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

Workshop participant Derek Krein discusses lean startup-based education with workshop organizer Doris Korda and another participant - Ethan Baron photo

Workshop participant Derek Krein discusses lean startup-based education with workshop organizer Doris Korda and another participant – Ethan Baron photo

“The combination of customer development, business model canvas, agile development, and having a course where you’re having to work on teams, present weekly on what you’re finding and what you’re going to do next, and get out in the real world, and really, really find out what others need and want, and have issues with, is crazy-powerful learning.”


Hawken student Phil Hedayatnia, 17, had founded two companies by the time he took the school’s entrepreneurship course and was introduced to lean methodology. He worked on a team applying the method to an Indian barbecue restaurant startup. “I realized that most of the things I had known about entrepreneurship were wrong, and I was doing things the wrong way,” Hedayatnia says.

He believes the methodology, in addition to teaching entrepreneurship, can play a crucial role in keeping younger generations connected directly to life, rather than always engaging via the virtual world: fundamental to the lean creed is the mantra, “get out of the building.” Practitioners must talk to dozens and dozens of people – especially potential customers – about the product under development. “Learning these skills . . . teaches you to get off the phone, get off your computer,”  Hedayatnia says. “It breaks that digital divide that I think our generation faces more so than previously.”

Entrepreneur and workshop teacher Alex Kehaya - Ethan Baron photo

Entrepreneur and workshop teacher Alex Kehaya – Ethan Baron photo

The lean method’s focus on team-based problem-solving can help young people position themselves for success as entrepreneurs or employees in new enterprises, says workshop teacher Alex Kehaya, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder earlier this year of a Santa Barbara startup accelerator. “I look at startups every day. These skills are essential for the new economy we’re in. It’s a huge need. When you look at people who are trying to hire other individuals, they’re looking for that ability to solve a real problem,” Kehaya says.


Lean-based programming for students also fosters personal growth, leading young people to identify their weaknesses and address them, years before that self-awareness would be gained through life and work, Kehaya says. “That’s super powerful,” Kehaya says. “When you have that ability, you’re able to be way more efficient in the workforce, and also to create more value.”

Derek Krein, a college counselor at a grade 9-12 boarding school outside Boston and a workshop participant, believes the lean methodology can give high school students the means to accomplish personal life goals while succeeding professionally. Learning the fundamentals of entrepreneurship will also set young people apart along the path to higher education, Krein believes. “Take Stanford, MIT: they have more perfect test scores, perfect GPA kids than they know what to do with,” Krein says. “How does a student then stand out? They’re in APs like everybody else. What’s the story they can tell? What’s the value that they’re going to bring to a college campus?

“Something like this, shows, ‘Look, I can think in a different way, I can engage people, I want to make a difference.’”

Regardless of whether kids have an interest in entrepreneurship, specifics of the lean method – particularly those around customer engagement – translate directly to daily existence, says workshop participant Kit Halversen, a Silicon Valley ed-tech entrepreneur and part-time teacher at a private high school.