About ENGG2200: Lean LaunchPad
This course provides real world, hands-on learning on what it’s like to actually start a new venture. This class is not about how to write a business plan. It’s not an exercise on how smart you are in a classroom, or how well you use the research library to size markets. And the end result is not a PowerPoint slide deck for a VC presentation or a Demo Day. And it is most definitely not an incubator where you come to build the idea that you have in mind.
This class combines theory with a ton of hands-on practice. Our goal, within the constraints of a classroom and a limited amount of time, is to give you a framework to test the business model of a startup while creating all of the pressures and demands of the real world in an early stage startup. The class is designed to give you the experience of how to work as a team and turn an idea into a company. You will be getting your hands dirty talking to customers, partners and competitors as you encounter the chaos and uncertainty of how a startup actually works.
You’ll practice evidence-based entrepreneurship as you learn how to use a business model to brainstorm each part of a company and customer development to get out of the classroom to see whether anyone other than you would want/use your product. Finally, based on the customer and market feedback you gathered, you will use agile development to rapidly iterate your product or concept to build/design something customers would actually buy and use. Each block will be a new adventure outside the classroom as you test each part of your business model and then share the hard earned knowledge with the rest of the class.
- Go to MyHub to enroll in ENGG2200.
- It is recommended students for their team in advance of Week 1 (4 University of Newcastle students from any school/faculty, second year and above).
- You must attend the first class to be enrolled.
This class is team-based. Working and studying will be done in teams. Teams will be finalised in Week 1. The teams will self-organise and establish individual roles on their own. It is recommended that you form your teams in advance of Semester commencing, however, there will be the opportunity to form teams in Week 1. There are no formal CEO/VPs, just the constant parsing and allocating of the tasks that need to be done. In addition to the instructors, each team will be assigned a mentor (an experienced entrepreneur, service provider, consultant, or investor) to provide assistance and support.
Attendance and Participation
- There are no remote or online options for this course - you must take the class on campus.
- This is a very intense class with a very high workload.
- We expect you to invest at least 10 hours per week (including 2 hours in class). If you cannot commit to this workload this class is not for you.
- You cannot miss the first class without prior approval.
- If during the semester you find you cannot continue to commit the time, immediately notify your team members and teaching team and drop the class.
- We expect your attention during our presentations and those of your fellow students.
- During your classmates’ presentations, you will be required to give feedback online via the LaunchPad Central system. Please bring a laptop (and charger, if necessary) to every class and be prepared to give your undivided attention to the team at the front of the room.
The class uses a dozen teaching methods, some of which may be new to you. These include:
1. Experiential learning
This class is not just about the lectures. The learning occurs outside of the classroom through conversations with customers. Each week your team will conduct a minimum of 10 customer interviews focused on a specific part of the business model canvas. This class is a simulation of what startups and entrepreneurship are like in the real world: chaos, uncertainty, impossible deadlines with insufficient time, conflicting inputs, etc.
2. Team-based learning
This class is team-based. Working and studying will be done in teams of four. The commitment of the entire team to the effort and necessary hours is a key enrolment criterion.
Each and every team member should participate in customer discovery activities (out of the building hypotheses testing) talking with customers and partners. You cannot delegate customer discovery. Teams will self-organise and establish individual roles on their own. There are no formal CEO/VP’s, just the constant parsing and fair allocation of the tasks that need to be done every week.
In addition to the instructors, each team will be assigned a mentor familiar with this process and knowledgeable in your field (an experienced entrepreneur, service provider, consultant, or investor). The mentor’s role is to coach you through your experiment plans, to help you find the signal in the data you collect, and to provide your team with general assistance and support.
3. The flipped classroom
Unlike a traditional classroom where the instructor presents lecture material, you’ll watch the assigned core weekly lectures on LaunchPad Central. These lectures contain important information required to complete that week’s customer interviews. What is traditional homework, (summarising your weekly team progress updates) will be done by the teams in our class, with the teaching team offering personalised guidance, direction and input to each team. The work you will be presenting weekly will be based on the online lecture you watched the prior week. More details will be provided in the comprehensive syllabus.
4. Regular team presentations
All teams will regularly present a 10-minute summary of what they learned, testing specific hypotheses according to this syllabus. All members of each team will be expected to present – there are no “designated presenters”.
5. Inverted lecture room
Unlike most classes, where the faculty sits in the front and presents the content to the students, for this class the faculty will be sitting at the back, and the teams will be doing the presenting of content and lessons learned, insights and challenges most weeks. The faculty will be sitting in the back of the room, providing guidance, feedback and advice.
6. Team teaching
Sitting in the back of the classroom are experienced instructors and mentors who’ve built and/or funded startups and have worked with many entrepreneurial teams. They will be commenting and critiquing each team’s progress. While the comments may be specific to each team, the insights are almost always applicable to all teams. Pay close attention; tapping into this “pattern recognition engine” is a key part of the learning.
7. Active and frequent mentor engagement
Each team will be assigned a mentor; a successful entrepreneur and/or investor who will spend an hour every week prior to the class to help guide and support the team’s journey. Often these meetings are arranged via video conference and are always scheduled at the convenience of our mentors who volunteer their time to support your efforts. These weekly check-ins should always be documented and included as evidence entered into your team’s online instance in LaunchPad Central. This allows the mentors to confirm that they were in the same meeting, minimising the potential for miscommunication.
8. Mandatory weekly office hours
Each team will be assigned office hours with a rotating member of the teaching team. These sessions generally take place in the two hours before class (3-5PM Monday) and are 20 minutes long. Come prepared to ask questions to get clarification where and when needed. In general, you don’t want to waste this time presenting what you will be sharing in the classroom the next hour.
9. Peer comments and support
The entire class is a large “learning cohort.” It is your responsibility to help each other and learn from one another’s experiences. This form of collaborative learning will accelerate each team’s progress. Every week, while other teams are presenting, you will be logged into your account on LaunchPad Central, where you will be expected to provide feedback, ideas, helpful critiques and suggestions for each team as they present. This feedback is viewable by all members of the class and may – at the discretion of the instructors – be shared for class discussion. It is also factored into your grade and is NOT an optional activity. All members of this cohort are required to actively observe every other team and to provide constructive written feedback each week to every team.
10. Using LaunchPad Central
Each week as you get out of the building and talk to customers, you will summarise every interview and change in hypotheses on our cohort’s instance of LaunchPad Central. This tool helps you to collect, organise and display your current hypotheses in testing, the ones you’ve both invalidated and validated, and to share what you’ve learned with the teaching team and to keep your mentor up to date on your progress. The system keeps track of key metrics of activity in the Activity Feed and Inbox and, along with your weekly presentations, are an integral way that we monitor your progress throughout the course.
11. The Experiments Module
You’ll learn a lot by asking people questions. You’ll learn even more by observing what people actually do (which often is not what they say they would do). For each key hypothesis, LaunchPad Central helps you carefully plan, test and analyse the results of your experiments as you collect the critical data to make key decisions on the feasibility, desirability, and viability of your business model. Based on the learnings from your experiments, you’ll constantly be revising your hypotheses as you repeat the process throughout the course.
12. Relentlessly direct feedback
Startups communicate much differently from normal university culture and the culture of many established companies that you may be familiar with. At times it may feel relentlessly direct, even harsh but in reality, it is focused and designed to create immediate action in environments where time resources and cash are critical limiting constraints. We have limited time together each week, and the teaching team and mentors will push, challenge, and question you in the hope that you’ll learn quickly. The pace and the uncertainty accelerate as the class proceeds.
We will be direct, open, brutally honest and tough – just like the real world. This approach may seem abrupt, but it is a direct reflection of our desire for you to learn to challenge yourselves quickly and objectively and to appreciate that as entrepreneurs you need to learn and evolve faster than you ever imagined possible.
This class pushes many people past their comfort zone. If you believe that the role of your instructors is to praise in public and criticise in private, do not take this class. You will be receiving critiques in front of your peers every week.
Amount of Work
This class requires extra work on your part, certainly compared to most other classes. Projects are treated as real startups, so the workload will likely feel intense.
In addition to our 2-hour class each week, on average teams will also spend an hour connecting with their mentor, about an hour viewing that week’s online lecture, about 20 minutes in required office hours, while also conducting at least 10 in-person or internet video calls focused on the business model canvas area of emphasis for that week. This means that each 4-person team is expected to have completed at least 100 interviews during the course. All this while also building and refining their Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
This class hits the ground running. It assumes you and your team come into each class having read the assigned reading, viewed the online lectures, spoken to at least 10 customers, met with your mentor, have a draft MVP and have prepared a set of follow-on contacts to call on.
While your first instinct may be a web-based startup we suggest that you consider a subject in which you are a domain expert. In all cases, you should choose something for which you have passion, enthusiasm, and hopefully some relevant expertise to draw from.
Given the amount of work this class entails, there is no way you can do the work while participating in multiple startups. A condition of admission to the class is that you affirm that this is the only startup or startup project that you are working on this Semester.
Meaningful customer discovery requires the development of a minimum viable product (MVP). Therefore, each team should have the applicable goal and required skill and expertise as noted below:
- Teams building a physical product must develop a costed bill of materials and a prototype.
- Teams building a web product will need to build the site, create demand and have customers using it. More info.
- Teams building a mobile product are expected to have working code and have customers using it.
- Your LaunchPad Central narrative is an integral part of your deliverables. It’s how we measure your progress
- Your team will present a regular in-class PowerPoint summary of progress.
This course is graded as follows:
Ungraded Pass (UP)
There are no marks associated with this result and you have met the level required to pass the course.
Failure to satisfactorily achieve assessment objectives or compulsory course requirements. A fail grade may also be awarded following disciplinary action.
This course has five assessments. Each assessment is described in more detail below. In order to pass the course, students must achieve a pass average, using a harmonic mean, for all assessment items. Detailed feedback will be provided.
|Assessment Name||Due Date||Involvement||Weighting|
Presentation - Hypothesis Business Model Canvas
Presentation – Results of customer discovery to date (left side of canvas)
|Week 5 |
Presentation – Results of customer discovery to date (right side)
|4||Submit body of work||Week 12||Individual||35%|
|5||Final 'lessons learned' presentation||Week 12||Group||25%|
Your weekly presentations and final Lessons Learned presentations will be shared and visible to others. In addition, we may be video recording and sharing online whole or parts of classes in the future.
Your team owns everything done in class and you should discuss intellectual property rights with your team members from the beginning. If you can’t come to an agreement with your team, join another team, pick another project, or drop the class.
If you believe your class project may become a real company you must understand that your team's presentations, customer discovery and validation notes and findings can and more likely will be made public. This class is open and is a shared learning experience, not an accelerator program. There are no non-disclosures. You will learn by seeing how other teams solved the same type of problem your team may have by looking at their presentations, notes and findings.
If you are not comfortable sharing what you learn with others do not take this class.
Keep in mind that successful companies are less about the original idea and more about the learning, discovery and execution. That’s the purpose of this class. Therefore you must be prepared to share your ideas openly with the class so you each benefit from a shared learning experience.