The Lean LaunchPad Educators Class

There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come

Victor Hugo

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.

Unexpected Consequences
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.

As part of each of the classes we open source our educators guide here

and all our other tools for educators here.

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 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 we 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.

Lessons Learned

  • 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 the process 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

Listen to the post here: or download the Podcast here

15 Responses

  1. “Buzzword-compliant”: priceless!

  2. Hi Steve – Do one in Asia, please.

  3. Steve, adoption category 1 and 2 are the same, is it right?

  4. Dear Steve, thank you for this post. This is to the point as always. I am teaching entrepreneurship at ESCPEurope, Paris, a business school. We have embraced the idea of teaching ways to search for some time now. Our main course on entrepreneurship is based on 4 projects that the students have to work on. Teaching is on demand and whenever the students need help or someone to reflect their project or learnings with. The course is based on ideas of project based learning, but all four projects are more about finding things out, than executing a business plan or the like. Your posts and blogs are valuable sources for inspiration to create challenges for students, to send them out of the building and make them experience the search.

  5. Hi Steve – I’d say that if there are ENT educators out there that are in essence teaching ENT much more effectively because of your and your friends’ lean paradigm shift and development, it doesn’t really matter what camp they fall into or how lean ENT spins off and evolves per the context of the educational setting. The whole point is that millions of startups are now failing less and failing less epicly because of your movement. If I or anyone else teaching Lean ENT change some words or use a different validation board, that doesn’t mean we don’t give you credit. I know I do. Love your lean brothers and sisters: They will not always be just like you and that should inspire curiosity, not labeling.

  6. Bravo and thanks!

  7. Thank you for sharing all the resources! Excited to see the impact this will make on both the startup world and big, established companies, who will (hopefully) start catching up at some point.

  8. Hi Steve!!
    We’re running the first Lean Launchpad (as I-Corps version is) experience in a Spanish University!! Zaragoza University > (The web content is only in Spanish, for the time being. You are mentioned, of course). We’re starting on September.
    We have a great instructor, who has passed the SWNext training. We also have really experienced mentors who are business angels, VC professionals and serial entrepreneurs. The odd animal is me, as I work as the Innovation Manager at a Bank….:)
    We’re really excited. Thank you very much for your generosity giving all the materials, logistics, tools and so on for free.
    Any advise, experience, extra material, etc… They will be really welcome!!
    We’ll buy at least 16 copies of The Startup Owner’s Manual.
    If you’re interested, we can give you feedback from our experience with investigators and recent graduate entrepreneurs. Even we could talk on Skype before de beginning! It will be really cool for our team…:)
    Thank you again. You, Bob, Jerry and all the people around the Lean Launchpad are the very best of the global entrepreneur community.

  9. Any cost details for the incubator and accelerator version Steve? I’m a member of The Innovation Warehouse in the UK and would love to bring a small team to the event and contribute to a program of events here to immerse the local startups and other members in the experiential learning and build on the local startup community.


  10. “How to take a chance without going broke”
    is my view of the Lean Start-Up.

  11. Reblogged this on On Entrepreneurship and commented:
    If you are a startup, I highly recommend the Udacity – How To Build a Startup Course.

  12. Hi Steve, Thanks for making this guide available. When you say ‘we open source our educators guide’ – is it licensed with a ©
    licence such as one of the Creative Commons licences, so someone can re-purpose/translate the content while giving you attribution? Sorry if I’ve missed/ not seen the license info.

  13. Hey steve, thanks for the guide! I cant find it anymore. What happend?

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