Hacking 4 Recovery – Time to Take A Shot

Rise Up

“Let’s do something to help with the pandemic.” In April, with the economy crashing, and the East Coast in lockdown, I heard this from Stanford instructors Tom Bedecarre and Todd Basche, both on the same day. And my response to them was the same, “I can’t sew masks and I don’t know how to make ventilators.” But after thinking about it, it dawned on to me that we could contribute – by creating a class to help existing businesses recover and new ones to start.

And so, Hacking for Recovery began, starting first at Stanford and next offered by University of Hawaii for the State of Hawaii.

After teaching 70 teams – 50 at Stanford and 20 in Hawaii – 275+ entrepreneurs – we’ve proven three things: 1) people can take control of what happens to their lives/careers during and after the pandemic, 2) in five days teams can make extraordinary progress in validating a business model and, 3) this process can be replicated in other areas of the country that need to recover and rebuild businesses.

Here’s how it happened.


I realized we had the ability to rapidly launch a large number of companies on the path of validating their business models. We could offer a 5-day version of the Lean LaunchPad / Hacking For Defense / National Science Foundation I-Corps class that’s trained tens of thousands of entrepreneurs. The class already existed. I had been teaching it at Columbia University for the last seven years. Brainstorming with my Stanford co-instructor Steve Weinstein, we streamlined the material for a virtual class, and told Tom and Todd we could do it.

In two months, they recruited 200 students (50 teams) on 6 continents and in more than a dozen countries. What united the students was their belief that while the pandemic had disrupted their lives, here was an opportunity to shape their own future.

To support them we found 31 mentors, and 4 great Teaching Assistants. The entire course – from team recruitment to the actual class sessions – was hosted online through Zoom.

We ran the Stanford class three times, each in 5-day sessions. (The syllabus is here.)

The teams were able to do customer discovery via video conferencing (getting out of the building without physically getting out of the building) averaging 44 interviews in 5 days. In aggregate they interviewed 2,259 customers. But it just wasn’t the aggregate numbers that were impressive it was how much they learned in five days.

The results?

200 students will never be the same. Rather than bemoaning their circumstances, they decided to rise up and take their best shot. Immersed in a rapid-fire hands-on experience, and surrounded by mentors and subject matter experts, every team not only changed the trajectory of their company but left having learned a methodology for high-speed business model validation to help jump-start a business idea in these chaotic times and beyond.

The topics the teams worked on mirrored the opportunities created caused by the pandemic and sequestering. Over 40% were working on telemedicine, 28% in remote education or remote work. Other teams tackled problems in travel, small business, sustainability, etc. The 50 team concepts at Stanford fell into these categories:

  • 21 Health/Telemedicine
  • 9 Education
  • 5 Remote Work
  • 3 Travel
  • 3 Sustainability
  • 3 Small Business
  • 6 others

More than 15 of the teams have already committed to continue to pursue their startup ideas and are applying to accelerators and seeking funding.

When the sessions at Stanford were completed, we helped the University of Hawaii and Maui Economic Development Board STEMworks launch the Hawaii version of Hacking 4 Recovery – to rebuild the State’s economy, which has been uniquely devastated by the coronavirus lockdown. 20 teams just finished their program. With more to come. Other regions can do the same.

Take a look at a selection of the presentations below from Stanford’s cohorts. Considering some of the teams consisted of incoming freshmen, their progress is kind of mind blowing.

While we enabled 70 teams to start companies, what we really generated was hope – and a path to new opportunities.


AntiCovidAI – a novel mobile app to detect COVID-19 symptoms. Team included Stanford undergrad, Stanford alum, DCI Fellow, Stanford staff member and a graduate student taking courses at Stanford. We had 21/50 teams focused on health/telemedicine concepts

Nightingale – a telemedicine platform connecting nurses to caregivers to close the home healthcare gap.

Diffusion – led by a Stanford Ph.D, this team is developing a sensor to prevent head and neck injuries from falls, especially for seniors in nursing homes.

Edusquared– this team of 4 women who just graduated high school and are entering Stanford in September created an educational subscription box for young Special Ed students. 9 of the teams worked on Education concepts.

Work From Anywhere – the team designed a service to help people move to new locations as remote working allows employees to work from anywhere. 5 teams developed concepts related to Remote Work.

Eye-Dentify – was led by a Knight Hennessy Scholar who wants to help bring eyecare to remote underserved areas. Many of the teams focused on social impact.

Escape Homework – team developed an “Escape Room” platform to make remote learning for k-12 students  fun and engaging. (Post class, the team wrote a blog post describing their experience in the class. Worth a read here.  And they shared their page on virtual educational resources here.)

Voyage – was a global travel advisory platform for pandemic information.

Parrot – fun language app – crossing Duolingo with TikTok. Four rising Stanford sophomore women.

All 50 Stanford presentations are here: Session 1, Session 2 and Session 3.

Total Stanford participants: 200 (Men 51%, Women 49%)
Representing a broad cross-section of the Stanford Community:

  • undergrads  25%
  • graduate  14%
  • Summer Session Students  10%
  • Alumni  30%
  • Faculty/Staff  2%
  • DCI Fellows  3%
  • Other/misc.  16%

Thanks to the instructors who taught the class: Tom Bedecarre, Steve Weinstein and Pete Newell and to the guest lecturers: Mar Hershenson, Tina Seelig, and Heidi Roizen.

In addition to the instructors, each team had mentors who volunteered their time: Jim Anderson, Adi Bittan, Teresa Briggs, Rachel Costello, Phil Dillard, Freddy Dopfel, Mimi Dunne, Dave Epstein, Eleanor Haglund, Joy Fairbanks, Susan Golden, Rafi Holtzman, Pradeep Jotwani, Phillipe Jorge, Vera Kenehan, Robert Locke, Kris McCleary, Radhika Malpani, Stephanie Marrus, Allan May, Rekha Pai,Don Peppers, Alejandro Petschankar, Kevin Ray, Heather Richman, Eric Schrader, Craig Seidel, Kevin Thompson, Wendy Tsu, Lisa Wallace. Plus another 27 subject matter experts as support.

And when a class with a million moving parts appears seamless to the students it’s directly proportional to the amount of work behind the scenes. Without our teaching assistants who volunteered their time none of it would have happened: Head TA’s: Valeria Rincon / Jin Woo Yu and TA’s Nicole Orsak and Diva Sharma.

Lessons learned

  • While we enabled 70 teams to start companies, what we really generated was hope and a path to new opportunities
  • With the open source curriculum available here, it’s possible for any school or region to get a version of this class ready in 8-10 weeks
    • The 5-day format of the class works well
    • It can stand alone or complement the 10-week or 14-week courses
  • Having teaching assistants are critical to managing the admin side of marketing, recruiting, team formation, communications and overall support for the teaching team
    • Team formation requires heavy lifting of emails/team mixers/team – as well as match-making by TA’s and instructors
  • Having a large pool of mentors and subject matter experts is important in 5-day crash course, to support teams looking for interview subjects and contacts for customer discovery

One Response

  1. Yes this absolutely hard work, but so so grateful to the instructors as mentioned above, the TAs – yes that we touch based with and helped us behind the scenes (alot of Support to get start Day 1 and on-going to end of Day 5 and after); to our Mentors, and for me my team mates – who we were all from 4 different Countries = Continents and so different Time Zones that we had to work through.

    The course was greatly well structured, Professor- the best as they have been there as Entrepreneurs themselves! Mine was ** How to Pivot ** to Survive and Thrive, which we got lots of great ideas we weren’t doing yet. On the other hand it left me with the Frame work for my next Idea, and has this been so Invaluable. Thanks to ALL Of you, Steve Blank and ALL the other Professors and Teams!!

    Like

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