype
We believed that we could teach entrepreneurship at Hawken to the 6th to the 8th graders, so the week after Christmas Break I taught a 35-hour, one-week course in our Middle School Insights Program. Boys and girls ages 11 -14 pitched ideas on Monday and then worked through the week to pitch their Minimum Viable Products to VCs on Friday — StartUp Weekend style.

Hawken Middle School LLP classBecause it is important for kids in North East Ohio to understand what high tech is and why and how a solution may be scalable, students were allowed to pitch any idea that could be solved using a mobile/web solution.

The Week
Monday students pitched, voted and joined teams. By Tuesday morning, students fleshed out what they believed to be their value proposition and customer segments. We spent a lot of time defining an MVP and steering them away from multiple features for the user. Scrum boards went up detailing everything they needed to accomplish by Friday afternoon. Tuesday afternoon they got out of the building and headed to a local mall to begin the customer validation and development process.

Wednesday morning they tabulated data and brought their original hypotheses to a grinding halt based on what they learned outside the building.  With new hypotheses and the help of a local UX Designer from Cleveland’s agile methods experts, LeanDog, the pivots began. Using paper templates, students worked out user experiences and taped them to the wall next to their drawings of customer archetypes. The energy in the room was electrifying.

In addition to regular lunch, the kids consumed 16 boxes of dry cereal, a crate of Clementines and an untold number of juice boxes. On Wednesday and Thursday, splash pages were launched; email addresses captured, cost structures and revenue streams explored. By Thursday noon each team knew, through hypothesis testing and customer interviews, the single feature behind its MVP and they headed out of the building one last time.

Teams conducted 20-40 face-to-face interviews that week. They drew customer archetypes and storyboards, tried emailing, phone scripts and face-to-face conversations. We instituted the “Great Idea Gong” (GIG) that they thwacked every time a teammate wanted to share a “Big Idea” with the rest of the class.  We didn’t blog, but kids submitted an exit ticket at the end of each day. They answered Steve’s prompts: “This is what I thought . . . this is what I learned . . . This is what I am doing next . . . This is what I am keeping in mind… “

“I thought everyone at the mall would want to talk to us. I learned that people are in a hurry and busy and they may not care. Next time, I am going to talk to people without my partner so it’s one-to-one. And, I am going to change where I stand,” wrote Max, an 8th-grader.

Students even watched a little Shark Tank, which explains why on Friday, when they pitched local VCs from Cleveland’s business accelerator, JumpStart they declined the celebratory cake and ice cream and spent their last hour of class time grilling the judges not only on what their financial terms were, but about what level of expertise they would bring to the particular team? “If we move forward, we don’t just need a big check, we need someone who is really knowledgeable and experienced in creating partnerships. We don’t know much about that when it comes to clothing brands. Without that help, the money won’t matter,” explained Stephanie, a 7th-grader.

Lessons Learned:

  • When stuck with “no ideas,” instruct younger students to become detectives and identify the things that bug their friends, family and themselves. Next ask, “What is a possible solution to that problem?”
  • For each block in the business model canvas, have the students focus on only one or two questions
  • Reword the questions in age-appropriate language. Asking, “What do we need to do to make our solution a reality?” and “What are the things/people we need to make our solution a reality?” helps students who are stuck completing a business model canvas
  • Encourage an atmosphere of sharing with everything from food to great ideas
  • Scrum boards are a huge success for kid teams
  • Worry less about covering content and more about students developing the skill and willingness to take a risk, fail, makes some changes and try again.
  • Interrupt work every so often with something physical like dancing to loud music or running around outside. Ask the kids to teach you a new game
  • Teachers should check their own egos at the door

Summary for the Lean LaunchPad in K-12 Education
We are learning how to use the Lean LaunchPad model to build our entrepreneurial program for high school and middle school students, and will soon use it as the basis for developing an entrepreneurial program for our youngest students as well.

Our educational Goals for Hawken Middle and High School students is to:

  • Develop and apply an entrepreneurial mindset in all their endeavors (inside and outside of entrepreneurship class):            
    • This is what I thought . .  .
    • This is what I learned . . .
    • This is what I am doing next . . .
    • This is what I am keeping in mind . . .
    • Acquire real-world experience outside the classroom
    • Identify the key components of high-tech scalable businesses, not common in our geographic region.
    • Develop project management and team communication skills.
    • Become better and more empathetic listeners through the customer development process.
    • Embrace failure as an essential element of success.
    • Understand the ever-evolving relationships among the 9 BMC blocks.

We are finding the Lean LaunchPad curriculum to be a powerfully relevant and inspiring educational tool for students of all ages.

For additional information and/or resources, contact or

12 Responses

  1. Bravo, again!  Love kid’s energy and creativity.


  2. Steve, is a great job you are doing! in our “revolutionary” Italy, experiencing a new people party born and living on the Web, becoming the 1st in Italy, in 3 years, I hope is time to apply your method, maybe training in streaming 100 teachers of 100 middle schools! I’ll work on it, if you are in the Valley second half of August, I’d like to meet you with my 15th Silicon Valley Study Tour group!

  3. You need to check out the 7th grade Entrepreneurship Program in Girl’s Middle School in Palo Alto. Teams, product design, financials, pitch day to VCs, investments used to mfg product, sales events, final company liquidation and disbursement to shareholders. Incredible.

    • Albert,

      I wrote a post about the Girls Middle School Entrepreneurship program, I coached a team weekly when my daughter attended school there. I’ve been a judge for their Entrepreneurial night for the last 3 years. My daughter loved the school.

      That said, it’s worth re-reading both of the Hawken blogs – particularly the phrase “…Most of these schools have entrepreneurship classes focused on students making crafts and selling them…”

      The Girls Middle School Entrepreneurship program is a great example of program which teaches girls how to set up small crafts businesses. Its curriculum is the “mini-MBA” the Hawken team was referring to.

      While great at teaching the girls about P&L and Income Statements and how to become small business owners, it does not teach them how to develop and apply an entrepreneurial mindset in all their endeavors (inside and outside of entrepreneurship class):
      This is what I thought . . .
      This is what I learned . . .
      This is what I am doing next . . .
      This is what I am keeping in mind . . .

      I would have hoped that after 10 years the class would have evolved to teaching the girls how to acquire real-world experience outside the classroom, become better and more empathetic listeners through the customer development process, and to embrace failure as an essential element of success. And with the availability of low-cost 3-d printers, (and the schools location in Silicon Valley) they would have broadened the horizon of what businesses girls could build and aspire to.

      Instead they leave the 7th grade thinking that entrepreneurship is about selling jewelry, candles, and pillows.


      • Dear Steve,

        I am the Entrepreneurial teacher at The Girls’ Middle School. Thank you for your years of advocacy for our program. I read the Lean Launchpad curriculum, and if you ever have a workshop in the area, I’d love to attend and experience the class in person.

        My thoughts on our Entrepreneurial curriculum is certainly not how to make and sell trinkets. Below is my reflection I sent to our community after EntreNight 2013. I’d like to share it with you and your audience:

        “What an experience it was last night at the Computer History Museum! The girls were truly amazing. But what more is last night was a testimony to the power of community. It takes a village to create an event on the scale of Entrepreneurial Night, everyone from different backgrounds worked to achieve the same goal of making the night a success. Where else do you see students, teachers, administrators, tech support, parent volunteers, investor volunteers, coaching volunteers, professional services, with knowledge passed down from year to year, all coming together to make a single vision come true. This could only have happened because of community.

        Last night was also a testimony for the power of hands on education.

        We have witnessed an example of multiple ways of measuring success. As you can see from the presentations, each team had a different journey and each student has a different role. Some teams learned the value of timely communications, some teamed learned about the chemistry behind nail polish. Some students are responsible to track the finance, some students are responsible for pulling together a publication or a presentation. Some members provide critical feedback and some members are peace makers. Together, they learn how to work as a team. They learn how to compensate for each other. They learn fair is not equal. They learn that life is not fair, but it’s the commitment to see things through that gets a person through life.

        I am a strong believer that when children set and achieve their own goals, they go much further, and they travel in dimensions that we, as adults, cannot predict. I see the students set their own plans on how to start their businesses. They are excited. They are afraid. Some have big dreams, some just want to have enough time to finish their other homework. Yet, they are all successful, and they work so hard to meet their own goals. I had students refusing to turn in their finished business plans because according to them, the writing was not good enough. They insisted on working over Thanksgiving break so the work is up to their standards.

        When the students ask me a question, often I don’t have the answers. I brainstorm with them and I ask them to decide what is right for them. I see them struggle through the unexpected, and I hear about the tears they shed at home. But I see the confidence grow after every setback, and see the pride when their ideas and the pieces of individual parts come together.

        This is integrated curriculum, where learning from multiple subjects are put together to achieve, not to be measured. Every assignment in the class has a deliverable to the audience, whether it’s a sale, a show, a publication, or a research event. The students, knowing it’s their only time to complete the assignment and I am not the one to judge them, rise to the occasion. They, like us adults, are proud.

        In order to make last night’s event happen, the students have learned life lessons such as take responsibility for the team’s success, working through conflict resolutions, maintaining a positive attitude. I ask them to tell me my ideas as not the best and tell me why. I want to see them step through the logic reasoning of making strong arguments. Aren’t those the things that are really important in life? My dream is that one day, this kind of teaching will be valued in our public school system, where all children will have access to the privilege that we have witnessed last night.

        Thank you all for your support and ownership of being a part of this unique program.”

        Alice Chang
        Entrepreneurial Teacher
        The Girls’ Middle School.
        Palo Alto, CA

  4. Very interesting article thanks for sharing. We’re building Startup Heroes, the online entrepreneurship educational game with the same vision of inspiring entrepreneuship among youth 🙂
    Looking forward to talk more about it and share insights!

  5. That’s just amazing! I want my son to attend your classes! Excelent idea! Great!
    I’m just curious about the ideas the kids worked on during this week. Could you share with us Steve?

  6. Am I the only one disturbed by this “experiment” and comments such as “Teachers should check their own egos at the door” ? What pretentious nonsense. What this world most certainly does NOT need right now is more business success stories, and brainwashing another generation of kids into thinking profit margins and business spiel is the way forward is just leading humans towards utter misery and disaster.

    Business spiel businessman – leave your ego at the door and go and read a book like The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat or Miracle in the Andes. These are the real life lessons.

  7. I still remember the basic economics section in social studies from almost 18 years ago. The class split into groups and came up with small business plans to sell things at lunch. The goal was to have a successful product in a market of middle schoolers. The groups had candy, bracelets, quirky school supplies, ice cream, and the winner, nachos. Even teachers were buying them. What else does every person want at lunch than a huge bowl of nachos for $1. At 30, I still remember the experience. Keep it up. It will make a difference in some of the kids.

  8. Great idea!

    I certainly think that showing kids that there are more ways to live a life then simply blindly doing someone elses bidding is a good thing.

    Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Its hard work. But at least rowing your own canoe means that if it sinks you can swim to the bank and try something else.

    Job security is not what it once was.

  9. Steve, I respect and admire your work..can I have 9:56 of your time!

    Sent from my iPad

  10. Thanks for the post.  I envision and have been experimenting with education that goes beyond just the Lead LaunchPad concept.  Although very valuable it should be taught as one course among a curriculum based around innovative thinking, entrepreneurship, belief and mindset, etc.  Essentially providing these students with the right resources and education from K-12 that allows them to follow and believe in their dreams and doesn’t tell them to work hard and become an employee.  My experiments have been based around providing a few students as low as grade 5 reading material which personally altered my beliefs and behavior in college.  The best part is these students get it and I see the excitement in their eyes when you explain to them the basic concepts.  I envision a school system around the country and world that teach those beliefs to students.

Leave a Reply