In May of last year, I met with Kevin Learned, a long time Boise entrepreneur and angel investor. Kevin was putting together a new program for Boise State University to teach entrepreneurship through hands on experience. His plan for the program, known as Venture College, was to teach the lean startup approach to entrepreneur participants. Lean startup is based on the work of Steve Blank and Eric Ries, both Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The lean startup model involves formulating hypotheses about a product or service and testing these hypotheses prior to going to market. Through this approach, entrepreneurs are focused on developing products and services that customers want and avoid expensive product launches and failures. Click here to read Blank’s Harvard Business Review Article: ‘Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything’, May 2013.
I recently attended the first anniversary celebration for Venture College. In one short year, the college has accepted 23 students into the program in two cohort groups. These entrepreneurs have posited a total of 752 business hypotheses of which 398 were rejected based on 514 customer interviews. As a result of these rejected hypotheses, these entrepreneurs were able to pivot their business plans in response to what they learned. To date, nine businesses have generated revenues and five of these businesses are starting to increase in scale. Six participants have completed the program and earned the Venture College Business Model Badge issued by the university recognizing their achievement. The celebration was capped off with the introduction of a new cohort of 22 participants entering the program this fall.
When I first visited Kevin at Venture College last year, he was in an empty office building waiting for the furniture to be delivered. Kevin and his associates, Ed Zimmer and Mary Andrews, have truly accomplished so much in their first year. They have rallied the support of over 400 business and community volunteers, of which more than 80 volunteers have directly mentored students. I am looking forward to the second anniversary celebration to see this year’s accomplishments.