How High Schoolers Are Using Lean Startup

How High Schoolers Are Using Lean Startup

Lean Startup Conference LogoThis video was produced by the Lean Startup Conference, where Noble Impact VP of Product Erica Swallow gave an IGNITE talk about Lean Startup in the high school ecosystem. Learn more about Lean Startup in the high school setting in the blog post she penned leading up to the speech.

High schools across the nation are implementing Lean Startup methodology in entrepreneurship, business, and marketing courses. Erica Swallow, VP of Product at education non-profit Noble Impact, at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference, shared the story of how her team is empowering students to get out of the building and solve the problems they see in their communities. See the video recording of her five-minute, lightning-style IGNITE talk below! (IGNITE talks, by the way, are five minutes total, with 20 slides, 15 seconds each. Phew!)

Learn more about how Noble Impact uses Lean Startup in the classroom in Erica’s more extensive blog post.

How Lean Startup Is Changing High School Education

How Lean Startup Is Changing High School Education

Lean Startup Conference LogoThis post originally appeared on the Lean Startup Company blog, where Noble Impact VP of Product Erica Swallow guest blogged about Lean Startup in the high school ecosystem in anticipation of her IGNITE talk at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference.

All across the world, educators are seeking ways to better engage students and prepare them for life after high school. In poll after poll, students tell us that their education doesn’t seem relevant; they don’t see a purpose behind the daily grind, the homework, the standardized tests.

For some, Lean Startup is a part of the solution.

The Problem

So, what is it about high school that disengages students? Take a look at most high school classrooms across America, and you’ll find the answer. Students sit chair behind chair, desk behind desk, in a seemingly endless matrix, wall to wall, while at the front of the room, a teacher commands the class and delivers content, only stopping to answer the occasional question.

Teamwork is practically unheard of, and students are asked to memorize formulas and historical dates to regurgitate on tests that will rank them within their class, school, and the entire national education system.

Students aren’t ignorant, though – they see the difference between the education system and what the “real world” looks like. They want an education that will set them up for success in life after high school, not one that will deflate their creativity year-by-year, until their only hope is to graduate and go to college or get a job.

We must give students a better system, one that is deserving of their time, efforts, and talents.

Coaching Up the Classroom

Noble Impact Scholars

Noble Impact scholars choose words that
resonate with them about the entrepreneurial journey.

What would it look like if we flipped the classroom equation and put students at the center of their education? What if we challenged students to determine the course of their own educational journeys, to customize it based on their interests and the problems they ultimately want to solve in the world? Instead of teachers, we’d act more as coaches, facilitators of learning.

Students at Noble Impact take a purposed-based approach to their work, and they frequently ask, “Why?” We train students to dig deep – whether they are in the classroom, at one of our out-of-school events, or at home – to question the purpose behind what they’re doing. When students see the purpose in their work, they find relevance, and they’re excited to contribute.

The Lean Canvas and Lean Startup methodology have been invaluable tools for those exercises.

Applying Lean Startup to the High School Setting

Greta Kresse and Olivia Fitzgibbon Noble Impact Scholars

Noble Impact scholars Greta Kresse and Olivia Fitzgibbon white board
at an event about challenging the existing opportunity gap in education.

Lean Startup as a business development philosophy prioritizes speed and learning over perfection – it asks the entrepreneur to define success in terms of “learning how to solve the customer’s problem,” as Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup,” puts it.

Lean Startup, then, is a natural fit in a project-based learning environment, where students are challenged to work on projects in line with their interests and the problems they want to solve. Lean Startup teaches students to focus on people, to understand what a customer is and how to solve his or her problems.

Instead of sitting in chairs all day long, students are asked to “get out of the building” to do customer research, define a problem, build MVPs (minimum viable products), and validate the assumptions their business models rely upon. Students aren’t used to adults handing over the reigns, but with the right facilitation, students can and do shine when they’re asked to build, measure, and learn.

Building Noble Impact Initiatives

At Noble Impact, students work in many different environments with Lean Startup methodology, both in the classroom and beyond.

Last year, in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service, for example, we launched the country’s first-ever High School Startup Weekend, devoted solely to high school entrepreneurs. With 80 student participants in grades 9-12, the event saw ideas that included an online homework management tool, a portable storage locker company for outdoor events, a nail polish pen, and a “don’t forget your cell phone” smartwatch app, among others.

Innovation isn’t just an after-hours affair, though. Students also work on business ideas in class using Lean. At eStem Public Charter Schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, for example, Noble Impact scholars work with local businesses and on their own ideas, interviewing customers, mocking up MVP ideas, and actually building their own businesses. In fact, we currently expose Lean Startup to students in grades 5-12 and will soon expand all the way to kindergarten.

Bolstering High School Entrepreneurs

Sydney Brazil Noble Impact Entrepreneur

High school entrepreneur Sydney Brazil founded her own “donut holery”
called The Hole Thing through her Noble Impact coursework.

High school entrepreneurs are treated as rare creatures in our society, probably because we crush the creativity out of them in their day-to-day schoolwork. I get to work with a lot of fresh minds through Noble Impact, though, and we teach them that anyone can contribute to society or solve a problem, as long as they’re willing to put in the work and research.

I’ve had particular glee watching one entrepreneur, Sydney Brazil, flourish in our entrepreneurial environment. She used Lean Canvas to turn her idea for a donut hole business into a reality by founding The Hole Thing, Little Rock, Arkansas’s first “donut holery.” She makes the most delicious donut holes to ever grace the earth, from lemon lavender to chocolate chip cookie.

She started her journey much like any other entrepreneur twice her age (she was 15 when she got started) – she built a business plan, pitched at some local startup pitch competitions, caught the eye of potential partners, and launched a minimum viable product. Instead of buying a store location and setting up shop, Sydney went lean. Her MVP came in the form of a partnership with local restaurant Copper Grill, in which her company’s donut holes appeared on the restaurant’s dessert menu, alongside their house ice cream. Copper Grill also let Sydney use their professional grade kitchen to prepare the holes. The partnership enabled her to test her concept for donut holes, see if there was actually demand, and collect sales data about which donut holes were selling better. Build, measure, learn.

In Sydney’s words, the “grown up business community” has completely embraced her, Copper Grill and beyond. That’s what excites me as an education reformer. We need more connectivity between students and their communities, because business leaders and mentors are the ones who open up opportunities for students to learn and get experience. When a student has an idea for an MVP through a Lean Canvas exercise, it is local community that can help make that plan a reality.

Lean Startup Around the Country

Hawken School Entrepreneurship Educators Workshop

Entrepreneur and educator Jeanine Esposito presents a Business Model Canvas
at Hawken School’s summer entrepreneurship educators workshop.

Noble Impact isn’t the only organization teaching Lean Startup in the K-12 education system.

DECA, one of the largest co-curricular student club organizations, rolled out the Lean Canvas this school year for all of its state and national competitions related to entrepreneurship. Students used to write full 20+ page business plans, and now they’re going lean.

Likewise, educators at Hawken School, a private PS-12 school in Gates Mills, Ohio, is one of the first organizations I’ve worked with that not only teaches students about Lean Startup, but also trains teachers from across the country how to use and teach Lean Startup in their own schools. This summer, Hawken educators Doris Korda and Tim Desmond held the first-ever Hawken School Educators Workship for Entrepreneurial Studies at Babson College and made sure that each educator left having built at least one Lean Business Model Canvas.

Preparing Students For Their Futures

I strongly believe that it is our duty as world citizens to make sure that our children have the best education possible, so that they are prepared to thrive in an ever-changing society after they leave the halls of their hometown high schools.

From what I’ve witnessed, there are educators all across this country, focused on changing the education system, so that our students are prepared to not only thrive in, but also change the world.

Lean Startup, for many students, is the catalyst that gets them engaged and on that path. I encourage all educators to give it a try and to consider what it means when we ask students to take the reigns of their own educational journey. To build, to measure, to learn, and to rise to their fullest potential.

What Happens When Educators Convene To Reimagine Entrepreneurial Studies

What Happens When Educators Convene To Reimagine Entrepreneurial Studies

Chad Williamson Erica Swallow at Babson
Noble Impacters Chad Williamson and Erica Swallow attended the Hawken Educators Workshop at Babson College this week.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about teachers, it’s that the most passionate educators are some of the most entrepreneurial people I’ve ever met. Whether they’re trying to acquire school supplies for their classrooms or seeking out community partners for student projects, good teachers are willing to go to bat for the betterment of their students.

That sentiment was evident this weekend at the Hawken School Educators Workshop for Entrepreneurial Studies, which was attended by 29 educators and administrators (including Noble Impact co-founder Chad Williamson and myself, Noble’s latest recruit as VP of Product) from 20 schools across America. The educators I met were fired up to teach their students life skills — such as critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills — that will serve them not just for the short-term, but also throughout their lives as engaged students, workers, and citizens.

Sticky Notes Exercises
The workshop featured many opportunities to get piled knee-high in sticky notes.

I saw educators like engineering teacher Tom Dubick of Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte, North Carolina advocating for rapid prototyping technologies in the classroom, so that students can learn by doing, iterating, and launching. And there was Talia Sukol, a middle school teacher from Cleveland with a background in fine arts looking to build an entrepreneurship program for middle schoolers, to kickstart creativity at a younger age. I was blown away by teachers like Jesse Downs of Providence Day School — also in Charlotte, North Carolina (maybe there’s something in the water?!) — who facilitated a “Paperclip Project” with his students in which they traded up a paperclip to more valuable items in order to create long-lasting good in their communities. The projects and stories these educators were working on were impressive, inspiring, and downright impactful.

Teaching Versus Learning Doris Korda
Hawken School Director of Entrepreneurial Studies Doris Korda discusses the importance of self-directed student discovery.

The workshop featured opportunities to build, discuss, and question and was organized by Doris Korda and Tim Desmond — director and assistant director of entrepreneurial studies, respectively, at Hawken School, a primary and secondary school in Cleveland, Ohio that’s been making headlines (here’s a piece in the Wall Street Journal) for its inventive methods and content.

Wallet Exercise
Educators were challenged to develop empathic thinking with the “Wallet Exercise.”

The workshop kicked off with a lecture by Korda, followed by the “Wallet Project,” an exercise developed at the Stanford d.school that employs design thinking to design the “perfect wallet” for a given user. They were also challenged to tell the story of a company using the Business Model Canvas, invented by strategist, writer, and speaker Alex Osterwalder. Not to mention, attendees are asked to take Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad online course prior to day one of the workshop, which is billed as 24 hours of engagement on average.

The educators I met are dedicated to launching and sustaining programs that make a difference in their students’ academics, to say the least. They, too, are collaborative individuals, looking to soak in best practices and work with people from all walks. In fact, there was no greater collaboration over the weekend than between the educators and students, a handful of which traveled from Hawken School to facilitate various exercises with the attendees.

Business Model Canvas by Jeanine Esposito
Innovation Builders President and CEO Jeanine Esposito presents a Business Model Canvas project.

My favorite event was the “Fever Pitch,” in which attendees were tasked with pitching wild startup ideas, such as an invisible couch, a silent vacuum cleaner, and scented sunscreen. Presented and run by students, the event showcased just how skilled the students were at communicating and leading, and it also gave educators the chance to practice the lessons they may soon be teaching.

The gathering — held at leading entrepreneurial university Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts — was one of two Hawken School workshops to occur this summer; the other is to take place next week in California.

If the second is anything like the first, massive opportunities for collaboration and continued engagement will arise. All I can say is I’m excited about what our team and those of our colleagues do from here!

Are you a teacher of entrepreneurial studies? If so, what’s your best advice for educators launching entrepreneurship programs at their schools? Share your ideas in the comments below.