Lean LaunchPad – For Deep Science and Technology

We just finished the 11th annual Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford — our first version focused on deep science and technology.

I’ve always thought of the class as a minimal viable product – testing new ideas and changing the class as we learn. This year was no exception as we made some major changes, all of which we are going to keep going forward.

  1. A focus on scientists and engineers. We created an additional Spring section of the class with a focus on commercializing inventions from Stanford’s scientists and engineers. The existing winter quarter of the class remains the same as we taught for the last 10 years – taking all students’ projects – e-commerce, social media, web, and mobile apps. This newly created Spring section focuses on scientists and engineers who want to learn how to commercialize deep science and technology – life sciences (medical devices, diagnostics, digital health, therapeutics,) semiconductors, health care, sensors, materials, artificial intelligence/deep learning, et al.
    This allowed us to emphasize how to differentiate a technical spec from a value proposition and expand on the parts of the business model that are unique for science and engineering startups. For example, life sciences versus commercial applications have radically different reimbursement, regulatory, clinical trials, scientific advisory boards, demand creation, etc. In addition, we found we needed to add new material on Intellectual Property, how to license inventions from the university, and discussions about team dynamics.  Going forward we’ll continue to offer the class in two sections with the second class focused on science and technology.
  2. Remote Discovery – As the pandemic forced teaching remotely, we’ve learned that customer discovery is actually more efficient using video conferencing. It increased the number of interviews the students were able to do each week. When Covid restrictions are over, we plan to add remote customer discovery to the students’ toolkit. It remains to be seen whether customers will remain as available on Zoom as they were during the pandemic. (See here for an extended discussion of remote customer discovery.) Remote discovery also allowed a bigger pool of potential interviews not bounded by geography. The quality of interviewees seemed to improve by this larger pool.
  3. Class size/configuration – For the past decade our class size was 8 teams of 4. This year we accepted 12 teams of 4. Previously all teams needed to sit through all 8 weekly presentations. That was tough in person and not sustainable via Zoom. This year, by moving into two breakout sections, we cut the number of presentations that each team sat through by half.  The new format allowed students and teaching staff to devote greater attention to each presentation.
  4. Adopt a team – in past years all instructors had office hours with all the teams. This year each instructor adopted three teams and saw them weekly for a half hour. Students really appreciated building a closer working relationship with one faculty member.
  5. Alumni as guest speakers – Most weeks we invited a past student to guest speak about their journey through the class, highlighting “what I wish I knew” and “what to pay attention to.”

Below are the Lessons Learned presentations from the Lean LaunchPad for deep science and technology, as well as additional learnings from the class.

During the quarter the teams spoke to 1,237 potential customers, beneficiaries, regulators – all via Zoom. Most students spent 15-20 hours a week on the class, about double that of a normal class.

Team Gloflow

Started on Week 1 as a pathology slide digitization service.
Ended in Week 10 as response prediction for cancer treatments.

If you can’t see the Gloflow video, click here

If you can’t see the Gloflow slides, click here

Team Loomia

Started on Week 1 as flexible e-textile circuit looking for a problem.
Ended in Week 10 as easy-to-integrate components for automotive suppliers.

If you can’t see the Loomia video, click here

If you can’t see the Loomia slides, click here

Team Skywalk

Started on Week 1 as wearable gesture control device for real and virtual worlds.
Ended in Week 10 as a future-proof gesture control solution for AR headsets and the Department of Defense.

If you can’t see the Skywalk video, click here

If you can’t see the Skywalk slides, click here

Team EdgeAI

Started on Week 1 as a custom silicon chip with embedded memories and a Machine Learning accelerator targeting low-power, high-throughput, and low-latency applications.
Ended in Week 10 as a chip enabling AI vision applications on next generation battery powered surveillance cameras.

If you can’t see the EdgeAI video click here

If you can’t see the EdgeAI slides, click here

Team MushroomX

Started on Week 1 as Drone pollination of crops.
Ended in Week 10 as autonomous button mushroom harvesting.

If you can’t see the MushroomX video, see here

If you can’t see the MushroomX slides, click here

Team RVEX

Started on Week 1 as a Biomimetic Sleeve as a Left Ventricular Assist Device.
Ended in Week 10 as a Platform technology as a right heart failure device.

If you can’t see the RVEX video, click here

If you can’t see the RVEX slides, click here

Team Pause

Started on Week 1 as a Menopause digital health platform that connects women to providers and other women.
Ended in Week 10 as a D2C Menopause symptom tracking app and on-demand telehealth platform that offers women a personalized and integrative approach to menopause care.

If you can’t see the Pause video, click here

If you can’t see the Pause slides, click here

Team Celsius

Started on Week 1 as an IOT hardware sensor for environmental quality and human presence.
Ended in Week 10 as hybrid work collaboration + employee engagement.

If you can’t see the Celsius video, click here

If you can’t see the Celsius slides, click here

Team TakeCare

Started on Week 1 as a platform for finding and managing at-home senior care.
Ended in Week 10 as a B2C platform for scheduling on-demand at-home senior care.

If you can’t see the TakeCare video, click here

If you can’t see the Take Care slides, click here

Team CareMatch

Started on Week 1 as AI to Match Patients to Post-Acute Care.
Ended in Week 10 as Skilled Nursing Facility-at-Home for Wound Care.

If you can’t see the CareMatch video, click here

If you can’t see the CareMatch slides, click here

Team NeuroDB

Started on Week 1 as Unstructured data Tableau-like tool.
Ended in Week 10 as Cloud-based Pandas dataframe.

If you can’t see the NeuroDB video click here

If you can’t see the NeuroDB slides, click here

Team Drova

Started on Week 1 as a provider for autonomous drone delivery for restaurants and grocery stores.
Ended in Week 10 as Fleet management software for autonomous drone delivery.

If you can’t see the Drova video click here

If you can’t see the Drova slides, click here

Student Comments
I normally don’t include student comments in these summaries, but this year’s summarized why – after a decade – we still teach the class. The students find the class hard and exhausting, and say their instructors are tough and demanding. Yet in the end, the class and the work they invest in is highly rewarding to them.

  • “Awesome course- one of the best I’ve taken so far. You get out what you put into it, but find a team you like working with, get ready to hustle and work hard, and trust the process. A must-take for entrepreneurs!”
  • “Absolutely crucial to starting a company for a first-time founder. Couldn’t imagine a better teaching team or learning environment.”
  • “Very worth taking, whether you want to do a start-up your own or not.”
  • “Recommend to everyone considering entrepreneurship or want to learn about it.”
  • “Great class if you are interested in learning about the Customer Discovery Model, but takes a lot of time and work.”
  • “Intense course where you learn through experience on how to build a startup. I came with a product and I learned to find a solution and how to build from there.”
  • “Incredible experience – really glad I took the class and happy with the outcome.”
  • “Steve Blank tells you your slides are ugly”
  • “Take this course if you get a chance, especially if you are a PhD student. Super useful and a different kind of learning than most case-based classes. Extremely experiential.”
  • “A great class to learn about customer discovery and entrepreneurship methodologies! The teaching team is incredibly experienced and very honest in their feedback. It is quite time intensive and heavily based on your team. Make sure to clarify expectations with your team beforehand and communicate.”
  • “Definitely recommend this course, it’s a great experience and will give you tools to launch your idea.”
  • “A really excellent course to take to learn about entrepreneurship! An invaluable opportunity you might not find anywhere else. The instructors are extremely knowledgeable veteran entrepreneurs who give all the support and encouragement needed.”

Diversity
In past years, the students in the class were mostly men, reflecting the makeup of the applicants. While Ann Miura-Ko was part of the original teaching team, having all male instructors for the last five years didn’t help. Mar Hershenson joined the teaching team in 2018 and made an all-out effort to recruit women to apply. In this new Spring section of the class Heidi Roizen and Jennifer Carolan joined us as instructors. Mar, Heidi and Jennifer are all successful VC’s. They sponsored lunch sessions, mixers and meetings with women entrepreneurs and alumni for female students interested in the class and for male students looking to work with a more diverse team. I am happy to report that as a result of many people’s hard work the gender balance in the class substantially changed. Our Spring cohort focused on deep science and tech had 51 students — 25 were women.

The lessons for me were: 1) the class had been unintentionally signaling a “boys-only” environment, 2) these unconscious biases were easily dismissed by assuming that the class makeup simply reflected the applicant pipeline, and 3) when in fact it required active outreach by a woman to change that perception and bring more women into the pipeline and teams.

Teaching Assistants (TAs)
Our Teaching Assistants keep all the moving parts of the class running. This year their job was even more challenging running the class virtually and they made it run like clockwork.

Each year’s TAs have continued to make the class better (although I must admit it was interesting to watch the TAs remove any student uncertainty about what they need to do week-to-week by moving to a more prescriptive syllabus. Originally, I had designed a level of uncertainty into the class to mimic what a real-world startup feel like.) However, the art of teaching this class is remembering that it wasn’t designed by a focus group.

A Great Class Endures Beyond Its Author
I’ve always believed that great classes continue to thrive after the original teachers have moved on. While I created the Lean LaunchPad methodology and pedagogy (how to teach the class), over the past decade the Stanford class has had ten additional instructors, thirty-three wonderful TA’s and ninety volunteer mentors.

In addition to myself the teaching team has been:

2011 Instructors: Ann Miura-ko, Jon Feiber
Lead TA: Thomas Haymore, TA’s: Felix Huber, Christina Cacioppo

2012 Instructors: Ann Miura-ko, Jon Feiber
Lead TA: Thomas Haymore, TA:, Stephanie Glass

2013 Instructors: Ann Miura-ko, Jon Feiber
Lead TA: Rick Barber, TA: Stephanie Glass

2014 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Jim Hornthal
Lead TA: Soumya Mohan, TA: Stephanie Zhan, Asst: Gabriel Garza, Jennifer Tsau

2015 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein
TA’s: Stephanie Zhan, Gabriel Garza TAs: Jennifer Tsau, Akaash Nanda, Asst: Nick Hershey

2016 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein
Lead TA: Jose Ignacio del Villar TA’s: Akaash Nanda, Nick Hershey, Zabreen Khan, Asst: Eric Peter

2017 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein
Lead TA: Eric Peter TA’s: Nick Hershey, Lorel Sim Karan Singhal Asst: Jenny Xia

2018 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein, Mar Hershenson, George John
Lead TA: Jenny Xia TA’s: Anand Upender, Marco Lorenzon, Lorel Sim Asst: Parker Ence, Trent Hazy, Sigalit Perelson

2019 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein, Mar Hershenson, George John, Tom Bedecarre
Lead TA: Parker Ence, Trent Hazy TA’s: Marco Lorenzon, Sigalit Perelson, Lorel Sim Asst:, Ashley Wu

2020 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein, Mar Hershenson, George John, Tom Bedecarre
Lead TA: Marco Lorenzon, Ashley Wu TA’s: Sigalit Perelson, Gopal Raman

2021 – Winter Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Mar Hershenson, George John, Tom Bedecarre
Lead TA: Erica Meehan, Anand Lalwani, TA’s: Gopal Raman, Andrew Hojel

2021 – Spring Instructors: Steve Weinstein, Heidi Roizen, Jennifer Carolan, Tom Bedecarre
Lead TAs: Sandra Ha, Lorenz Pallhuber TA: Manan Rai

Our Decade of Mentors
The mentors (industry experts) who volunteer their time have been supported and coordinated by Tom Bedecarre and Todd Basche. Each mentor’s contribution gets graded by the student team they coached.

Bryan Stolle, Charles Hudson, Dan Martell, David Feinlab, David Stewart, Doug Camplejohn, Eric Carr, George Zachary, Gina Bianchini, Heiko Hubertz, Hiten Shah, Jason Davies, Jim Greer, Jim Smith, Jonathan Ebinger, Josh Schwarzapel, Joshua Reeves, Justin Schaffer, Karen Richardson, Marianne Wu, Masheesh Jain, Ravi Belani, Rowan Chapman, Shawn Carolan, Steve Turner, Sven Strohbad, Thomas Hessler, Will Harvey, Ashton Udall, Ethan Bloch, Jonathan Abrams, Nick O’Connor, Pete Vlastellica, Steve Weinstein, Adi Bittan, Alan Chiu, George Zachary, Jeff Epstein, Kat Barr, Konstantin Guericke, Michael Borrus, Scott Harley, Jorge Heraud, Bob Garrow, Eyal Shavit, Ethan Kurzweil, Jim Anderson, George John, Dan Manian, Lee Redden, Steve King, Sunil Nagaraj, Evan Rapoport, Haydi Danielson, Nicholas O’Connor, Jake Seid, Tom Bedecarre, Lucy Lu, Adam Smith, Justin Wickett, Allan May, Craig Seidel, Rafi Holtzman, Roger Ross, Danielle Fong, Mar Hershenson, Heather Richman, Jim Cai, Siqi Mou, Vera Kenehan, Phil Dillard, Susan Golden, Todd Basche, Robert Locke, Maria Amundson, Freddy Dopfel, Don Peppers, Rekha Pai, Radhika Malpani, Michael Heinrich, MariaLena Popo, Jordan Segall, Mike Dorsey, Katie Connor, Anmol Madan, Kira Makagon, Andrew Westergren, Wendy Tsu, Teresa Briggs, Pradeep Jotwani.

And thanks to the continued support of Tom Byers, Tina Seelig, Kathy Eisenhardt, Ritta Katilla, Bob Sutton and Chuck Eesly at Stanford Technology Ventures Program (the entrepreneurship center in the Stanford Engineering School).

5 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing this report. As a founder of deep science company, its hard to find examples.

  2. “It remains to be seen whether customers will remain as available on Zoom as they were during the pandemic… Remote discovery also allowed a bigger pool of potential interviews not bounded by geography. The quality of interviewees seemed to improve by this larger pool”.

    ^^YES! From my experience working in product at both the BBC and at the UK’s Department for Education, I’m pretty confident that users/customers will indeed remain available for video conferencing once we move into a ‘Covid-recovery’ world. It’s more convenient, in terms of people’s time. I’ve found that interviewees are very open with their responses too. Perhaps that’s something to do having the screen there as a barrier of sorts?

    My question is: If users do remain largely available for remote interviews, should we as product managers and user researchers place a higher value on the data gathered in-person v remotely? There is something to be said to more traditional observation and simply talking to someone in their own physical space. With the best will in the world, it’s something that we just might not be able to replicate

  3. The Spring class drives home the value of robust customer discovery – whether in-person or remote.

  4. Is it possible to get the presentation slides that were used for this class?

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