Group photo of UO's first Lean Launchpad cohort

Lean Launchpad Builds Upon Entrepreneurial Collaboration

With the launch of the University of Oregon’s new cross-campus entrepreneurship minor earlier this year, faculty also approved a new customer discovery class offered on more than 200 campuses worldwide.

Lean Launchpad is an established curriculum founded in 2008 by Stanford University professor Steve Blank which challenges students to interview prospective customers and validate markets through iterative experimentation and validated learning.

The Lean Launchpad curriculum was adopted by the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program in 2011, where it is used widely by university faculty to commercialize their science and technology research.

Teaming up with local entrepreneurial resource provider, RAIN Eugene, the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship offered the Lean Launchpad class, for the first time, to a blended cohort of student and community entrepreneurs this past summer.

Ten ventures were challenged to interview 60 people over eight weeks to gain a better understanding of their identified market and use that information to refine their business models. Teams also benefited from being matched with a RAIN Eugene mentor who provided them with mentorship and advice on their venture.

The diverse cohort included undergraduate and graduate student-led ventures as well as community-led ventures and even one faculty-led team.

Ksana Health is a mental health care company cofounded by professor Nicholas Allen, the director for UO’s Center for Digital Mental Health, that is looking to improve mental health outcomes by changing how patients and therapists interact.

Ksana Health cofounder Will Shortt went through the Lean Launchpad class for his team and has previously been involved in startup companies. He said the discipline and structure of the Lean Launchpad class was helpful to him.

“It was very fun to be part of a mixed-age group that provided different ideas and being able to chime in with suggestions that could help their business model as well as getting suggestions of our own,” said Shortt.

He said the class provided useful, practical information.

“I wouldn’t think of it as a class as much as a collective strategy board,” Shortt said. “There’s some topic, some reading background, some assignment, and we all share that with each other to challenge each other and force us to think through various pieces of the overall startup and planning it out.”

Another graduate of the class, Zahra Alsuliman, is a Computer and Information Science major from Saudi Arabia who came to the United States in 2013 to learn English and earn a bachelor’s degree. She is working to establish a martial arts club in Saudi Arabia for women of all ages to learn Taekwondo, Karate, archery, and fencing.

Last year, Alsuliman start taking martial arts classes and posted on her social media accounts about her practice.

“My Saudi friends texted me saying, ‘You’re lucky you can practice this type of sport while we cannot,’” Alsuliman said. “Several months later, I got a message from a well-known artist in the Arab countries encouraging me to continue learning martial arts and to come back to the country and open a school to teach Saudi women martial arts. I started thinking about opening this business after I saw the reactions of people in social media about me taking martial arts classes.”

She said the Lean Launchpad class helped her learn about the regulations in Saudi Arabia regarding sports businesses for women and how to get a license, as well as the requirements for getting grants. She also learned about her customers and their needs and how to serve them.

“Since I have been away from home for six years, I did not know the new regulations, changes in the community and the country,” Alsuliman said. “This course actually helped me understand the changes in the country and how the community thinks about sports and martial arts for women.”

Alsuliman’s next step is to obtain her certificate in martial arts at a school in the United States. Then she plans to return to Saudi Arabia to work on acquiring grants, preparing the studio, hiring trainers and launching her martial arts club.

Also represented in the cohort were:

  • UO alumni-founded company Averto, which is expanding their crowdsourced mapping app for conflict areas to other global areas.
  • Oregon MBA student Christine Scafa founded Beyond the Plate food tours to provide incremental, affordable food tours throughout Eugene.
  • Oregon MBA student Tina Calvin who is developing a lithium-ion battery recycling company.
  • DudeCoin is a social networking platform that aims to be a place online where community members can get rewarded for the content they post from undergraduate finance major Mike Platis.
  • Party Hop looks to connect students to upcoming social events from undergraduate psychology major Kyan Louie.
  • AlohaMana is a community-led venture developing an application designed for hairstylists and salon owners to come together to book appointments and stations in salons.
  • Lady Bug Family Foods is a community-led company creating a digital meal plan platform.
  • Solar Energy Design is a community-owned company that is looking to expand its line of renewable energy products.

—Lillie Schrock