skip to main content

Title: Lean LaunchPad and Customer Discovery as a Form of Qualitative Research
In this theoretical paper, we highlight the scholarship of integration by exploring how customer discovery connects to other methodologies in engineering education research and the opportunities for using this methodology in engineering education research. As a result of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) and I-Corps for Learning initiatives, the Lean LaunchPad®/Customer Discovery methodology has grown in popularity within academic institutions, particularly in business and entrepreneurship education. In addition, the Lean LaunchPad®/Customer Discovery approach has helped startups, individuals, academics, and students test the potential of an idea, make important decisions about the structure, value, and implementation of their projects, and develop a minimum viable product, service, or offering. While the Lean LaunchPad®/Customer Discovery approach is relatively new to the fields of business, engineering education, and entrepreneurship education, its methodological background emerges from well-established qualitative research techniques. We first describe the Lean LaunchPad®/Customer Discovery process and give examples of its current use in academia. Next, we explain the connections between the Lean LaunchPad®/Customer Discovery approach and specific forms of qualitative research like design-based research, action research, and qualitative interviewing. Finally, we offer a detailed example of how our team used the Lean LaunchPad®/Customer Discovery approach to conduct an engineering education action research project. This more » example serves to clarify how the Lean LaunchPad®/Customer Discovery approach can be successfully applied, validated by funding received after our use of the process to develop a program. We expect that this theoretical work will add value to individuals interested in conducting action-oriented educational research projects for two reasons. First, we show how robust qualitative research methodologies provide the foundation for a popular market research approach. Second, we give an example of using this approach in an educational context. Our motivation is to expand the breadth of methodologies available to researchers and practitioners. « less
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1743666 2013735
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
ASEE annual conference & exposition proceedings
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. In 2011, the National Science Foundation launched the I-Corps Program and as of today close to one hundred institutions are participating through Nodes or Sites program. While both program focus on providing training and funds to accelerate the implementation of innovative ideas to market, they have different implementation models and thus challenges. For I-Corps Sites, while each institution utilizes similar approaches on the implementation, including an I-Corps team formation, knowledge and skills training, customer discovery and guidance from experienced entrepreneurs, each ecosystem is unique because the program outcomes are closely related to the entrepreneurial culture both on campus and also in the surrounding local community. A major challenge for Sites is recruiting quality teams and having access to qualified mentors to provide guidance to teams. In this paper, we will present the implementation of a Site in a large public institution located away from a large metropolitan area, the challenges we addressed both in recruiting teams and mentors, and how the program has evolved in its current state. In addition, authors will be able to present on data from the program evaluation which will include findings from pre- and post-quizzes on knowledge of entrepreneurship terms and pre- and post-program surveysmore »that captured changes in perceptions of entrepreneurship, such as interest in entrepreneurship, confidence in value position, and self-efficacy in entrepreneurship, marketing/business planning, and customer interview. In this paper, we will present data from five I-Corps Site cohorts representing close to fifty student teams. Since program participants represent a diverse group (33% females and 15% ethnic minorities) and also wide range of educational levels (freshman to graduate students), we are able to evaluate program impact also with respect to gender, race/ethnicity, and classification. This paper will provide valuable information for institutions interested in pursuing an I-Corps grant and to those who are already have a grant but are looking for additional ways to further enhance program impact on their campus.« less
  2. Entrepreneurial education has been rapidly expanding within universities over the past 15 years with colleges of engineering being amongst the most active participants in embedding entrepreneurship into curricular and cocurricular activities (Pittaway & Cope, 2007). Well-developed and theoretically grounded educational interventions have been shown to increase entrepreneurial skills and perception among students. (Pittaway & Cope, 2007; Matlay & Caray, 2007; Duval-Couetil & Wheadon, 2013; Duval-Couetil & Rheed-Roads, 2012). Organizations including the National Science Foundation through the Lean Launch Curriculum and I-Corps program, VentureWell through curriculum development grants and their E-Team program, and the Kern Family Foundation through the Kern Entrepreneurial Education Network (KEEN) have provided significant funding to embed and transform entrepreneurial teaching and practice into colleges of engineering (Matthew et al., 2017; Pistrui, Blessing & Mekemson, 2008; Smith et al. 2017). This activity combines with an added emphasis among engineering programs to develop an entrepreneurial mindset among their engineering students with the belief that this will lead to them being more productive and innovative whether their career path leads them into established industry (becoming “intrapreneurs”) or later as entrepreneurs. While this trend toward developing more entrepreneurially minded engineering students is supported by global economic trends and a rapidly changingmore »work environment, one factor has been largely overlooked in this process. Statistically, most entrepreneurial ventures fail, with disproportionately large value being created from a minority of entrepreneurial endeavors (Coats, 2019). Given this fact, until we find ways to drastically increase the success rate of entrepreneurial ventures, as we increase engineering students’ exposure to entrepreneurship, we are also increasing their exposure to failure very early in their careers. With this exposure, it is unknown whether sufficient preparation and education around project/venture failure is occurring to properly equip entrepreneurially minded engineering students to learn and grow from entrepreneurial failure. In this work in progress study, current and former engineering students who formed entrepreneurial ventures and experienced either failure of the venture or significant failure during the venture are interviewed to better understand the influences that led to both adaptive and maladaptive responses to these failures. Participants have been selected from those that have received funding through the national VentureWell E-Team program. This program awards three levels of funding and provides mentorship, training, and networking for the teams. The study uses the framework developed by Henry, Shorter, Charkoudian, Heemstra, and Corwin (2018) in which they associate pre-failure dispositions related to fixed and growth mindset (Dweck, 2000, 2006) and mastery vs. performance disposition (Pintrich, 2000 a, b). Our work will utilize this framework to guide the research, but more importantly will provide a unique context for analysis, specifically within engineering entrepreneurship, which will add to the body of work and expand the understanding of this pre-failure/post-failure disposition framework. Initial interview data and analysis will be presented in the context of this framework with preliminary insights to be shared with those in the field.« less
  3. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) innovators lag behind their non-HBCU counterparts in the commercialization of innovations as they were originally set up as teaching and blue-collar trade institutions. There exists a strong need for education and training to bridge this gap by promoting the commercialization of innovations in HBCUs and thus transform next-generation HBCU innovators into entrepreneurs. HBCUs are promoting entrepreneurial education and mindset via changes in engineering education programs and curriculums. Several federally funded programs like the National Science Foundation (NSF) Center of Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) Center for Nanotechnology Research Excellence (CNRE) are promoting innovation and intellectual property generation at HBCUs. NSF I-Corps Program supports the education and training of innovators about the commercialization of mature or patented innovations at HBCUs. The NSF I-Corps Introduction to Customer Discovery explores strategies in identifying key customer segments through extensive customer interviews, which is a fundamental step in the commercialization process. This paper discusses our educational experience in the customer discovery process for Pumpless Solar Thermal Air Heater (Patent Number 10775058). To learn about prospective customers’ attitudes and perceptions of the innovation, we conducted 30 interviews with potential customers (end users). Our innovation is focused on providingmore »portable, cost-effective, healthy, and environmentally friendly space heating solutions. We tested several hypotheses about the value proposition of our innovation during interviews to explore the market segments for potential commercialization. During the Customer Discovery process, we came to know about new issues such as health issues caused by the dry air in winter. We also learned that mitigation of problems due to the current heating system required a humidifier to reduce health issues that added additional cost. Based on our interviews our innovation is suitable for customers needing: (i) Heating source mitigating health issues, (ii) add-on technology to reduce their heating bills. Our next step is to pursue market segments for our innovation. We plan to utilize the current experience of commercialization of intellectual property to develop training modules for the MECH 302 Undergraduate Research Experience and MECH 500 Research Methods and Technical Communication courses offered under the mechanical engineering program at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC).« less
  4. In today’s global market economy, equipping engineering students with a broader set of skills associated with an entrepreneurial mindset will empower them to create value for the companies they join or to launch their own startups. In recent years, institutions across the nation have been investing resources in developing maker spaces plus curricular and extracurricular programs to provide opportunities for students to acquire knowledge and skills, and pursue innovative ideas in a safe environment – while still in college. This study presented assessment data from a NSFI-Corps site program at a Southwestern university to understand the impact of the program on undergraduate and graduate engineering students’ knowledge, perceptions, and practice of entrepreneurship. In the four-cohort assessment data, participants indicated significantly increased confidence in value proposition, self-efficacy in entrepreneurship, and customer discovery, while maintaining high interest in entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the data indicated that participants with a GO decision (to continue pursuing their technology) had significantly higher perception on the current status of technology and business model than did participants with a no-GO/unsure decision. In addition, this study presented a new pilot program to be offered in spring 2020 and aimed to further enhance the I-Corps Site efforts on campus for broadermore »impacts.« less
  5. Purpose This paper addresses the significance of training students in entrepreneurship to enable sustained national and international competitiveness in the knowledge-based global marketplace. Entrepreneurial education is varied, ranging from basic to in-depth courses, including customer-focused programs, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. This program is nationally-renowned with strong academic roots. A full site was launched at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in January 2015 and was the first I-Corps program in the state of Florida. Design/methodology/approach This paper addresses the importance of entrepreneurship education, reviews the available national training programs in entrepreneurship, presents the design methodology of the NSF I-Corps program, and analyzes the results of the teams who have participated in the NSF I-Corps program. Findings The results are categorized into innovative areas and show the percentage of teams who participated in the I-Corps program in each area. It also identifies the percentage of teams who engaged in actual startup activities following I-Corps participation. Practical implications Educators, students, and trainers can use the findings to benchmark the outcomes of training programs in entrepreneurship. Students and innovators interested in participating in I-Corps can use this paper to obtain insights and a broader understandingmore »of what was done in terms of results and implications. Originality/value This paper contributes a unique analysis of the I-Corps program approach and its outcomes since its launch in 2015 and can be used as a reference for any training program in entrepreneurship.« less