Getting out of the building - Acumen

Getting out of the building

By Jessica Martin on August 22, 2013

At Acumen, we have been working to share more of our leadership training with those focused on changing the way the world tackles poverty through +Acumen. Recently, we piloted a course based on the Lean Launchpad Class pioneered by Steve Blank which includes the latest thinking from Silicon Valley on how to build companies that maximize customer value while minimizing wasted effort.

The ‘lean start-up’ approach is all about ‘getting out of the building’ and testing new venture ideas in the real-world, with real customers, and real feedback. The approach throws out the notion of business plans and 5-year forecasts, and aims to give startups a better chance of success by helping entrepreneurs learn more quickly what works and discard what doesn’t. In the social sector, where resources are often more constrained, this need is even greater. So we adapted the Launchpad curriculum and created a course to give social innovators a taste of what it’s like to build a new idea by testing assumptions and adapting their vision for change to ensure they’re creating the greatest impact and investing their time in something worthwhile.

For our pilot, we selected seven teams from Africa, South Asia and South America focused on new social ventures. Each team was paired with one or two intrepid mentors from Acumen’s Partner Community and staff who generously lent us their time and experience. Mentors pushed participants’ thinking and offered strategic as well as tactical guidance on a weekly basis. We also hosted three virtual office hours with Bob Dorf, serial entrepreneur and co-author with Steve Blank of The Startup Owner’s Manual.

Bob Google Hangout

Each week was organized around one of the nine building blocks of the business model canvas. We used a “flip” classroom model where teams watched Steve Blank’s Udacity videos and then were directed to “get out of the building” to talk to potential customers, partners, competitors and report back on what they learned each week. Their goal was to test as many hypothesis as possible and build a prototype (or in lean speak: Minimum Viable Product (MVP)) of their good or service.

After 6 “lessons learned” presentations, 200+ customers interviews, 360 minutes of office hours and many late nights – 5 of the 7 teams completed the course and are continuing to work on their ventures, exceeding our expectations and achieving notable accomplishments we’d like to recognize here:

Most Improved Business Model Canvas – Marafiki, a Kenyan team that entered the course with a very broad idea to provide affordable, reliable electricity to citizens at the base of the pyramid, but due to their ability to learn and absorb feedback, they narrowed their focus quickly and solidified several partners to test their novel distribution strategy.

Best MVP – Kidogo, a team focused on changing the trajectories of children in East Africa’s urban slums by providing high quality, affordable early childhood care, came into the course with just an idea on paper but by putting together a very simple pamphlet outlining 3 different baby care centers of increasing quality, they were able to quickly test what aspects of their value proposition resonates with parents most and are looking to launch a pilot center by the end of the year.

Teams with the Greatest Traction by the end of the course – Building Community Technology, a Nairobi based team with a portable phone charger powered by heat and Oddjobber, a Lahore based team with a mobile match-making platform for low-skilled workers and service providers in Pakistan both started the course with product prototypes but little market validation. By the end BCT, was the first team to receive their first order and Odd Jobber has partnered with telecom operators and enrolled 400 mobile workers to date.

Rather than tell you more about their journeys, I invite you to explore the teams’ final videos and slides to experience it for yourselves. I think you’ll find a talented and determined group of social entrepreneurs that we might just hear more about in the future.  As for us, this was just the first pilot. We’ll incorporate feedback and lessons from the pilot and continue to offer this course to even more social innovators in 2014.  If you’re interested in participating in our next course, sign up for the course watchlist here.

Final Team Videos and Presentations



Odd Jobber


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