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Steve Blank Lean LaunchPad @Stanford 2024 – 8 Teams In, 8 Companies Out

This post previously appeared in Poets and Quants.

We just finished the 14th annual Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford. The class had gotten so popular that in 2021 we started teaching it in both the winter and spring sessions.

During the quarter the eight teams spoke to 919 potential customers, beneficiaries and regulators. Most students spent 15-20 hours a week on the class, about double that of a normal class.

In the 14 years we’ve been teaching the class, we had something that has never happened before – all eight teams in this cohort have decided to start a company.

This Class Launched a Revolution in Teaching Entreprenurship
Several government-funded programs have adopted this class at scale. The first was in 2011 when we turned this syllabus into the curriculum for 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.”

Below are the Lessons Learned presentations from the spring 2024 Lean LaunchPad.

Team Neutrix – Making Existing Nuclear Reactors More Profitable By Upgrading Their Fuel

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

If you can’t see the Neutrix Presentation, click here

I-Corps at the National Institute of Health
In 2013 I partnered with UCSF and the National Institute of Health to offer the Lean LaunchPad class for Life Science and Healthcare (therapeutics, diagnostics, devices and digital health.) In 2014, in conjunction with the National Institute of Health, I took the UCSF curriculum and developed and launched the I-Corps @ NIH program.

Team Virgil – Capturing Memoirs of Loved Ones (and Using AI to Do It Profitably)

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

If you can’t see the Virgil Presentation, click here.

I-Corps at Scale
I-Corps is now offered in 100 universities and has trained over 9,500 scientists and engineers; 7,800 in 2,546 teams in I-Corps at NSF (National Science Foundation), 950 participants at I-Corps at NIH in 317 teams, and 580 participants at Energy I-Corps (at the DOE) in 188 teams.

Team Claim CoPilot – Overturning Denied Healthcare Claims

If you can’t see the Claim Pilot Presentation, click here

If you can’t see the Claim CoPilot video of their demo click here

$4 billion in Venture Capital For I-Corps Teams
1,380 of the NSF I-Corps teams launched startups raising $3.166 billion. Over 300 I-Corps at NIH teams have collectively raised $634 million. Energy I-Corps teams raised $151 million in additional funding.

Team Emy.ai – Using Brainwaves to Biohack Moods

If you can’t see the Emy.ai video, click here

If you can’t see the Emy.ai Presentation, click here

Mission Driven Entreprenurship
In 2016, I co-created both the Hacking for Defense course with Pete Newell and Joe Felter as well as the Hacking for Diplomacy course with Jeremy Weinstein at Stanford. In 2022, Steve Weinstein created Hacking for Climate and Sustainability. This fall Jennifer Carolan will launch Hacking for Education at Stanford.

Team TeachAssist – Automating Student Assessments for Special Education Teachers

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

If you can’t see the TeachAssist Presentation, click here

Design of This Class
While the Lean LaunchPad 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.)

Team Maurice.ai – A Home Robot for the GPT Era

If you can’t see the Maurice.ai video, click here

If you can’t see the Maurice.ai Presentation, click here

The Business Model Canvas
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 – finding product/market fit. Finally, the canvas provides students with a map of 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 if they get 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.

Team Waifinder – Personalized Guidance For High School Students to Effectively Apply to College

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

If you can’t see the Waifinder Presentation, click here

Lean LaunchPad Tools
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.

Team PocketDot – Gamified Braille Self-Learning Solution for Braille Learners

If you cant see the PocketDot video click here.

If you can’t see the PocketDot Presentation, click here

It Takes A Village
While I authored this blog post, this class is a team project. The secret sauce of the success of the Lean LaunchPad at Stanford is the extraordinary group of dedicated volunteers supporting our students in so many critical ways.

The teaching team consisted of myself and:

Our teaching assistants this year were Chapman Ellsworth, Francesca Bottazzini and Ehsan Ghasemi.

Mentors helped the teams understand if their solutions could be a commercially successful business. Thanks to Lofton Holder, Bobby Mukherjee, Steve Cousins, David Epstein, Kevin Ray, Rekha Pai, Rafi Holtzman and Kira Makagon. They were led by Todd Basche.

Summary
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. AI is already having a major impact on customer discovery and validation. And one day another revolutionary break will take us to the next level.

But today, we get to celebrate – 8 teams in – 8 companies out.

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