Steve Blank: The Class That Changed How Entrepreneurship Is Taught

Steve Blank


Inside the classroom, we deliberately trade off lecture time for student/teaching team interaction. The class is run using a “flipped classroom”: Instead of lecturing about the basics during class time, we assign the core lectures, recorded as video clips, as homework. Instructors then supplement the video lectures with their own in-class short lecture about the week’s business model topic.This allows instructors to use class time for review of the concepts or short lectures customized for specific domains (e.g., hardware, life sciences, etc.).

Emotional Investment

In an experiential class, students must be fully immersed in the experience, not just doing what the syllabus says is required of them. Project-based learning engages and motivates students. Having each team present weekly in front of their peers raises the commitment (and heart rate) of the students. No one wants to be shown up by another team.

Speed & Tempo Outside Their Comfort Zones

One of the goals of the class is to talk to 100 customers and partners. That may seem like an absurdly unreasonable goal, yet all teams manage to do so. Most case-based or project classes do not offer time and resource constraints. Our class is purposely designed to offer maximum ambiguity while pushing students to achieve extraordinary results under relentless pressure and time constraints. We stress a relentless speed and tempo because we believe that learning is enhanced when students are given the opportunity to operate outside of their own perceived comfort zones.

Our objective is to have students experience what it’s like to operate in a real-world startup. Outside the classroom walls, conditions will change so rapidly that their originally well-thought-out plans become irrelevant. If they can’t manage chaos and uncertainty, if they can’t bias themselves for action, and if they wait around for someone else to tell them what to do, then their investors and competitors will make their decisions for them and they will run out of money and their company will die.

Therefore, every successful founder needs a decisive mindset that can quickly separate the crucial from the irrelevant, synthesize the output, and use this intelligence to create islands of order in the all-out chaos of a startup. The class is designed to emulate that chaos and teach a bias for action.


There’s one last part of our pedagogy that might seem out of place in an experiential class, and that’s the relentlessly direct model of feedback. The class moves at breakneck speed and is designed to create immediate action in time-, resource-, and cash-constrained environments. The teaching team practices Radical Candor — caring personally while challenging directly. At its core, Radical Candor is guidance and feedback that’s at once kind and clear, specific and sincere, and focused on helping the other person grow.

We give the students public feedback about the quality and quantity of their work in front of their peers weekly. For some, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard “not good enough.”


The design of the class was a balance between ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty with structure and learning strategies.

While this process is extremely effective, it can be painful to watch. Our natural inclination (at least mine) is to offer specific guidance and solutions. (There are a few times in class when the team may need explicit directions, such as “It’s time to pivot” or “Your team needs to restart.” But these should be exceptions.)

The genius of the class design was making the class look like it wasn’t designed.


In the first decade of the Lean LaunchPad class, we’ve trained hundreds of other educators around the world to teach the class at their universities. By now 100s of thousands of students have taken some form of the class, and hundreds of companies have been created.

In addition, two government-funded programs have adopted the class at scale. The first was the National Science Foundation I-Corps. Errol Arkilic, then the head of commercialization at the National Science Foundation, adopted the class, saying, “You’ve developed the scientific method for startups, using the Business Model Canvas as the laboratory notebook.” I-Corps is now offered in 100 universities and has trained about 2,500 teams and 7,500 scientists in 100 cohorts. The National Institute of Health also teaches a version, I-Corps @ NIH, in the National Cancer Institute.

Today, this Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps syllabus is also the basis for a series of Mission-Driven Entrepreneurship classes: Hacking for Diplomacy, DefenseOceans, nonprofits and cities. Hacking for Defense is now taught in over 55 universities in the U.S., with versions of the course offered in the UK and Australia.

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. And one day, another revolutionary break will take us to the next level.

Entrepreneur-turned-educator Steve Blank is credited with launching the Lean Startup movement. He’s changed how startups are built; how entrepreneurship is taught; how science is commercialized; and how companies and the government innovate. Steve is the author of four books, including The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner’s Manual. He teaches at Stanford and Columbia, where he is a Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.