Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

I-Corps @ NIH – Pivoting the Curriculum

By Steve Blank

Weve pivoted ourLean LaunchPad/ I-Corps curriculum. Were changing the order in which we teach the business model canvas and customer development to better-fit therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices.Udacity canvas and value prop

Over the last three years theLean LaunchPad classhas started to replace the last centurys how to write a business plan classes as the foundation for entrepreneurial education. The Lean LaunchPad class uses the three Lean Startup principles:

  • Alexander Osterwalder'sbusiness model canvas to frame hypotheses
  • Customer Development to test the hypotheses outside the building and

    Agile Engineering to have teams prototype, test, and iterate their idea while discovering if they have a profitable business model.

    Teams talk to 10-15 customers a week and make a minimum of 100 customer visits. The Lean LaunchPad is now being taught in over 100 universities. Three years ago the class wasadopted by the National Science Foundationand has become their standard for commercializing science. Today the National Institutes of Health announced theirI-Corps @ NIHprogram.

    The one constant in all versions of the Lean LaunchPad /I-Corpsclass has beenthe order in which we teachthe business model canvas.

    Value Propositions and Customer Segments are covered in weeks 1 and 2, emphasizing the search for problem/solution and then product/market fit. Next we teach Distribution Channels (how are you going to sell the product) and Customer Relationships (how do you Get/Keep/Grow customers) and Revenue Streams (whats the Revenue Model strategy and pricing tactics.) Finally we move to the left side of the canvas to teach the supporting elements of Resources, Partners, Activities and Costs.

    current teaching order

    Teaching the class lectures in this order worked great, it helped the teams understand that the right-side of the canvas was where the action was. The left- hand side had the supporting elements of the business that you needed to test and validate, but only after you made sure the hypotheses on the right were correct.

    This lecture order was embedded in theUdacity Lectures, thesyllabiandeducators guideI open-sourced. Hundreds of teams in the NSF, and my Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia, and UCSF classes learned to search for a repeatable and scalable business model in this way.

    Its consistency was the reason that the NSF was able to scale the I-Corps from 15 to 30 University sites.

    So why change something that worked so well?


    Last fallat UCSF we taught 125 researchers and cliniciansin therapeutics, diagnostics, medical devices and digital health in a Lean LaunchPad for Life Sciences class. While the teaching team made heroic efforts to adapt their lectures to our standard canvas teaching order, it was clear that for therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices the order was wrong. Hypotheses about Intellectual Property, Reimbursement, Regulation and Clinical Trials found on the left side of canvas are as, or more important than those on the right side of the canvas.

    I realized we were trying to conform to a lecture order optimized for web, mobile, hardware.We needed to cover Intellectual Property, Reimbursement, Regulation and Clinical Trials a month earlierin the class than in the current format.

    The National Institutes of Health has adopted our class for itsI-Corps @ NIHprogram starting this October. Most teams will be in therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices. Therefore were going to teach the class in the following order:

    1) value proposition, 2) customer segments, 3) activities, 4) resources, 5) partners, 6) channel, 7) customer relationships, 8) revenue/costs

    LS Suggested Order simple

    I-Corps @ NIHLecture Order Details

    Customer Segmentschange over time.CROs or Payers mayultimatelybe a resource, a partner or a revenue source, but until you get them signed up theyrefirsta customer. Your potential exit partners are also a customer. And mostimportantly, who reimburses you is acustomer. (You get anintroduction to reimbursement early here, while the details are describedlater in the Revenue lecture.)

    Activitiesare the key things you need to do to make the rest of the business model (value proposition, distribution channel, revenue) work. Activities coverclinical trials, FDA approvals, Freedom to Operate (IP, Licenses) software development, drug or device design, etc.

    Activities are not the product/service described in the value prop,they arethe unique expertise that the company needs todeliverthe value proposition. In this week we generally describe the business rationale of why you need these. The specifics of who they are and how to work with them are covered in the Resource and Partnerslectures.

    Resources -Once you establish what activities you need to do, the next question is, how do these activities get accomplished? I.e. what resources doI need to makethe activities happen.The answer is what goesin theResourcesbox (and if necessary, the Partners box.)Resources may be CROs, CPT consultants, IP, Financial or Human resources (regardless of whether theyre consultants or employees.)

    Partnersare external resources necessary toexecutethe Activities. Youve identified the class of partner in theResourcesbox. This lecturetalks about specifics who are they, what deals work with them, how to get them, how to work with them.

    Customer Relationshipsiswhat we think of as traditional sales and marketing;assembling a SAB, getting the KOLs, conferences, articles, etc. Customer Relationshipsanswers the question,How will we create demand and drive it to our channel?

    Suggested Order

    We think we now have a syllabusthat will better fit aLife Science audience. Once the syllabus stops moving around well open source it along withthe educatorsguide this fall.

    Lessons Learned

    • TheLean LaunchPad classhas started to replace the last centurys how to write a business plan classes
    • Thelecture order emphasizes testing the right-side of the canvas first

      That works for almost all markets

      However, for life sciences hypotheses about Intellectual Property, Reimbursement, Regulation and Clinical Trials are critical to test early

      Therefore we created a more effective lecture order for Life Sciences