High School Students, The Lean Startup and Entrepreneurship

by | Mar 21, 2014

It is fascinating to see a number of Innovation concepts move from one community to another. For example, we are seeing Design Thinking move from the design community to the business community. Similarly, the Lean Startup religion is rapidly moving from the startup space to the enterprise.

I was really interested to read about how the Lean Startup movement is becoming embedded in the K-12 space, turning school students into active entrepreneurs. For a while now I have been disillusioned in that most career councillors in schools will direct students to the traditional offering - but how many will say to a student "I think you should be an entrepreneur!".

The Huffington Post reports on a project by Steve Blank, author "The Startup Owner's manual" and "The Four Steps to the Epiphany", looking to teach students to think like entrepreneurs and not accountants. He needed them to think and learn about two parts of a startup; 1) ideation- how to create new ideas and 2) customer development - how do they test the validity of their idea (is it the right product, customer, channel, pricing, etc.)

So what did they do? First, they had the students work with two local startups who agreed to be their clients, on real problems. These two startups had problems they could not solve on their own due to lack of resources--time, people, money. The kids used the business model canvas, and each student team conducted over 100 detailed interviews as part of their solution. And they got out of the building in doing so!

They then had the students come up with their own business ideas that they pitched to their peers - four of which went forward with a mentor. The students iterated and pivoted, and then presented to four local accelerators. They calculate their company valuations, and at the end of the presentations, two teams were invited to apply for funding through local accelerators.

Lessons learned:

  • Students work harder, better and deeper when the stakes are real
  • Working for local startups gives them a great way to quickly gain business and life experience alongside customer development experience
  • Working for local startups creates real world intensity and urgency in the course
  • Kids freak out, get paralyzed and waste time doing so. It's all part of the learning process
  • The learning and growth of how to work well in a team is reason enough for students to enroll in Lean Launch Pad
  • We never anticipated the amount of learning that happened here
  • Even at a very progressive school, we are breaking new ground and challenging all the traditions and biases of regular school

We must do more of this. We need to move away from channeling students into the traditional careers - sure, we need doctors and lawyers and accountants and..... But we need entrepreneurs. We need students to wake up saying "I have the most groundbreaking idea in the world" and then have the freedom and capacity to execute on that idea. How else will we change the world? How else will our upcoming students come up with those groundbreaking ideas that can truly make a difference on a  global scale?

So when a school student, maybe your child,  says to you "What should I do when I grow up?" - perhaps your answer could be, "Consider being an Entrepreneur!".

Jeffrey Tobias

About Jeffrey Tobias

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well-known startups.

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Managing Director, The Strategy Group

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well known startups. Jeffrey’s corporate background includes leading global innovation strategy at Cisco, working with large corporates such as Adobe, Westpac, Telstra, Woolworths, and Perpetual.

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