With applications now open for the incubator’s fourth cohort, the Lean Lab hopes a pivot in its approach will foster more savvy education startups.
Offering office space, mentorship, direct access to area school systems and up to $35,000 in support, the Lean Lab will soon select five promising education tech startups from around the world to enter its 2017 cohort.
Lean Lab co-founder Katie Boody said that the 2017 program is poised to have a significant impact.
“This year, we’re looking for greater sophistication all the way around,” Boody said. “This year’s program will be by far the most structured it has ever been.”
Launched in 2013, the Lean Lab is a Kansas City-based education incubator focused on bringing innovative solutions to the classroom. In 2016, the program went international — attracting applications from 28 cities, 17 states and three countries and engaging over 900 individuals in conversation.
Boody said that through the years examining the needs of educators and entrepreneurs she developed a better idea of what it takes to conjure up innovation in a classroom setting.
“We want to practice what we preach and listen to our users,” Boody said. “This led us to change the model of the program. I’m excited because hopefully this will help ed tech entrepreneurs accelerate faster, get their product into schools faster and impact kids in Kansas City faster.”
Unlike the program’s immersive, 18 day stretch that cohorts previously participated in, the 2017 Lean Lab program will split the program into three modules. Boody said the new approach will open entrepreneurs up to more opportunities.
“Modules are quick content pieces that are intentionally there to help people get access to funders and schools,” Boody said. “Education entrepreneurs all say similar things that they need in terms of support: access to funders, access to schools and time to work on their product. We designed the program around that.”
The first module — which will be held Aug. 9 to 25 — will focus on product functionality and understanding what solutions are a good fit for the Kansas City community in particular.
Although the Lean Lab targets early-stage firms, Boody said it’s important startups are far enough along that they can get their product squared away by module 1.
“What we’re looking for is people who have a prototype that they’ve already created on some level,” Boody said. “You’ve tested it and you have some evidence of traction — whether that be a first customer or an early funder.”
The second module will assist the fellows in gaining traction, and will be held Sept. 22 to 24. Unlike years past, Boody said that the incubator will have partnerships with up to five area school systems and will focus much of the second module putting solutions in the hands of area teachers.
The cohort will wrap things up with the third module — Nov. 14 to 16 — which focuses on taking startups to the next level of systematic change.
“By this point, you’ve got the nuts and bolts figured out,” Boody said. “You’re directly engaging with customers, you know why you’re different and you have a clear pathway to operation.”
The program culminates with a demo day, Launch[ED] Day, in which the two top performing startups will walk away with a $25,000 prize. Every participating startup will receive just under $10,000, thanks to the Lean Lab’s partnership with KC Social Innovation, Village Capital and the City of Kansas City, Mo.