Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition

For 25 years as the sole Superpower, the U.S. neglected strategic threats from China and a rearmed Russia. The country, our elected officials, and our military committed to a decades-long battle to ensure that terrorists like those that executed the 9/11 attacks are not able to attack us on that scale again.  Meanwhile, our country’s legacy weapons systems have too many entrenched and interlocking interests (Congress, lobbyists, DOD/contractor revolving door, service promotion of executors versus innovators) that inhibit radical change. Our economic and foreign policy officials didn’t notice the four-alarm fire as we first gutted our manufacturing infrastructure and sent it to China (profits are better when you outsource); then passively stood by as our intellectual property was being siphoned off; and had no answer to China’s web of trade deals (China’s Belt and Road). The 2018 National Defense Strategy became a wakeup call for our nation.

National power is ephemeral. Nations decline when they lose allies, decline in economic power (the UK in the 20th Century); they lose interest in global affairs (China in the 15th Century); internal/civil conflicts (Russia in the 20th Century); a nations military can miss disruptive technology transitions and new operational concepts. One can make the case that all of these have/or are happening to the United States.


Joe Felter, Raj Shah and I are about to start our second year of teaching what was our Technology, Innovation and Modern War class. (See all the class sessions here.) The goal of last year’s class was to explain how new emerging technologies have radically changed how countries fight and deter threats across air, land, sea, space, and cyber. And to point out that winning future conflicts requires more than just adopting new technology; it requires a revolution in thinking about how this technology can be acquired and integrated into new weapons systems to drive new operational and organizational concepts that change the way we fight.

This year we’ve expanded the scope of the class to look beyond just the effect of new technology on weapons and operational concepts. We’re now covering how technology will shape all the elements of national power (our influence and footprint on the world stage). National power is the combination of a country’s diplomacy (soft power and alliances), information/ intelligence and its military and economic strength. The instruments of national power brought to bear in this  “whole of government approach” were long  known by the acronym, DIME (Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic) and in recent years have expanded to include “FIL”- finance, intelligence and law enforcement-or DIME-FIL. Given the broadened scope of the class, we’ve tweaked the course title to Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition.

Our goals in this year’s class are to:

  1. Help our students understand how each component of our national security and instruments of national power are now inexorably intertwined with commercial technology. We will explore the complexity and urgency of the impact of the 21st century onslaught of commercial technologies (AI, machine learning, autonomy, biotech, cyber, commercial access to space, et al.) in all parts of the government — State, climate change, Department of Defense, economic policy, et al.
  2. Give them hands-on experience to propose and prototype solutions to these problems.

Much like last year’s class, this one has three parts – teaching team lectures, guest speakers, and most importantly team projects. We’ll be using the concept of commercial technologies’ impact on DIME as the connective element between each week’s class.

In addition to the teaching team lectures and assigned readings, last year we had 20+ guest speakers including two Secretaries of Defense, a Secretary of State, members of Congress, Generals, Admirals and policy makers. We hope to enrich the student experience with similar expertise and experience this year.

Last year, team projects started with a mid-term paper and finished with what was supposed be a final paper project. However, one team took their project, got out of the building, and interviewed and presented a radically new operational concept for the South China Sea. It’s an idea that has caught fire. So this year we’re going to build on that success. Teams will form on week 1, pick an area of interest across DIME and spend the quarter interviewing key stakeholders, beneficiaries, policy makers, etc. while testing proposed solutions.

If the past is a prologue, our students, a mix between international policy and engineering, will be the ones in this fight. They’ll go off to senior roles in State, Defense, policy and to the companies building new disruptive technologies.

This is the first in a series of classes from the new Stanford Gordian Knot Center for National Security. (More on this in later post.)

Lessons Learned

  • Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition will focus on how our national security and national power is intertwined with commercial technology. We will explore:
    • AI, machine learning, autonomy, biotech, cyber, commercial access to space, et al.
    • In all parts of the government; State, climate change, Department of Defense, economic policy, et al.
  • Give our students hands-on experience to propose and prototype solutions to these problems

The Class That Changed the Way Entrepreneurship is Taught

This article first appeared in Poets and Quants

 

Revolutions start by overturning the status quo. By the end of the 20th century, case studies and business plans had reached an evolutionary dead-end for entrepreneurs. Here’s why and what we did about it.


The Rise of Business Schools – Management as an Occupation
The business school was invented in the first decade of the 20th century in response to a massive economic transformation in the U.S. that took place in the last quarter of the 19th century. The country exited the Civil War as a nation of small businesses and ended the century with large national corporations (railroads, steel, oil, food, insurance, etc.). These explosions in company size and scale created a demand for professional managers. In 1908 Harvard Business School filled that need by creating a graduate degree – the Master of Business Administration. Its purpose was to educate management on best practices to run existing companies.

The MBA Curriculum – From Fieldwork to Case Studies
When Harvard started the MBA program there were no graduate-level business textbooks. The school used the “problem-method” which emphasized fieldwork – getting out of the classroom and visiting real companies– as an important part of the curriculum. Students observed how executives worked, interviewed them, and wrote up how real managers solved problems. Students then discussed these problems and solutions in class.

First Case Study-General Shoe

By the early 1920s a new dean changed the curriculum – shifting it from an industry orientation (steel, railroads, etc.) – to a functional one (marketing, factory and employment management (HR), etc.). This focus on a functional curriculum involved a switch to the case method; fieldwork now took second place. The case method assumes that students learn when they participate in a discussion of a theoretical situation they may face when they are a decision-maker rather than a real one they see in the field.

By 1923, 2/3rds of the courses at Harvard were taught with the case method, and the pattern was set for business education for the rest of the 20th century.

Entrepreneurship Becomes a Subject in Business Schools
While MBA programs proliferated during the first half of the 20th century, they focused on teaching management of existing companies. There were no classes on how to start a business. That is until 1947 when Myles Mace taught the first entrepreneurship course “Management of New Enterprises” at Harvard Business School. Soon others were created. In 1953 Peter Drucker offered an Entrepreneurship and Innovation class at New York University, and in 1954 Stanford’s business school offered “Small Business Management” its first small business course.

In 1967 the first contemporary MBA entrepreneurship courses were introduced at Stanford and NYU, and a year later Babson offered the first undergraduate entrepreneurship program. By 1970 sixteen schools were offering entrepreneurship courses, and in 1971 UCLA offered the first MBA in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship textbooks such as Small Business Management: Essentials of Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurship: Playing to Win started to appear. In 1985 the University of Miami held the first national business plan competition. By 1991 there were 57 undergraduate and 22 MBA programs. Textbooks, papers, and journal articles proliferated.

By the end of the 20th century entrepreneurship education fell into two categories: 1) starting small businesses and 2) starting high-growth, high-risk scalable startups. But both types of entrepreneurship courses were taught using case studies and taught students how to write and execute a business plan. The curriculum of both types of courses were simply adaptations of what business schools were using to train managers for the administration and execution of existing organizations.

The case method and business plans are the antithesis of how entrepreneurs create startups
The case method assumes that students learn when they participate in a discussion of a situation they may someday face as a decision-maker. But the case method is the antithesis of how entrepreneurs create a startup. Cases teaches pattern recognition tools for static patterns—and has limited value as a tool for teaching entrepreneurship.  Analyzing a case in the classroom, removed from the realities of a new venture, adds little to an entrepreneur’s preparation for the chaos, uncertainty, and conflicting customer responses that all entrepreneurs face.

Business plans presume that building a startup is a series of predictable steps requiring execution of a plan which assumes a series of known facts: known customers, known features, known pricing, known distribution channel. As a serial entrepreneur turned educator, this didn’t make sense to me. In a new venture none of these things are truly known. The reality is that most business plans don’t survive first contact with customers.

Neither cases nor business plans replicate the actual startup experience. Cases and plans are useful for teaching managers of process, not founders. Founders of startups (and new ventures inside existing companies) are searching for product/market fit and a repeatable and scalable business model. Searching, unlike execution, is not a predictable pattern. An entrepreneur must start with the belief that all their assumptions are simply hypotheses that will undoubtedly be challenged by what they learn from customers.

Yet up until 10 years ago, schools were still teaching entrepreneurs how to build startups on the premise that they were simply smaller versions of large companies. Entrepreneurial education was trapped in the 20th century.

21st Century Entrepreneurship curriculums
At the start of the 21st century, after two decades and 8 startups, I retired and had time to think about how VCs directed their startups using business plans. I began formulating the key ideas around what became the Lean Startup – that startups and existing companies were distinctly different – companies execute business models while startups search for them. Consequently the methodologies for launching products in startups were different than for existing companies.

A decade later, I began to teach the foundations of Lean, first at UC Berkeley (Customer Development) and then at Stanford using cases and business plans. After a few years of trial and error in front of a lot of students, I realized that the replacement for the case method was not better cases written for startups and that the replacement for business plans was not how to write better business plans and pitch decks. (I did both!). Instead, we needed a new management stack for company creation.

I posited that teaching “how to write a business plan” might be obsolete.

With Lean LaunchPad, we were going to toss teaching the business plan aside and try to teach students a completely new, hands-on approach to starting companies – one which combines customer development, agile development, business models and pivots.

Let’s Teach Lean Via Experiential Learning
First I searched the academic literature trying to learn what methods would best convey information that entrepreneurship students could understand, retain, and put to practical use. There were five parts to consider:

  • What’s the level of ambiguity, realism and complexity of the course content
  • How structured are the tasks within the class?
  • What were the experiential techniques used to deliver the content?
  • What were the pedagogical components of the class?
  • How will we deliver feedback to the students?

For each of these parts of the course design we needed to consider where on the spectrum of directedversus experiential each of the five parts of the class would fall.

Direct Guidance Versus Experiential Classes
I concluded that best way to teach entrepreneurs (versus managers) was to create an experiential and inquiry-based class that would develop the mindset, reflexes, agility, and resilience needed to search for a business model certainty in a chaotic world.

Experiential learning (also called “active learning” or “learning by doing”) is designed to have a high degree of complexity and realism. It’s not about read and remember, but rather is about problem exploration, design and inventing and iterating solutions. This differs from a traditional class with directed learning where students are taught to remember facts, understand concepts, and perhaps apply procedures but not to discover these by themselves.

In contrast, experiential classes are designed with the theory that people learn best in an unguided or minimally guided environment, where the students, rather than being presented with all of the essential information, must discover, or construct that information rapidly for themselves.

This seemed to me to be the best way to teach entrepreneurship. Experiential learning is the core of how we teach the Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps/Hacking for X classes. Launched in 2011, the Lean LaunchPad capstone entrepreneurship class was unique in that it was:

  1. team-based
  2. experiential
  3. Lean-driven (hypothesis testing/business model/customer development/agile engineering).

The class aimed to mimic the uncertainty all startups face as they search for a business model while imparting an understanding of all the components of a business model, not just how to give a pitch or a demo.

The figure below illustrates the spectrum of teaching techniques and shows where our class fits on the right.

The Syllabus
We were going to teach entrepreneurship like you teach artists – combining theory with intensive hands-on practice.

This Lean LaunchPad is built around the business model / customer development / agile development solution stack. Students start by mapping their initial assumptions (their business model). Each week they test these hypotheses with customers and partners outside the classroom (using customer development), then use iterative and incremental development (agile development) to build Minimal Viable Products.

The goal is to get students out of the building to test each of the 9 parts of their business model (or mission model for Hacking for Defense students), understand which of their assumptions were wrong, and figure out what they need to do to find product/market fit and then a validated business model.

Our objective is to get them using the tools that help startups test their hypotheses and adjust when they learn that their original assumptions are wrong.  We want them to experience faulty assumptions not as a crisis, but as a learning event called a pivot —an opportunity to change the model. (More than just for use in startups, these problem-solving skills are increasingly crucial in today’s increasingly complex world.)

Each week every team presents to the teaching team – “Here’s what we thought, here’s what we did, here’s what we learned, here’s what we’re going to do next week.”

Designing the Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps Class – the “Pedagogy”
While the Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps/H4X students are experiencing what appears to them to be a fully hands-on, experiential class, it’s a carefully designed illusion. In fact, it’s highly structured. The syllabus has been designed so that we are offering continual implicit guidance, structure, and repetition. This is a critical distinction between our class and an open-ended experiential class.

Guidance, Direction and Structure
For example, students start the class with their own initial guidance – they believe they have an idea for a product or service (Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps) or have been given a clear real-world problem (Hacking for Defense). Coming into the class, students believe their goal is to validate their commercialization or deployment hypotheses. (The teaching team knows that over the course of the class, students will discover that most of their initial hypotheses are incorrect.)

Next, the business/mission model canvas offers students guidance, explicit direction, and structure. First, the canvas offers a complete, visual roadmap of all the hypotheses they will need to test over the entire class. Second, the canvas helps the students goal-seek, by visualizing what an optimal endpoint would look like – product/market fit / mission success – would look like. Finally, the canvas provides students with a map of they what they learn week-to-week through their customer discovery work.

(I can’t overemphasize the important role of the canvas. Unlike an incubator or accelerator with no frame, the canvas acts as the connective tissue – the frame – that students can fall back on when they got lost or confused. It allows us to teach the theory of how to turn an idea, need, or problem into commercial practice, week by week a piece at a time.)

Third, the tools for customer discovery (videos, sample experiments, etc.) offer guidance and structure for students to work outside the classroom. The explicit goal of 10-15 customer interviews a week along with the requirement for building a continual series of minimal viable products, provides metrics that track the team’s progress. The mandatory office hours with the instructors and support from mentors provide additional guidance and structure.

Working Memory and Reflection
One of the challenges we wanted to avoid is overloading students’ short-term memory. If you give students minimal feedback and provide no structure or guidance, most of what students experience gets forgotten. To counter that, we’ve built three techniques in to reduce the cognitive load: regular summing up, repetition, and reflection. This allows students to transfer their weekly experiences into long-term memory and knowledge.

By design, each week we make students stop, reflect, and summarize their learning (here’s what we thought, here’s what we did, here’s what we found and here’s what we’re going to do next week.) The teams present these reflections, along with required specific deliverables for each week. These weekly presentations also provide reinforcement – students need to remember their learning from each of the prior components in the business/mission model canvas to provide a context for the current week.

In addition to the week-to-week summaries, we give students a reflection week at the end of the class to synthesize, process and integrate those week-to-week learnings. And we teach them how to turn that learning into a compelling story of their learning journey.

Ambiguity, Realism and Complexity
Ambiguity in a class means the subject can have multiple right answers. Or even no right answer. Searching for answers to the business and mission problems i.e. product/market fit has maximum ambiguity – there isn’t always a correct answer, nor will the same path get you to the same answer in different circumstances.

Realism in a class means, how well does the class content match an actual problem in practice? Learning accounting in a classroom is likely similar to doing accounting in an office. However, reading case studies about startup problems in a classroom has little connection to the real world and has low realism.

Complexity refers to the number of things that can change that may affect the outcome of a decision.  As the number of things that change goes up the so does the complexity of the learning process.

New ventures are ambiguous, real and complex. Teaching “how to write a business plan” as a method to build a startup assumes low ambiguity, low realism, and low complexity when the opposite is true. So we structured the class to model a startup; extremely ambiguous with multiple possible answers (or at times none,) realism in the pressures, chaos and uncertainty of a startup, and complex in trying to understand all parts of a business model.

The Flipped Classroom
Inside the classroom, we deliberately trade off lecture time for student/teaching team interaction. The class is run using a “flipped classroom.” Instead of lecturing about the basics during class time, we assign the core lectures, recorded as video clips, as homework.

Instructors then supplement the video lectures with their own in-class short lecture about this week’s business model topic.  This allows instructors to use the class time for review of the concepts or short lectures customized for specific domains (e.g., hardware, life sciences, etc.).

Emotional Investment
In an experiential class students must be fully immersed in the experience, not just doing what the syllabus says is required of them. Project-based learning engages and motivates students Having each team present weekly in front of their peers raises the commitment (and heart rate) of the students. No one wants to be shown up by another team.

Speed and Tempo Outside Their Comfort Zones
One of the goals of the class is to talk to 100 customers and partners. That may seem like an absurdly unreasonable goal, yet all teams manage to do so. Most case-based or project classes do not offer time and resource constraints. Our class is purposely designed to offer maximum ambiguity while pushing students to achieve extraordinary results under relentless pressure and time constraints.  We stress a relentless speed and tempo because we believe that learning is enhanced when students are given the opportunity to operate outside of their own perceived comfort zones.

Our objective is to have students experience what it’s like to operate in a real-world startup. Outside the classroom walls conditions will change so rapidly that their originally well thought out plans become irrelevant. If they can’t manage chaos and uncertainty, if they can’t bias themselves for action, and if they wait around for someone else to tell them what to do, then their investors and competitors will make their decisions for them and they will run out of money and their company will die.

Therefore, every successful founder needs a decisive mindset that can quickly separate the crucial from the irrelevant, synthesize the output, and use this intelligence to create islands of order in the all-out chaos of a startup. The class is designed to emulate that chaos and teach a bias for action.

Relentlessly Direct Feedback
There’s one last part of our pedagogy that might seem out of place in an experiential class – and that’s the relentlessly direct model of feedback.

The class moves at breakneck speed and is designed to create immediate action in time-, resource-, and cash-constrained environments. The teaching team practices Radical Candor – caring personally while challenging directly. At its core, Radical Candor is guidance and feedback that’s both kind and clear, specific, and sincere, and focused on helping the other person grow.

We give the students public feedback about the quality and quantity of their work in front of their peers weekly. For some, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard “not good enough.”

Class Design – Summary
The design of the class was a balance between ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty with structure and learning strategies.

While this process is extremely effective, it can be painful to watch. Our natural inclination (at least mine) is to offer specific guidance and solutions. (There are a few times in class when the team may need explicit directions such as, “It’s time to pivot” or “Your team needs to restart.”  But these should be exceptions.)

The genius of the class design was making the class look like it wasn’t designed.

Results
In the first decade of the Lean LaunchPad class we’ve trained hundreds of other educators around the world to teach the class at their universities. By now 100s of thousands of students have taken some form of the class, and 100’s of companies have been created.

In addition, two government-funded programs have adopted the class at scale. The first was the National Science Foundation I-Corps. Errol Arkilic the then head of commercialization at the National Science adopted the class saying, “You’ve developed the scientific method for startups, using the Business Model Canvas as the laboratory notebook.”  I-Corps which is now offered in 100 universities and has trained ~2,500 teams/7,500 scientists in 100 cohorts. The National Institute of Health also teaches a version, I-Corps @ NIH,  in the National Cancer Institute.

Today, this Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps syllabus is also the basis for a series of Mission-Driven Entrepreneurship classes– Hacking for Diplomacy, DefenseOceans, non-profits and cities. Hacking for Defense is now taught in over 55 universities in the U.S., with versions of the course offered in the UK and Australia.

While the Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps curriculum was a revolutionary break with the past, it’s not the end. In the last decade enumerable variants have emerged. The class we teach at Stanford has continued to evolve. Better versions from others will appear. And one day another revolutionary break will take us to the next level.

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).

A Quick Course on Lean

Over the weekend I got asked the best way to teach students the principles of Lean via Zoom.

One of the key lessons from our Educators Conference is that when teaching online complex information needs to be delivered to students in small, easily processed parts.

I realized that pre-pandemic I had put together a series of two-minute videos called “See Why.”  They’re not only helpful for a formal class but for anyone who wants to review the basics. Here’s what I suggested they offer their students:

Lean in Context

No Business Plan Survives First Contact With Customers

How did we build startups in the past?

The Business Model

An introduction to The Business Model Canvas

The Minimal Viable Product

How to Get, Keep and Grow Customers?

How to Get Out of the Building and Test the Business Model

What is Customer Development

What is Customer Discovery and Why Do it?

Why Get Out of the Building?

A short article on how to do Customer Discovery via Zoom

Jobs to be done

Customer Validation

The Pivot

The Harvard Business Review Article “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything” ties the pieces together here

The Mission Model Canvas

What is the Mission Model Canvas

The Mission Model Canvas Videos

Extra’s

Why Customer Development is done by founders

What Do Customers Get from You?

What are Customer Problems/Pains?

Users, Payers and Multi-sided markets

How do I Know I Have the Right Customers – Testing

How big is it?

How to Avoid Pricing Mistakes

More two-minute lectures here

Tools for educators here

Tools for students here

Lessons Learned

  • Break up online lessons into small parts

 

 

 

What I Learned from 500 Educators – Build Back Better Summit – Results

With the theme “Build Back Better” Jerry Engel, Pete Newell, Steve Weinstein and I co-hosted nearly 500 Lean Educators from 63 countries and 235 universities online for a three-hour session to share what we’ve learned about educators on how we can help our communities rebound, adjust, and recover.

We got insights from each other about tools, tips, techniques and best practices.

Here’s what we learned.

Background
When we last ran this virtual summit in July, our 400 educators were just coming to grips with teaching remotely. The two questions on the table were, 1) Could the lean methodology work remotely? 2) And what kind of pedagogy would support a class that depended on “getting out of the building” to work virtually? Tactically, how effective would customer discovery be for the students? Would customers sit for virtual interviews? How would you show them minimal viable products if not in person? How do you keep students engaged?

This Summit
This summit discussed how the pandemic has shifted the way we teach, but also what we learned teaching and how we can use the Lean methodology to make an impact on our communities.

COVID-19 has dramatically altered the business landscape. Main Street businesses are severely affected. While many parts of the high-tech sector are growing, others are either contracting or shutting down. Amid these uncertain times we believe that Lean educators can prepare students for this new investing climate and help communities recover.

The summit opened with a panel of Investors sharing their insights of what the funding environment for entrepreneurs, non-profits and small businesses will look like as the economy recovers. See here for a video of the investor panel.

Next, Lee Bollinger President of Columbia University in conversation electrified the audience with description of the fourth purpose of a university. (I’ve summarized our conversation with the video and transcript of the entire talk following the summary.)

The core of the summit was gathering the collective wisdom and experience of the 500 attendees as we split into 20 breakout rooms. Besides sharing tips for teaching traditional entrepreneurs the discussion also included how we could help Main Street businesses. The output of the breakout sessions provided a firehose of data, a ton of useful suggestions, teaching tips and tools. Following Lee’s talk I’ve summarized the collective notes from the breakout session.

Lee Bollinger – Columbia
The three purposes of a university are research, education, and public service. But universities should take on an additional role. To try to impact and affect the world in good ways, it’s what I call the fourth purpose of a university. No university has said, “We should design the institution to have a bigger impact using academic work and join up with outside entities and organizations and partners to do that.” And that’s what the fourth purpose is all about.

If one looks around in the world, you see these huge problems, massive inequality, hunger, poverty, climate change, issues of how to set up a global trading system. You have national problems. So, there’s no shortage of major issues.

NGOs play a very important role, but they tend to be very focused on some particular issue. If you look at think tanks, again, many of them are captured by particular interests. And universities have this incredible sort of filled-with-public purpose people who want to have an effect on the world.

One of the things that’s been striking to me over the course of my career is that those people probably will not get credit for that work in the promotion and tenure process. And that strikes me as crazy. We should embrace in the appointment process people who have incredible talents of that kind. People who are extremely gifted and talented at making things happen in the world. I think all of us have known people like that.

[If we do this] we would have a cohort of people within our institution who are of equal standing, with the greatest scholars and the greatest teachers. But they are the greatest at having impact on the world. We do this to some extent. That’s why it’s interesting in a way. It’s not even like it’s completely novel. I mean, the great surgeon, the great lawyer will be an adjunct in the law school, or the great business person will be an adjunct in the business school. But we don’t embrace it in the way that I’m thinking about. So there’s who do you embrace within the university and what do you value?

I think it’s a very pragmatic and practical –  where do you situate in your mind universities in the context of the world? Should they be highly removed and only focused on teaching and scholarship with some public service on the side? Or should they be actively engaged with problems, ready to work with outside people and organizations?

See Columbia World Projects.

If you can’t see the video of Lee Bollinger’s talk click here. The transcript of his talk is here.

Breakout Sessions
The core of the summit was gathering the collective wisdom and experience of the 500 attendees as we split into 20 breakout rooms.(There were also a special breakout room for those interested in the new Hacking for Environment/Oceans course that started at UCSC and UCSD this year.)

The output of the breakout sessions provided a firehose of data, a ton of useful suggestions, teaching tips and tools. I’ve summarized the collective notes from the breakout session. 

The consensus in our July summit and reinforced again in this summit was, yes you can teach via Zoom and “get out of the building” when you physically can’t. And it’s almost good enough. Further, our 3-hour long classes which were challenging in person required a redesign to be taught online. Zoom fatigue was real.

General Observations

  • Crisis accelerates certain trends. COVID broke the myth that distant learning was problematic and isn’t as effective.
  • It forced everybody into remote learning, and a lot of people came away with the feeling of, hey, for a lot of things, this works much better than we thought it was going to work.
  • Now everybody has lived through a pivot. Everybody has experienced disruption and perhaps is now more open to looking at new ideas.
  • That’s going to be a carryover into when we can go back. How do you use that as a technique and not be afraid of it?
  • We need to remember in these difficult times that many of the skills we’re teaching – problem solving and running around the brick wall or through it – are life skills that we’re teaching. They’re not restricted just to entrepreneurs.
  • Not pretending it’s business as usual was a great lesson

Pedagogy – How We Teach Remotely

  • On-line has made it easier for teams to meet, mentors to meet, easier access to world-class speakers.
  • The importance of actually doing good instructional design, was pointed out as is time consuming and significant work to do up front. But it pays off in enabling much better engagement and retention.
  • it’s forced educators to become much more coherent and clearer about what they want to achieve with their teams and their students.
  • Understand that that it takes longer for people to absorb information when delivered online.
  • The flipped classroom approach – lectures as prerecorded homework – reduces remote class load. It can make your synchronous time more focused on collaboration, both with you and the students as an instructor, but also among the students themselves.
  • Make each lecture available in advance of the class.
  • Reinforce the lectures with examples during the zoom session
  • We’re doing better online than ever. In classes it’s easier to get people to participate but it’s difficult to keep momentum, especially when you get into the hard part of customer discovery
  • Overall, there’s a higher pressure to be more entertaining
  • Some institutions have asked the students to design the class. They choose a topic, then the students design the class or help design the class
  • It’s really difficult to maintain that one-on-one intimacy, but zoom has been a passable kind of safe option.\
  • We’ve had faculty say that hybrid classes – teaching both in person and virtually, simultaneously – are probably the most detrimental learning environment
  • Hybrid teaching – some students physically in classroom wearing along with others online was pretty detrimental to the quality of instruction
  • One way of ensuring that students go through the advanced materials, is to have the students come up with a question about the material in advance
  • When it all changes, we’ll go back in person. But zoom is simply a classroom which just happens to be electronic. And the breakout rooms are simply a breakout, a study session, it just happens to be electronic. I think you can build an argument that there are more innovative and more interesting ways to do this. I just don’t know what they are yet.

In-Class Timing

  • Shorten the time that you’re going to do things. You can no longer do a full day, you can perhaps do three hours max virtually
  • Break things into very, very small chunks, bite sized chunks, one-minute, not 20-minute presentations for teams. And micro videos so people can watch to learn things
  • You got to break everything up – 10/15 minutes, it can’t be anything longer than that
  • Keep everything very, very short
  • Make things very bite sized, even when you’re all together online
  • The chunking concepts worked really well for students, and array those chunks of information in a buffet rather than a monolith – to make it easier for students to access
  • Make certain you boil your class down and reiterate, “these are the five things you needed to take away from this discussion.” Because at the end of the day, there are a little bit overwhelmed
  • Students being overwhelmed was a running narrative

Reach of the Classroom

  • Educators can reach a much larger audience, even a worldwide audience. And that really opened up the educators minds that they can teach not just to a single group, but to a much larger group
  • Having a worldwide audience is now possible. Which is a huge strength and has network benefits that people couldn’t anticipate
  • Teaching remote enabled being able to increase access. There were some great examples of enabling students in Africa to participate in programs from Australia, which had never happened before
  • It made me think of us as teachers without borders. That access is really pushed out to everybody now, to a much, much increased attendance
  • We can bring more people in from outside the classroom. Not only the theorists but constituents for customer development, or with Main Street businesses and local constituents
  • We’re no longer restricted by the size of the classroom. This year we’ve gone from 8 teams and 32 students to 16 teams and 80 students

Guest Speakers

  • A year ago students would have looked down on not having in-person guests. Today they’re blown away by who we can get
  • Remote teaching offers a broader access to more guest lecturers. It’s a lot easier for guests to say yes in because they don’t have to drive in, they can do it from their offices
  • Pre-recording some guests enables access to guests who normally would say no because of their schedule

Customer Discovery

  • Getting out of the classroom in some ways can be a lot easier when you’re never actually in a classroom. There aren’t the same travel and logistical challenges.
  • Getting zoom interviews is actually easier. So some of the discovery process has been easier online
  • Mixed results, we were able to get more people engaged to get more people do more interviews, and because people are more available online. But we couldn’t go as deep and couldn’t do more of the informal observation, that part of really getting to some insight
  • We need to know what sweet spots for customer development work best with zoom and that don’t work best with zoom. We need to give our students greater guidance around that point.

Minimal Viable Products

  • The very important role the MVP plays today, especially when you’re working in zoom. If you can get the product quickly, cheaply, and without using a lot of funding, you need to do that, because that’s going to get you a lot further along in terms of what you can learn from a customer development perspective.

Breakout Sessions

  • Organize to have more class time in the breakout rooms in smaller groups, because this is where engagement really happens
  • As soon as you jump into a breakout session as a professor, you’re going to kill the discussion. Be sensitive, don’t jump in, let them finish the discussion on their own
  • Breakout sessions held via zoom help maintain team chemistry
  • Keeping the same team composition in the breakout sessions make those sessions work really well, compared to when they had split teams

Student Engagement

  • The wallflowers within the class get to use chat, versus in person where they’re not going to participate at all.
  • How do you create energy during zoom sessions, especially during international calls?
  • There’s a drop off in engagement after one hour. Basically, they just disappear from the zoom
  • Some of the good things was being able to institute virtual pitching, virtual customer discovery, and in some cases a hosted special session to motivate faculty and students
  • Encourage students to learn the skill to consult with each other. This is a crucial skill. To be able to guide each other and say, “Well what did you learn about your customer discovery. And what did you learn about the value proposition.” Have them take the role of the educator a little bit

Collaboration

  • We need to find ways to allow students/teams do distance socialization. Find those kinds of activities in a way that gels the team and make that work out
  • Socializing happens naturally in person. You go out to dinner after things, you go get pizza, you hang out. That’s much harder to do virtually
  • Finding collaboration tools which can be used both during the zoom sessions but also outside of class. So students and the overall class can interact, both during the official hours, as well as during the unofficial hours
  • We’re no longer having these bigger networked conversations where you can have the serendipitous meet at the watercooler or the trade show, and kind of increase the creativity. But because of that some of these interactions have become more meaningful and purposeful because they’re very focused
  • Providing those tools is really important because they can’t just go have a cup of coffee after class, they can’t all get together at seven o’clock
  • Eventually bonding does happen if the teams meet on a regular basis and really connect over time
  • Community building is very challenging in remote context. Even though you’re able to get across a lot of the learning objectives, you’re missing a lot of these intangibles
  • Using tools like Mural, Discord, Slack and ClassEdu creates a sense of community and ongoing collaboration
  • Get the input from the students about what collaboration tools they’re most fluent in 

Team Formation

  • Teams have more trouble forming and norming under the current circumstances
  • There’s the forming, storming, norming, performing kind of thing about teams that happens through working together over time, and socializing
  • Team formations to really gel as a team can happen in this kind of remote environment – but it takes longer

Students/Teams

  • Continually push more for diversity in students/founders; older people, Hispanics, women, brown and black – people of all of all flavors
  • Having someone who looks like them lead the class info/recruiting sessions for diverse students. This dramatically changes the class makeup
  • Be sensitive to students’ personal situations
  • Students will turn off their videos, not because they’re checking out, but because of their location (bedroom, basement, sitting in their underwear, etc.)
  • Suggest a class rule that participation is part of the grade. When they do talk, they have to put the camera on. That’s a compromise on the sensitivity
  • In the online environment, it is a little bit more difficult to gauge feedback from teams
  • You need to work hard helping build highly engaged and motivated teams
  • You want to push them to take advantage of being virtual and conducting extreme customer discovery
  • On the other side, teams who might have started out strong at the beginning of COVID, and found it easier to do things virtually, have now hit a serious virtual fatigue, and are kind of disengaged and not excited about it. And just really exhausted, too exhausted to take anything more on

Mentorship

  • Mentorship becomes a lot easier. Rather than having to get people face to face meeting, we are now able to connect people. we are being able to bring the right mentors from around the country or even around the world to help our students with mentoring
  • There are three kinds of mentors; process mentors – those that know what’s coming up. Technology mentors, and then market mentors. Zoom makes it easier to have more people involved
  • Reach out to older/retired entrepreneurs, find them and put them into the mix as mentors, sometimes as founders and coaches and so forth. They’ve got time they’re willing to help
  • Keeping mentors and investors engaged over the video was a bit of a problem. They managed to shorten and simplify the process that tended to help. But q&a engagement is still a little bit of a struggle.

Exams

  • Exams need to be testing more of the understanding in the application of the concept
  • You can have an exam that is open for six or 24 hours. And then you’re able to actually ask the students to demonstrate more of the understanding of the concepts

Post-Covid Teaching

  • How do we make sure that our students who may be falling behind and may not have been able to keep up because of the COVID pandemic?
  • How do we make sure that they’re on track after we get back?
  • How do we make sure that we are adjusting for their return and the return to normalcy after we get back?

Main Street

  • We as educators need to not treat solopreneurs or Main Street businesses as second-class citizens in our classrooms or incubators, or our meetups. They’re embracing the risks and challenges that big tech startups are embracing
  • Main Street customers had product market fit, and now they’re experiencing for the first time falling out of product market fit
  • Business owners are distracted, focused on day-to-day issues. And they’re impacted personally
  • Looking at all aspects of the entrepreneur has been a real focus on prioritizing the human element, when folks are dealing with layoffs, or cash flow issues, or potential eviction
  • How do we work with companies/startups that are maybe not so much innovation driven, but necessity driven? Because of the dislocations being created by COVID-19, and economic dislocation
  • How do we provide services at scale to help coaching? We had some people who had sent their students to help those local businesses in this time of need and pivoted their classes from doing the next step to helping mainstream businesses do it
  • And we had people doing that, both in Africa and in San Jose. And with Hacking for the community in Hawaii and going out to rural areas. But we still struggle with how to engage, especially with rural communities to help them do that
  • When you go out to rural areas, that younger people who are already fluent in the tools are more are more likely to engage
  • Similarly, the idea that empathy and engagement is extremely scalable. So some of the core principles here have really scaled a lot
  • One of the things that was really interesting was connecting entrepreneurial students with waitresses and bartenders to help them figure out how to get additional funding to compensate for the lack of subsidies they might not have been able to receive
  • It’s not always a sexy company that the student gets to work with. But they get to see real impact. And it’s something that they can use in their skill sets as project managers as they continue forward
  • SBDC (Small Business Development Centers) have a very strong demand for a modified lean Launchpad curriculum program for Main Street businesses. The individual Small Business Development Centers are doing the best they can to come up with a “just getting started” program. They’re all unique. They could benefit from what universities learned from the Lean Launchpad/Lean Startup approach
  • Getting businesses online, giving them social media skills, coaching on the canvas, as a critical thing they were doing for Main Street businesses
  • The teams aren’t done when they’re done with the class. In fact, they’re actually starting a real business during the class.

University Experiments

  • At Ryerson the University incubators are open to entrepreneurs throughout the community, not just enrolled students.
  • UT Rio Grande, where many students did not have access to good internet connections, improved their WiFi to extend it to their parking lots
  • To graduate from the University of Buckingham, you must found a startup before you get your diploma. The startup doesn’t have to succeed. And if it fails early enough, you get to do another one
  • We talked about a need to extend beyond the canonical I-Corps to post class curriculum to understand how the larger ecosystem can be part of that. We also talked about the need to track more than team activity more than just interviews. But to measure engagement with mentors and instructors. And the insights that come from those engagements

Hacking for the Environment and Oceans

  • Real benefit in teaching smaller niche cohorts more focused on a specific problem area
  • All of the coastal universities are finding that this methodology should have impact in these spaces
  • These courses are more complex to put on than even Hacking for Defense type classes, because you’re trying to bring a diverse community together
  • The types of sponsors are 1) nonprofits and from foundations, 2) Coastal Conservancy organizations 2) CEOs who hoping people will help them solve problems. 34) venture funds that are starting to be impact funds, particularly. It’s kind of a very diverse group.
  • For anyone interested in offering this class see –https://www.commonmission.us/sustainability-and-prosperityhacking-for-environment-oceans

The video of the entire breakout session reports is below.

If you can’t see the video click here.

Summary
When the National Science Foundation stopped holding their annual conference of I-Corps instructors, it offered us the opportunity to embrace a larger community beyond the NSF – now to include the Hacking for Defense, NSIN, and Lean LaunchPad educators.

When we decided to hold the online summit, we had three hypotheses:

  1. Educators would not only want to attend, but to volunteer and help and learn from each other – validated
  2. Instructors would care most about effective communication with students (not tools, or frameworks but quality of the engagement with students) – validated
  3. Our educator community valued ongoing, recurring opportunities to collaborate and open source ideas and tools – validated

A big thanks to Jerry Engel of U.C. Berkeley, the dean of this program. And thanks to our organizers The Common Mission Project which provided all the seamless logistical support, and sponsors VentureWell and GCEC and every one of the breakout room leaders:

Ali Hawks – Common Mission Project UK, Chris Taylor – Georgetown, Philip Bouchard – TrustedPeer, Jim Hornthal- UC Berkeley, Michael Marasco- Northwestern, Bob Dorf – Columbia, Tom Bedecarré – Stanford, Dave Chapman – University College London, Paul Fox – LaSalle Univ Barcelona, Phil Weilerstein – VentureWell, Stephanie Marrus – University of California, San Francisco, Jim Chung – George Washington University, Babu DasGupta -University of Wisconsin, Todd Warren – Northwestern, Jeff Reid – Georgetown, Micah Kotch – Urban-X, Radhika Malpani – Google, Todd Basche- BMNT, Todd Morrill – VMG

Join our educators slack channel here

Save the date for our next Educator Summit – June 3, 2021 online.

Build Back Better – The Educators Summit

SAVE THE DATE for the 3rd edition of Lean Innovation Educators Summit
December 16th, 10 – 1pm PST, 1 – 4pm EST6 – 9pm UTC

In July 2020, 400+ educators gathered online to discuss and share best practices for Lean education in the virtual environment. We learned a ton.  And we’re going to do it again.

Join me, Jerry Engel, Pete Newell, and Steve Weinstein and over 1,000 educators from 65 countries and 220 universities for our next Lean Innovation Educators Summit.

Why?
COVID-19 has dramatically altered the business landscape. Main Street businesses are severely affected. While many parts of the high-tech sector are growing, others are either contracting or shutting down. Amid these uncertain times we believe that Lean educators can prepare students for this new investing climate and help communities recover.We’ll discuss how the pandemic has shifted not just the way we teach, but also what we teach about today’s investing climate and how we can use the Lean methodology to make an impact on our communities.

What
While we’ll hear from investors and Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, the heart of the summit are the breakout sessions. In these sessions you and your peers can discuss and share best practices with Lean educators from around the world.  We’ll then share the results of the breakout sessions with everyone.

Our breakout session leaders include:
Tom Bedecarré -Stanford University, Chris Taylor- Georgetown University, Philip Bouchard- TrustedPeer, Jim Hornthal – UC Berkeley, Michael Marasco – Northwestern University, Bob Dorf – SOM, Dave Chapman – University College London, Paul Fox – LaSalle Univ Barcelona, Phil Weilerstein – VentureWell, Jim Chung – GWU, Todd Warren, Jeff Reid – Georgetown University, Ali Hawks – CMP, Radhika Malpani – Google, Stephanie Marrus – UCSF – Jessica Fields – CUNY, Todd Morrill – VMG, Rathindra [Babu] DasGupta – University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Micah Kotch – Urban-X and Logan Petkosek, Nicole Liddle, Emily McMahan.

Thanks to the Common Mission Project team and organizers – Logan Petkosek, Nicole Liddle, Emily McMahan.

How
This session is free to all but limited to Innovation educators. You can register for the event here and/or learn more on our website. We look forward to gathering as a community of educators to shape the future of Lean Innovation Education.

When
See you on December 16th 10 – 1pm PST1pm – 4pm EST, 6pm-9pm UTC.
Register here
Live captioning for the hearing impaired.

The Educators Summit: Adapting to the COVID Economy

In July 2020, 400+ educators gathered online to discuss and share best practices for Lean education in the virtual environment. We learned a ton.  And we’re going to do it again.

Join me, Jerry Engel, Pete Newell, and Steve Weinstein for the 3rd edition of Lean Innovation Educators Summit on December 16th, 1 – 4pm EST, 6 – 9pm UTC

Why
COVID-19 has dramatically altered the business landscape. Main Street businesses are severely affected. While many parts of the high-tech sector are growing, others are either contracting or shutting down. Amid these uncertain times we believe that Lean educators can prepare students for this new investing climate and help communities recover.

We’ll discuss how the pandemic has shifted not just the way we teach, but also what we teach about today’s investing climate and how we can use the Lean methodology to make an impact on our communities.

What
We’ll hear from investors, entrepreneurs, public policy leaders and of course your colleagues on how we can help our communities adjust, recover and rebound.

The event will begin with a panel of VC, government and private capital investors and then a fireside chat about the future of the investing climate and COVID recovery efforts. We’ll then go into breakout sessions so you can discuss and share best practices with your peer Lean educators from around the world.

How
This session is free to all, but limited to Innovation educators. You can register for the event here and/or learn more on our website. We look forward to gathering as a community of educators to shape the future of Lean Innovation Education.

When
See you on December 16th 1pm – 4pm EST, 6pm-9pm UTC.

Register here

 

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

Teaching Lean Innovation in the Pandemic

Remote education in the pandemic has been hard for everyone. Hard for students having to deal with a variety of remote instructional methods. Hard for parents with K through 12 students at home trying to keep up with remote learning, and hard for instructors trying to master new barely functional tools and technology while trying to keep students engaged gazing at them through Hollywood Squares-style boxes.

A subsegment of those instructors – those trying to teach Lean LaunchPad, whether in I-Corps, or Hacking for Defense – have an additional burden of figuring out how to teach a class that depends on students getting out of the building and talking to 10 to 15 customers a week.

400 Lean Educators instructors gathered online for a three-hour session to share what we’ve learned about teaching classes remotely. We got insights from each other about tools, tips, techniques and best practices.

Here’s what we learned.

When I designed the Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps/Hacking for Defense class, my goal was to replace the traditional method of teaching case studies and instead immerse the students in a hands-on experiential process that modeled what entrepreneurs really did. It would be guided week-to-week by using the Business Model Canvas and testing hypotheses by getting out of the building and building Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). After trial and error, we found that having eight teams presenting in a three-hour block was the maximum without exhausting the instructors and the students. That format, unwieldy as it is, remained the standard for a decade. Over time we started experimenting with breaking up the three-hour block with breakout rooms and other activities so not all students needed to sit through all the presentations.

When the pandemic forced us to shift to online teaching, that experimentation turned into a necessity. Three hours staring at a Zoom screen while listening to team after team present is just untenable and unwatchable. Customer discovery is doable remotely but different. Teams are scattered across the world. And the instructor overhead of managing all this is probably 3X what it is in person.

While we were making changes to our classes at Stanford, Jerry Engel was smart enough to point out that hundreds of instructors in every university were having the same problems in adapting the class to the pandemic. He suggested that as follow-up to our Lean Innovation Educators Summit here in Silicon Valley last December, we should create a mid-year on-line Summit so we could all get together and share what we learned and how we’re adapting.  And so it began.

In July, 400 Educators from over 200 universities in 22 countries gathered online for a Lean Innovation Educators Summit to share best practices.

We began the summit with five of us sharing our experience of how we dealt with the online challenges of:

If you can’t see the presentation slides click here

But the core of the summit was gathering the collective wisdom and experience of the 400 attendees as we split into 22 breakout rooms. The one-hour discussion in each of the rooms covered:

  • What are your biggest challenges under COVID-19?
  • How is this challenge different now than during “in-person” learning?
  • What solutions have you tried?
  • What was most effective?

The output of the breakout sessions provided a firehose of data, a ton of useful suggestions, teaching tips and tools.I’ve summarized the collective notes from the breakout session.

Customer Discovery and Minimal Viable Products
The consensus was, yes you can “get out of the building” when you physically can’t. And it’s almost good enough.

  • Discovery can be done via Zoom or similar remote platforms and in some ways is more effective – see here
  • During Covid most people no longer have gatekeepers around them
    • Sending lots of cold emails works (at least in COVID times)
  • You could find the best mentors and the best sponsor for a given project
  • Building and demonstrating hardware MVPs is a challenge
    • One solution is to send a design file to a fab lab to be printed
    • If you would normally have your potential customer hold, feel or use the product, make sure you video a demo someone doing that
  • For software MVPs create video demo snippets of less <1 minute to illustrate each of your features
  • It’s critical to offer a “How to do customer discovery remotely” and “how to build remote MVPs” workshop

Class Structure
3-hour long classes are challenging in person and require a redesign to be taught online.

  • Keep students engaged by having no more than four teams in a presentation room at one time
    • Have other teams in breakout rooms and/or with other instructors
      • Breakout rooms must be well thought out and organized
      • They should have a task and a deliverable
  • Break up lectures so that they are no longer then 15 minutes
    • Intersperse them with interactive exercises (Alex Osterwalder is a genius here, providing great suggestions for keeping students engaged)
    • Work on an exercise in class and then talk more to it in office hours
    • Avoid canned video lectures
  • Be more prescriptive on “what is required” in the team presentations
  • What’s the goal for the class?
    • Do you want them to test the entire Canvas or …
    • Do you want them to work on product market fit?
      • Teams will naturally gravitate to work on product/market fit
  • Vary the voices at the “front” of the room
  • Guest speakers – previously extraneous but needed now to break up the monotony
    • But if you use guests have the student’s whiteboard summaries of what they learned
    • And have the guests be relevant to the business model topic of the week
  • Understand that while students attend your class they actually pay attention to their mentors
    • Recruit mentors whose first passion are helping students, not recruiting or investing in them
    • Ensure that you train and onboard mentors to the syllabus
    • Have the mentors sit in on the office hours and classroom
  • Invite lurkers, advisors, and others “invited” to show up and chime in
  • Be prepared for the intensity of the preparation required as compared to pre-COVID times
    • Recruiting students and forming teams is especially hard remotely
    • Double or triple down on the email and other outreach
    • Hold on-line info sessions and mixers

Teaching Assistant
Having a Teaching Assistant is critical

  • If your school won’t pay for one, get some unofficial “co-instructors”
    • They don’t have to be a teacher–use an admin or a student intern
  • They are critical to managing the admin side of marketing, recruiting, team formation, communications and overall support for the teaching team.
  • Team formation requires TA heavy lifting of emails/team mixers/team
    • as well as match-making by TA’s and instructors
  • During class TA’S need to be focused on chat, breakout room and presentation logistics
  • Don’t assume (or let your TA assume) that prior practices will work in a virtual environment.
  • Be prepared to try different approaches to keep class moving and engaged
  • Pre-class write up a “How to TA in a Remote Class” handbook
    • Go through it with your TA’s before class
  • Use security in advance; avoid open entry (Zoom Bombing)

Student Engagement
Zoom fatigue came up in almost every breakout session. Some of the solutions included:

  • Play music as students arrive and leave
  • Recognize that some may be in different time zones – take a poll in the first class session
  • Start each class session with an activity
    • Summarize key insights/lessons learned from their office hours and customer discovery
    • For those using Zoom – use the Whiteboard feature for these summaries
  • Have students turn on their camera on to ensure the class they’re engaged
    • And have their microphone off, their full name visible, and a virtual background with their team ID
  • Create deeper connection with the students
    • ask them to anonymously submit a statement or two about what they wish you knew about them
    • ask the students to bring something to class that tells us something about them
      • have them bring it to the breakout rooms to share with their teammates and others
  • Randomly cold call
    • Don’t be afraid to call out students by name, as Zoom format makes raising hand or asking a question more awkward
    • Ask their advice on what someone else just presented or what they learned from the other team
    • After doing this a couple of times, everyone will become active (so not to get called on)
  • Require additional student feedback on chat – critical to keeping engagement high
    • Focus on quality of feedback over just quantity.
    • Have the students and mentors use chat during team presentations to share contacts, insights
  • Dial back the radical candor– take the edge off as the students are already stressed
  • Offer longer office hours for teams

(All the breakout session slides are here.)

Summary
When the National Science Foundation stopped holding their annual conference of I-Corps instructors, it offered us the opportunity to embrace a larger community beyond the NSF – now to include the Hacking for Defense, NSIN, and Lean LaunchPad educators.

When we decided to hold the online summit, we had three hypotheses:

  1. Educators would not only want to attend, but to volunteer and help and learn from each other – validated
  2. Instructors would care most about effective communication with students (not tools, or frameworks but quality of the engagement with students) – validated
  3. Our educator community valued ongoing, recurring opportunities to collaborate and open source ideas and tools – validated

The Common Mission Project is coordinating the group’s efforts to create an open forum where these instructors can share best practices and to curate the best content and solutions.

A big thanks to Jerry Engel of U.C. Berkeley, the dean of this program. And thanks to the Common Mission Project which provided all the seamless logistical support, and every one of the breakout room leaders: Tom Bedecarré – Stanford University, John Blaho – City College of New York, Philip Bouchard – TrustedPeer, Dave Chapman – University College London,  James Chung – George Washington University, Bob Dorf – Columbia University,  Jeff Epstein – Stanford University, Paul Fox – LaSalle University Barcelona,  Ali Hawks – Common Mission Project UK, Jim Hornthal – U.C. Berkeley,  Victoria Larke – University of Toronto,  Radhika Malpani – Google,  Michael Marasco – Northwestern University,  Stephanie Marrus – University of California, San Francisco,  Pete Newell – BMNT/ Common Mission Project US, Thomas O’Neal – University of Central Florida,  Alexander Osterwalder – Strategyzer, Kim Polese – U.C. Berkeley,  Jeff Reid – Georgetown University,  Sid Saleh – Colorado School of Mines,  Chris Taylor – Georgetown University,  Grant Warner – Howard University, Todd Warren – Northwestern University,  Phil Weilerstein – VentureWell,  Steve Weinstein – Stanford University, Naeem Zafar – U.C. Berkeley, and the 400 of you who attended.

Looking forward to our next Educator Summit, December 16th online.

The video of the entire summit can be seen here

Educators Summit: Lessons from Teaching in the Pandemic

SAVE THE DATE for the Lean Innovation Educators Summit:
Lessons from Teaching in the Pandemic
July 24, 10-noon Pacific, 1-3pm Eastern, 6-8pm London

As educators the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us all.

We’ve faced the challenges of teaching remotely, while virtually managing students scattered across the world, keeping students enthusiastic and engaged via video, helping them conduct customer discovery when they can’t get out of the building, and rolling with uncertain teaching schedules now and in the future. We’ve all been making it up as we go and have begun to see a glimmer of patterns of what’s worked and what hasn’t. 

Since the Pandemic we’ve taught three classes remotely – Hacking for Defense, Hacking for Oceans and our first of three Hacking for Recovery classes. I know I’ve learned a ton – some surprisingly good and some just surprisingly.

But more importantly there are hundreds of educators who have also learned valuable lessons. If you’ve learned something you’d like to share, or would like to hear how others are modifying their pedagogical approaches for the pandemic, you’re invited to join us virtually and collectively in this two-hour on-line session (with an additional one hour of breakout sessions for follow-up discussions on topics of interest.)

Some of the topics we’ll cover include:

  • Converting and scaling existing programs and classes
  • Standing up new programs from scratch
  • Improving diversity and inclusion in tech innovation education
  • Addressing K-12 opportunities
We invite you to submit your own instructional innovations for a virtual poster session. We will also be having subgroup discussions to engage in active give and take.

So save the date for the Lean Innovation Educators Summit on July 24th, 2020.

This session is free to all, but limited to Innovation educators. You can register for the event here and/or learn more on our website. We look forward to gathering as a community of educators to shape the future of Lean Innovation Education in the COVID-19 era. 

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