I am sure I am not the only one struggling a bit to feel holiday cheer given recent events. But I consider myself incredibly fortunate. I get to come to campus every day and work with talented, visionary Haas MBAs and other Cal students who are absolutely determined to solve some of the toughest problems facing society.
Last night was an especially inspiring evening – the culmination of the Social Lean Launchpad course I co-teach with Jorge Calderon. Jorge and I were fortunate enough to spend 10 weeks helping 5 talented social venture teams move closer to launch. The Lean Launchpad approach, built by Haas faculty member Steve Blank, has been pioneered for social ventures at Haas. It’s an incredibly important tool for social impact because of the discipline it forces in understanding the nature of the problems any entrepreneur aims to solve.
So often, aspiring social entrepreneurs are enamored with a solution or an idea they’ve created or come to admire because on its potential for catalyzing positive change. We need powerful ideas and solutions to address these problems. Yet, they do us no good without an understanding of the problem we aim to solve; how it is experienced by those who suffer as a result of this problem, and how we might build solutions based on this insight.
The Social Lean Launchpad course is a graduate-level, 10-week, flipped classroom sprint with some unique attributes:
- social venture teams must get out of the classroom and interview 100 stakeholders – from prospective beneficiaries to potential investors
- students unsparingly test their assumptions about the problem they aim to solve
- teams build a minimum viable product to evaluate the solutions they develop as a result
It was inspiring to watch the teams tirelessly pursue insight for the sake of changing lives through their work. As happens to many entrepreneurs, the students experienced deep frustration and even despair when they found that some of their core assumptions were untrue, or discovered strong competitors aiming to solve the same problems. But they persevered! And they never stopped learning – even in the final week leading up to yesterday’s pitches, which they delivered brilliantly.
Jorge and I walked out of the classroom with big smiles. The teams – which are tackling corruption in Bangladesh, early childhood literacy in India, childhood obesity, empowerment for survivors of domestic violence in Turkey, and human connection through travel – knocked it out of the park. And the world will be better as a result.
Being at Haas gives me enormous confidence in the future because of experiences like this pitch session, and all the impact I could see emerging from the efforts of these great social entrepreneurs. We’ll be sure to keep you up to date on how these efforts advance.
In the meantime, though, the teams are looking for investors. I’d be happy to make introductions. I promise – you’ll come away inspired!