Reflections in Anticipation of the Attending the Lean LaunchPad Educators Program

In preparation for the Lean Launch Pad Workshop in Berkeley later this month, my colleague Laurie Jensen and I have been thinking about our Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program at Mount Royal University and our experiences teaching the Lean Start-up approach. Over the past few years, we have re-designed our entrepreneurship program from a small business management focus to the primary goal of developing an entrepreneurial mindset in our students and a secondary goal of creating innovative, scalable business models for new and existing for-profit and not-for-profit ventures that lay somewhere between “a great living” of Alex Lawrence‘s “Main Street” and the billion dollar IPO of Sand Hill Road VC’s. Our minor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship has students with varied backgrounds – mainly business majors but including students from computer science, outdoor education, kinesiology, general arts as well as continuous education students (usually returning students looking to launch their own ventures). We believe this multi-disciplinarity has huge benefits resulting from the different perspectives and approaches to creativity and problem solving students bring to the classroom.

We have been using the Lean Start-up approach, Customer Development process and Business Model Generation materials in our Opportunity Development and Venture Launch courses for the past year. We would like to share in advance of the Lean Launch Pad Educators Program several factors and circumstance that separate our experiences from some of the present body of work.

  • Our approach is centered around educating and developing the entrepreneurial mindset, growing individuals that are confident and aware rather than the actual launch of sustainable and scalable ventures. The majority of our graduates are unlikely to start new ventures or join early stage ventures straight after their graduation. They almost all will likely be contributing members of operating organizations, large and small, commercial, charitable, political or otherwise in nature.
  • Working with undergraduate students presents its own set of unique challenges different than those of graduate students and in-the-field practitioners. They generally have a narrow field of experience and perspective. A full undergraduate course load coupled with part-time job and athletic commitments makes the additional workload of venture development very challenging for most. Getting out of the building is extremely valuable for expanding their way of thinking but very difficult due to lack of time, experience and limited contact base.
  • We are not focused on tech startups exclusively but more broadly ranging from “bits to atoms” in nature, for profit to non-profit and intrapreneurial in-house new ventures.
  • We live and work in a “small market” demographic. The Western Canada population is under 11 million, similar to mid-size states such as Georgia and Michigan but with ten times the land mass. About half the population is concentrated in two major urban areas, the Greater Vancouver area and Calgary-Edmonton corridor which both have populations of just under 2.5 million.
  • Our local Calgary-Edmonton economic corridor is dominated by primary resource extraction and the tertiary sector of related financial services (we arguably have a global tier energy industry cluster forming) with abundant capital that unfortunately has very limited investment attention for non-resource extraction related ventures. Our angel investment community is limited and jaded. We have an under-funded and overly conservative venture capital industry and wary institutional investors still smarting from dot-bomb era collapses such as Nortel and JDS -Uniphase. Most are content to stick with what they know – the resource extraction economy.
  • While we have a vibrant and active entrepreneurial and academic community with local groups such as the A100, an organization of “been there, done that” tech entrepreneurs and executives dedicated to helping Alberta’s next generation of innovative startups, our ecosystem is an order of magnitude smaller in scale and energy as compared to the leaders. Although the community is growing, we have a limited depth of experience and talentfrom which to draw advise, mentorship and support.

We assume all participants face their own unique challenges and present these points merely as a catalyst for further discussion. Our goal is to continue to look for ways to apply the Lean Start-up approach making adjustments that meet our market and classroom situation.

We look forward to some interesting and lively discussions at the workshop and will share these upon our return. In the meantime, we would love to hear about your experiences in the entrepreneurial classroom.