How Lean Start-Up Methodology can Benefit VA Innovators

Article originally appeared in Medium: https://medium.com/vainnovation/how-lean-start-up-methodology-can-benefit-va-innovators-b1f098f09bd

Failure is a term that often stirs up angst and apprehension, but Innovators are looking to flip the script. Enter lean start-up methodology, which encourages a shift away from the perfect business plan to failing small, pivoting, iterating, and involving customers to achieve a more successful, viable product. The methodology offers a principled approach to business development, and adds value to the way VA Innovators think about problem solving and thinking through solutions. VHA Innovators Network has enlisted the help of Ben Solomon to share his FedTech experiences and help front-line VA Innovators utilize lean start-up principles.


FedTech, which was established in 2013 as part of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps Program (I-Corps), is a private venture program funded by federal agencies and corporate partners that works to help government staff turn ideas into impactful products and solutions using lean start-up methodology. They have connected entrepreneurs to technologies developed across DoD, NASA, DOE, top-tier universities, corporate R&D arms and other laboratories. Founder and Managing Director, Ben Solomon, describes FedTech’s technology transfer accelerator as a platform that matches would-be entrepreneurs to technologies developed in federal labs. Accelerator teams participate in modules on lean start-up, business models, product development, customer discovery, intellectual property and licensing, funding strategies for spinning out R&D, pitch skills, and more.

These modules and FedTech’s goal of moving cutting-edge technology from the bench to the marketplace resonate with VHA Innovators Network’s Spark-Seed-Spread program and Accelerator and offer a unique opportunity for learning. Projects that go through the VHA Innovators Network Spark-Seed-Spread Accelerator undergo similar trainings and understand that the rigor with which a problem is defined is crucial to identifying the solution. VHA Innovators Network has invited Solomon to share lessons learned on developing successful products and to teach Spark-Seed-Spread Investees and VHA Innovation Specialists how to evaluate the potential of a new idea and the steps needed to transform the idea to a product. He will also help them understand and apply the basics of lean start-up methodology and how it can be leveraged to evolve and mature an idea. VHA Innovators will learn key principles of lean start-up, including the importance of understanding the problem and how solving this problem can create value, the power of customer development, and agile development.


VA Innovators are also embracing lean start-up in other spaces. The Self-Leveling Walker Innovation team from the Cleveland VA Medical Center, for example, has been selected to participate in the next I-Corps Ohio eight-week training cohort. Frank Zitko and Stephanie Bailey will serve as the entrepreneurial leads for the project, and Dr. Ronald Triolo, VA researcher and inventor, will serve as the principal investigator. Their upcoming participation in I-Corps will help them apply lean-start-up to gauge market viability and commercialization potential. The team will learn how to create and implement key business modeling concepts and conduct over 100 interviews with key stakeholders regarding the self-leveling walker to assess their core assumptions and solutions.

Innovation and the development of new solutions and products requires ingenuity and perseverance. Lean start-up methodologies allow VA Innovators a new lens to think and work through their big ideas. It can change failure from something to be feared to an opportunity to consult their customers and apply agile development — to learn, pivot, and iterate to produce better, more robust solutions.

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