This Houston Business Model Validation Lab is a 5-day accelerator for early/idea-stage, Houston-based entrepreneurs that are tackling social and environmental problems. It is designed to help these entrepreneurs rapidly identify and validate the foundational assumptions of their business. This BMV Lab will be run in conjunction with Good Works Houston.
Unreasonable Institute selected Houston for several reasons. First and foremost Houston is the fourth largest and most diverse city in the country and the nation’s fastest growing metro area. Our city also has a vastly diversified economy anchored by the Port of Houston. This is the largest urban port by volume in the United States.
The Texas Medical center, in Houston, is the largest medical complex in the nation. Houston is also home to University of Houston, a Tier 1 school, and Rice University often affectionately referred to as the Harvard of the South.
Houston is home to 24 Fortune 500 companies. The city offers a very diverse selection of skilled workers. Almost 25 percent of adults have achieved a university degree, which is higher than the national average.
Today in Houston we have social and environmental problems facing our communities with no clear economic solution. Houston we have a problem! If we can send a man to the moon, we can certainly develop a major social entrepreneurship hub in Houston.
Get Involved: Apply to be an entrepreneur, become a mentor, be a sponsor, or help our Lab team find entrepreneurs. Read on to get involved!
The early stages of a startup are marked with questions. Who is my customer? What problems do they have? Do I have a solution to their problems? What are they willing to pay? Will I be able to break even? An entrepreneur’s ability to quickly convert these questions into answers is one of the few characteristics that separates successful startups from failed ones. The problem is that few entrepreneurs know the rapid and systematic approach required to answer these questions. They go too slow, they focus on the wrong things in the wrong order, and they move forward without truly validating a business model.
The Lab & Curriculum
The Business Model Validation Lab is designed to do one thing: provide entrepreneurs with a step-by-step methodology to rapidly and systematically validate their venture’s business model. Entrepreneurs will:
Identify the foundational assumptions that underpin your venture.
Design and run experiments to validate / invalidate the foundational assumptions (through customer discovery and rapid prototyping)
Meet with mentors to get feedback and develop next steps.
The curriculum of the Lab oscillates between in-classroom workshop time and in-market customer interaction time.
Starts with orientation and workshop on assumption mapping in the morning. The afternoon is spent interacting with target customers.
Starts with a workshop in the morning on how to rapidly prototype. In the afternoon entrepreneurs will physically build a prototype.
Starts with a workshop on how to build powerful, long-term relationships with mentors, funders, and partners. Entrepreneurs prepare for Mentor Day in the afternoon.
Mentor Day! 10-15 mentors will attend the Lab to work directly with entrepreneurs.
Begins with a workshop on how to validate the cost assumptions in the business. Afternoon is spent on strategic planning.
By the end of Lab entrepreneurs will have something to show for their work. They will have:
- Learned a repeatable methodology for how to do customer discovery
- Built 2-3 prototypes of a key element of their venture
- Tested prototypes with real customers
- Learned how to build and maintain mentor relationships
- Met and received feedback from 10-12 world-class mentors
- Conducted a break-even analysis of their business and identified the key cost and financial assumptions of their business
- Built out a basic budget and financial model
- Created a 6-month operating plan
This Lab will actively involve a diverse set of mentors. These mentors will be custom-selected after selecting the Lab ventures to assure mentors meet their needs. Interested in mentoring? Email our team.
Executive Director, Innoventures by Softek-
A guru in scaling technology start-ups and experience in semiconductor, bio-tech, and clean-technology industries.
Co-Founder Torch Energy Solution and Advisor –
An accomplished social entrepreneur, philanthropist, and advisor managing a portfolio of over twenty consumer web, mobile, and technology ventures.
Elena Farah, Ph.D.
Social Impact Practice Lead, Blue Orange Innovations & Public Finance Consultant –
Public policy expert and a political scientist who specializes in the fiscal sustainability of public institutions and social innovation.
CEO and Managing Director, Blue Orange Innovations –
Digital innovation leader, Fintech evangelist and change agent trusted by senior executives of companies around the globe to translate technology disruptions into growth strategies and transformation programs.
VP CenterPoint Energy-
A seasoned corporate executive and former Big 4 consultant for Fortune 500 companies delivering strategies to improve overall financial performance.
Finance and Corporate Development Executive –
Analyze and inform campaign selection by creating a new financial and operating framework. Introduce innovative thinking through crowdfunding, digital activations and partnerships.
Managing Director, Xpediant Solutions-
A serial entrepreneur of technology companies delivering global solutions increasing customer engagement and operational performance.
Dean of the College of Education, University of Houston-
A nationally recognized psychologist and successful social entrepreneur who co-founded one of America’s fastest growing companies in 2010.
Former VP & GM at Hewlett-Packard,- now focused on value creation and impact through tech innovation and education. Startup mentor, board member and angel investor.
Ranvir Biki Mohindrai
Retired Corporate Officer at Rivana Foods-A master in maximizing the human component in an enterprise and translating human potential to profitability. A business coach, leader, and active community member with decades of experience.
Startup entrepreneur’s mentor, advisor by passion; Strategy consultant by profession. A contributing columnist at Entreprenuer.com
Co-Founder, Station Houston
Early-stage tech executive with expertise in strategy, leadership and sales.
President, January Advisors and Founder of Sketch City-
A civic pioneer in community engagement and civic tech with his good works honored by the League of Women Voters, the Houston Business Journal, and the White House.
Founder of npv10,- focusing on corporate strategic planning, and a “startup whisperer” for hundreds of new tech ventures.
FAQ’s & More About This Program
Application and Selection
- Committed to social and environmental impact with their venture
- Idea-to-early-stage in their venture’s development
- Based in Houston (more on location below)
- For-profit or non-profit
- 18 years of age or older
Here’s a bit more on location:
- If I am an entrepreneur from an adjacent to Houston. Can I apply for this Lab? If you are outside Houston you can still apply. But please know that we will prioritize entrepreneurs from Houston. But if you can make a compelling case, we might consider your application.
- My venture’s headquarters are here in Houston, but my operations are elsewhere? Can I apply? It depends. The Business Model Validation Lab is designed for ventures to interact directly with their target market during the Lab. For example, during the Lab entrepreneurs will go and do “customer discovery” by interviewing people (in-person) in their target market. If you are unable to do this because your venture’s operations are elsewhere, then the Lab will be less valuable to you. In any case, please feel free to reach out us if you have specific questions about this.
- Who their target customer is
- What, exactly, is the problem their target customer has
- What their product/service offering looks like (they haven’t built a prototype yet or have just begun building prototypes) and if it meets the needs of the target customer
Entrepreneurs are too late if:
- They know (with a very high level of confidence and specificity) who their customer is
- They know (with a very high level of confidence and specificity) what problem their customer has
- They know (with a very high level of confidence and specificity) that their solution solves their customer’s problem
- They have a product/service that is in mainstream production
They have substantial sales
The Lab Team will work with any entrepreneur who is accepted to attend the Lab but unable to pay. Do not let the cost prohibit you from applying for the Lab!
The Lab will feature both time in the classroom (learning principles of how to validate your business model) and time in market with your customers where you will be interviewing them and having them interact with your prototypes. There will also be one entire day dedicated to working with mentors. Throughout the course of the Lab, you will have plenty of time to work and rest. Taking time to digest the material is an important piece of acceleration!
Day 1: Day 1 starts with a brief orientation and workshop in the morning, followed by an afternoon interacting with target customers.
Day 2: Day 2 starts with a workshop in the morning on how to rapidly prototype. In the afternoon, entrepreneurs will physically build a prototype and then go out again to meet with target customers.
Day 3: Day 3 starts with more time interacting with target customers before having an afternoon workshop on how to build powerful relationships with mentors, funders, and partners.
Day 4: Day 4 is a mentor day when 10-15 mentors will attend the Lab to work directly with entrepreneurs.
Day 5: Day 5 begins with a workshop in the morning on how to validate the cost assumptions in each venture before spending the afternoon working on strategic planning. Then the Lab concludes.
Be a Supporter
Click here to email our team to discuss becoming a mentor.
Pipeline Partners are organizations that help us find the entrepreneurs. Like us, they support entrepreneurs doing good in the world. If you want to become a Pipeline Partner for this Lab, please email our team.
Here is the team that made this happen.
VP at CenterPoint Energy- Lab Team Lead
Executive Director, Innoventures by Softek- Lab Team Lead
Chief Entrepreneurial Initiatives Officer at Houston Community College- Lab Team Member
Co-Founder Torch Energy Solution and Advisor – Lab Team Member
Director of Student Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Houston Community College – Lab Team Member
Dean of College of Education, University of Houston – Lab Team Member
PhD Sustainability Fellow at Rice University- Lab Team Member
Education Consultant for City of Houston, My Brother’s Keeper Program- Lab Team Member
Executive Director Early Matters- Lab Team Member