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‘Lean Startup’ Evangelist Steve Blank Builds B-School Pipeline

Business school professor Steve Blank at a workshop in his California living room - Ethan Baron photo

Business school lecturer Steve Blank at a workshop in his California living room – Ethan Baron photo

Blank believes instilling the lean startup mindset in young people will improve the pipeline into business schools, creating a pool of students who have received an early push into innovation-focused business practices.

“The analogy is what happened when kids started programming in high school – it kind of raised the bar on what you were expected to know when you got to computer science programs in undergrad,” says Blank. “We’re going to teach them a set of skills that are going to raise the bar by the time they get to business school. You’re going to have people coming in who now know how to come up with ideas, not just run someone else’s business.


“In the U.S. our culture allows us to do this without the rigid command and control system of rote learning. This isn’t South Korea or Japan; we’re doubling down on the cultural aspects of what we do well here – we question everything in the U.S., and of course kids question everything before we beat that out of them and put them in the machine.”

In Blank’s expansive, sun-soaked living room, he reaches into his personal experience as a parent of a former schoolchild to explain to workshop participants what they’re expected to take away.

“My daughter went through an entrepreneurship class in seventh grade,” Blank tells the teachers. “They essentially taught . . . how to run a lemonade stand. This class is going to have you teach skills that are actually useful in the 21st Century. We’re using the skill set that entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley use to create new businesses that have never existed before.”

Blank asks the participants how they plan to apply what they’re learning in the workshop. One woman intends to teach lean skills to women and minorities, to bring more diversity and varied perspectives into the tech sector. One man intends to teach students how to commercialize cancer research. Another plans to teach students how to create a scaleable startup. One woman wants to give her pupils “the tools to actually realize their ideas.”

The workshop – in its third iteration – arises from a partnership between Blank and Hawken School, a Cleveland private K-12. In 2013, a group of educators from Hawken took Blank’s “Lean LaunchPad for Educators” workshop, created an entrepreneurship course at the school, based on the lean methodology, then, with Blank, began giving workshops for K-12 teachers on lean startup pedagogy.


During the workshop at Blank’s ranch, the educators see how Hawken has applied the methodology in its course. Via videos that show the student experience, participants watch teams of young people spend three weeks developing a solution to an actual company’s serious problem. “We find real businesses with real and urgent problems who are willing to let a lot of high schoolers work on it,” says Doris Korda, director of entrepreneurial studies at Hawken, and a former software entrepreneur. “They’re working on real problems with real deadlines. They learn how to do market research, qualitative analysis, quant analysis, communication. It’s problem solving, it’s experiential, it has to be data based.