Sara Henderson, Program Director of I-Corps South, has spent the past five weeks as a member of the teaching team for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)’s I-Corps South Regional Cohort. Here she shares her experience of being a member on the teaching team.
What is the UAB regional cohort?
It’s a five week I-Corps South regional cohort hosted by our Node Partner, UAB. Teams use the Lean Startup Methodology to conduct customer discovery and receive feedback from the teaching team.
UAB structures it a little differently than other regional cohorts that we lead from Georgia Tech. We had an orientation event in week one, where we did a big download of the curriculum and instruction on the platforms that we used, Canvas and Innovation Within. The week following the orientation there was a kickoff where the teams presented on their research and received initial feedback from the teaching team for the first time. From there, the teams present every other week. On the weeks they don’t present, they have office hours with the teaching team for one-on-one guidance. This differs from other regional programs that don’t have an orientation before the kickoff and that require teams to present each consecutive week.
How did you become involved with the UAB regional cohort?
As the I-Corps South Node, we put on a number of regional cohorts each year in partnership with the University of Tennessee (UT) and The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). This regional cohort was hosted by Molly Wasko, I-Corps South Director for UAB. Molly invited to join and I’m became part of her teaching team for this regional cohort with two others: LaKami Baker (Auburn) and Dan O’Leary (Auburn); and with Almesha Campbell (Jackson State), who was taking on an observational role. It’s been a valuable opportunity to work with them as we all practice the skill of providing feedback in the Lean Startup method.
How did you prepare for your role on the UAB Teaching Team?
It’s different than when we’re running a program at Georgia Tech, because Molly is the lead and I’m there to be support for her. I met with her and the rest of the teaching team and we divided up lecture decks and talked about the teams in the cohort. Molly shared decks that she has been using and I brought in some of my own versions of topics that I hoped were useful.
Sharing and seeing each other’s lecture decks between us and UAB was useful in understanding where we as the Node can articulate the space for flexibility and where we can create consistency. Moving forward, we can be more open to sharing our lectures and supporting our partners and affiliates to embrace the main topics and core messages while continuing to refresh with their own examples and in their own voice.
The other way I prepared was getting familiar with the platforms Innovation Within and UAB’s Canvas. We at Georgia Tech have a less structured approach for team’s submissions and communications. We typically use a slack channel for our programs. This was another chance to identify a different way of doing things for the regional cohort and pros and cons that come with it. When submissions and information are in Canvas, it becomes more structured as a class and has a lot of information. We have slack in the past as this can sometimes be too much information and weigh down the process. It does, however, make it clearer where to submit and can be useful team’s tracking purposes.
It’s been a good learning opportunity for me as well to try the Innovation Within platform, which is built for Lean Startup. I found that it provides some benefit for centralized tracking but also goes against some of our core mantras at Georgia Tech specifically around recorded interviews, scoring, and putting too much weight on the whole Canvas too early. This was a learning lesson to see how Innovation Within works as we consider platforms to use for the future I-Corps South Hub.
What was your favorite part of the experience?
As per usual, it’s always really nice to be able to watch the teams that really get it. They have these moments even early on and you can tell that they understand the purpose of this methodology. Witnessing that is always special.
What is particularly interesting about this cohort is being able to see how a different ecosystem and different university leads this program. It provides the chance to see how other people do it and either validate the way that we do things or change the way that we do things. I really appreciate the every other week structure and having office hours in between. It gives the teams more room to breath and time to digest everything they’re hearing. They’re also still checking in with the teaching team. This way they don’t feel like they have to scramble week-to-week. Generally speaking, it’s always beneficial to find space and time to collaborate and learn from how other’s approach things rather than existing in our own bubbles and silos. I’m grateful for the experience to see another approach and to be able to take in and hopefully apply some of what I learned here.
What was your role and responsibilities on the teaching team?
As a member of the teaching team, I conducted lectures on customer segments, business model canvas, and customer-centric storytelling. I worked with Molly to add an element to the final deliverable that includes a customer discovery video. That was from the Female Founders fall cohort and I wanted to introduce it here since it went over so well with that program. I wanted to get people to think about the customer centric part of what will be their pitch and get practice living and breathing that story, and being able to communicate it to others.
What advice do you have for future teams?
This is general advice for any team going through a regional that would like to be successful with this methodology. I have come across teams who have done a regional because they have to in order to apply for the national program. They see that $50K as a goldmine and they don’t come into the program with the right mindset.
You need to be able to come into this with flexibility for your research, put your ego aside, and understand you don’t know everything. The teams that come in, embrace the methodology, and accept what they hear from their customers, gain the most value and are the most successful. The teams that come in and already know their idea is great and don’t question it, do not succeed. In fact, several of them dropped out of the program.
Being open to methodology and open to feedback is critical to success.
What advice do you have for future members of the teaching team?
I think it’s really important for teaching teams who don’t know each other to do a decent amount of prebriefing. Not just to cover down on lecture topics but ensure there’s clarity on logistically how teaching team feedback will go. It helps to have a solid back channel, to understand who will lead and how others can support, and to ensure that tone throughout the teaching team is set ahead of time and is consistent.