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

Business school professor and lean startup evangelist Steve Blank addresses a workshop - Ethan Baron photo

Business school lecturer Steve Blank spreads the ‘lean startup’ gospel – Ethan Baron photo

It’s a sunny morning at Steve Blank’s ranch in the rolling grassy hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean west of Silicon Valley. Thirty educators, mostly high school and middle school teachers, have gathered for a workshop on entrepreneurship education. Blank, the pioneering entrepreneurship professor and evangelist of the “lean startup” process for launching new ventures, has already seen the methodology adopted in business schools across the country. Now he’s working on the pipeline.

The educators have come to Blank’s idyllic ranch to learn how to teach lean methodology to students. And although studying and practicing the lean method in business schools focuses on preparing students to start new ventures, for the teachers here, the workshop is more about learning how to give their students tools to succeed in a 21st Century world where nothing is certain but the hyper-speed of change. For these educators, the workshop provides an opportunity to learn how to arm their pupils with a set of abilities as applicable to life in general as they are to business: thinking innovatively, creating and testing hypotheses, collaborating, progressing through iteration, staying agile, pivoting away from intractable obstacles, and reaping the rewards of failure.

“The research right now in education is about the importance of grit, the importance of perseverance, the importance of being willing to work with people and take feedback, and not to take feedback personally, and learn from feedback – being willing to be innovative and throw crazy ideas out there, which I think that we train our kids out of doing in school, because there’s a right answer,” says Emily Dawe, a math teacher from Los Angeles who is creating an entrepreneurial studies elective class in her middle school.


“That’s how we grade, in many subjects we grade based on right answer. (Today), we don’t know what the answer is. We don’t know what the next business is. We don’t even know what jobs these kids are going to have. We need to teach kids to tackle a totally new world.”

The lean startup method arose out of the “discovery-driven planning” for new ventures articulated in the mid-’90s by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen and Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath. Lean startup methodology replaces the traditional business plan with a constantly evolving document called a “business model canvas.”

Workshop participant Emily Dawe speaks with co-organizer Doris Korda - Ethan Baron photo

Workshop participant Emily Dawe speaks with co-organizer Doris Korda – Ethan Baron photo

Blank, an eight-time entrepreneur who created the lean startup movement and turned it into a pedagogy he calls Lean LaunchPad, developed the teaching method in his class at the U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business, and unveiled the LaunchPad course at Stanford Engineering School four years ago. He now teaches a LaunchPad course at Haas as well as at Columbia University, New York University, U.C. San Francisco, and with the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.