Venture Lab Inaugural Cohort

I’ve been working on a social impact curriculum and program at Parsons The New School. We asked student venture teams to apply to a course called Venture Lab, designed for launching potentially scalable ventures. We’ll also be studying the larger question of entrepreneurship inclusion, and how young ventures can develop, validate, and articulate their social impact vision.

Looking forward to Spring’s cohort!


We are delighted to announce the 2017-2018 Venture Lab Winners!

In alphabetical order 


Broke Broadway

Broke Broadway, a newly-incorporated non-profit organization, intends to open a performing and fine arts facility that will be called “Mom Mom’s House” outside Newark, New Jersey. Their mission is to make performing and fine art resources accessible and available to all.

Tasneem Nathari, Dramatic Arts (BFA), College of Performing Arts
Lisa McCree, Social Worker,  Broke Broadway Team Member
Dante Bailey, Video Director/Photographer; Broke Broadway Team Member

Entryway Design

Entryway Design works to serve communities that are threatened with symbolic or physical displacement by developing and implementing several prototypical models that combine design, design thinking, and social advocacy.

Ilya Benjamin Washington, Strategic Design and Management (MS), Parsons School of Design Marisol Cantu, Entryway Design Team Member
Arlene Thompson, Entryway Design Team Member
Haluk Oz, Entryway Design Team Member

ESL Works

ESL Works strives to build a more diverse, efficient, committed, and skilled workforce for the American food industry by designing and delivering English language training and professional development opportunities for employees who face communication barriers. As they expand, ESL Works plans to develop online training tools that will provide affordable resources to individuals who don’t have access to on-site classes.

Rachael Nemeth, Founder and CEO, ESL Works; TESOL (MA), School of Public Engagement 
Robin Burger, COO, ESL Works; Economics (BA), Vassar College

Leadership Institute for Global ChangeMakers
Leadership Institute for Global ChangeMakers provides professionals of color in the nonprofit arts and culture sector with leadership development opportunities that promote active, deep, and authentic personal development for racially and culturally diverse people at the emerging and mid-career stages of their career.

Anthony D. Meyers, Founder, Leadership Institute for Global Chang Makers; Organizational Change Management (MS), Schools of Public Engagement
Sandra Stollar, Counseling Psychology (BS), Schools of Public Engagement

Leform is a peer-to-peer platform that aims to democratize learning by connecting young professionals and college dropouts who want to develop career and life skills with real world practitioners at an affordable cost.

Sundar Subramanian, Strategic Design and Management (MS), Parsons School of Design
Abhishek Nair, Strategic Design and Management (MS), Parsons School of Design
Jennifer Hsieh, Strategic Design and Management (MS), Parsons School of Design
Victoria Ka Wai Chan, Strategic Design and Management (MS), Parsons School of Design

Modesty Group

Modesty Group is a fashion brand that aims to transform the relationship women have with the beauty and fashion industry by designing simple, elegant and comfortable women’s clothing at affordable prices.  Their enterprise started in Senegal, however, they are currently seeking to expand to France and the United States.

Ndeye Aminata Dia, President, Modesty Group; Strategic Design and Management (MS), Parsons School of Design
Fatymatou Dia, Senior Associate, Boston Consulting Group; Global Affairs/African Studies (BA), Yale University
Mouhammad Fall, Financial Economics, (BA) Columbia University
Rokhaya Ndoye, (MS), ISM Dakar, Senegal
Mame Aminata Diambo, ESP Dakar, Senegal

Nightingale Farms

Nightingale Farms seeks to tackle poverty, environmental, and socioeconomic issues in an effort to restore degraded ecosystems in the Jamaica Blue Mountains that are caused by unsustainable practice of conventional coffee farming.

Cheryl Bennett, Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management (MS), School of Public Engagement 
Ralph Olacio, Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management (MS), School of Public Engagement


In India, personal feminine hygiene is considered a taboo subject, and 95% of India’s sanitary napkin market uses harmful chemicals known to cause Urinary Tract Infections. Nora is creating awareness about the importance of personal feminine hygiene by creating affordable and quality made feminine hygiene products. Their first product will be sanitary napkins made of 100% organic cotton.

Nagasai Adama, Founder, Nora; Strategic Design and Management (MS), Parsons School of Design 
Kalpana Parvathaneni, Doctoral Candidate, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences  
Nandan Reddy, Co-Founder, Swiggy; Physics (MSc), Birla Institute of Technology and Science  

Original Kids

Original Kids (OK) is a community that encourages creative expression among children and adults. Through the lenses of neuroscience, mindfulness, and the arts, OK provides opportunities and tools to develop the emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and resilience needed to thrive in the 21st-century. They plan to do this by collaborating with co-working spaces to design learning experiences, programs, and tools that inspire people to live creatively.

Carolina Corseuil, Transdisciplinary Design (MFA), Parsons School of Design
Alice Cardoso, Psychologist; Neuroscience and Education (MA), Columbia University
Isabel Salgueiro, Business Consultant, London College of Communication

Spirus Breathing Mask

Spirius Breathing Mask is an attempt to address the deteriorating air conditions in cities globally by designing a breathing mask that will be reusable, aesthetically pleasing, and has the ability to filter out air pollution.

Chien Lo, Strategic Design and Management (MS), Parsons School of Design 
Wei Li Lo, Strategic Design and Management (MS), Parsons School of Design
Hao Zheng, Strategic Design and Management (MS), Parsons School of Design


Uput is attempting to develop a way for millennials to broaden their understanding of diverse viewpoints and perspectives about current events. They plan to do this by creating an online news platform where people are encouraged to debate current world issues and comment on content from a range of sources.

Allison Pinz, Strategic Design and Management (BBA), Parsons School of Design
Gusztav Simon, , Strategic Design and Management (BBA), Parsons School of Design
Elizabeth Morrocco,  Strategic Design and Management (BBA), Parsons School of Design

Lean Validation for Social Impact + Design Entrepreneurs

There’s something social impact founders and design entrepreneurs have in common  – a shared allergy/yuck factor when asked to make business models. We try to dispel that myth – business modeling as an iterative act of emergent and divergent discovery, pattern association, and everything fun.


Business Models and Entrepreneurial Strategy at Parsons The New School for Design

Excited to teach a revised and redesigned version of Lean at Parsons The New School for Design’s BBA program.


Here’s the syllabus:


Course Code: PUDM4322 CRN: 7370 | Section: A

Instructor: Jen van der Meer


Fall / 2016

Monday / 9:00 AM

Location: 6 East 16th Street, Room 1108

Course Description

This course prepares students with a hypothesis-driven approach to company formation. Students will work in teams to generate a business concept, and then validate business model risks in direct collaboration with customers. This course is offered in conjunction with the Senior Project studios and allows the students to compare and analyze different business models and strategies for their Senior Project concepts. Students develop storytelling and financial skills to lead early stage companies from concept through launch.

Open To: Open to: BBA in Strategic Design and Management students; Seniors only; others by permission of BBA in Strategic Design and Management program.

Pre-requisites: Co-requisite(s): PUDM 4120 Senior Project 1. Pre-requisite(s): PUDM 3409 Financial Management

Learning Outcomes

By the successful completion of this course, students will be able, at an introductory level, to:

  1. DEMONSTRATE FAMILIARITY WITH hypothesis-driven innovation methodologies practiced in “real world” startup environments (Lean Startup, Business Model Canvas development, Minimum Viable Product/Proposition).

  2. DEMONSTRATE FAMILIARITY WITH presentation and storytelling skills necessary for early stage startup strategy, team formation, and capital raising.

  3. DEMONSTRATE FAMILIARITY WITH financial literacy, learning the basic building blocks of innovation accounting, generating financial assumptions and forecasts, marketing sizing, term sheets, and capitalization tables.

  4. DEMONSTRATE COMPETENCE IN developing realistic business model evolution scenarios, and ability to create, analyze, combine business model archetypes.

  5. DEMONSTRATE COMPETENCE IN business model validation: the practical strategy of identifying unique customer segment(s) and an early stage value proposition through real world customer discovery interviews and early stage prototype tests.

Course Outline

Business Models and Entrepreneurial Strategy

Class Theme and Activities
Assignment Due
Week 1
Aug 29
Class intro / concept formation
Week 2
Sep 12
Team formation, intro to the Business Model Canvas (BMC) and customer discovery
Early stage company concepts
Week 3
Sep 19
Customer discovery, customer validation, Market Size Analysis (Total Addressable Market, Served Addressable Market, Target Market or TAM, SAM, TM)
Company BMC analysis results
1 Business model archetype analysis
Week 4
Sep 26
Value, value propositions, and the purpose of business, team forms initial BMC hypothesis v 1.0, team develops customer interview plan
Team BMC 1.0, TAM, SAM,TM
1 Business model archetype analysis
Oct 3
No Classes – Rosh Hashanah
Week 5
Oct 10
Personal value, motivation, vision, and team, team continues to plan customer interviews
Customer discovery interview results, BMC 2.0
2nd Business model archetype analysis
Week 6
Oct 17
Customer relationships, channels, initial value proposition test
Competition, disruptive innovation theory. Innovation accounting
Customer discovery interview results, BMC 3.0 + Lessons learned
3rd Business model archetype analysis
Week 7
Oct 24
How to analyze
Customer discovery interview results, BMC 4.0
4th Business model archetype analysis
Week 8
Oct 31
Midterm: validated “front stage” of the business model, competitive analysis, initial value proposition
Midterm presentations, including BMC 5.0
Week 9
Nov 7
“Back stage” of the business model: Resources, Activities, Partners
Customer discovery interview results, BMC 6.0
5th Business model archetype analysis
Week 10
Nov 14
The money: revenues, costs, how to create financial scenarios 3 years out
Business model scenarios
Unit economics
3 year financial assumptions
7th Business model archetype analysis
Week 11
Nov 21
Investment strategy, cap tables, term sheets
Validated unit economics
8th Business model archetype analysis
Week 12
Nov 28
Turning customer discovery insights into a Minimum Viable Product
Draft cap table, term sheet, investment plan
9th Business model archetype analysis
Week 13
Dec 5
Storytelling and pitch clinic, how to create a “teaser” presentation and a longer form presentation for investors, employees, partners
MVP sketch
Week 14
Dec 12
Pitch practice
Short form presentation
Week 15
Dec 19
Lessons Learned – Final
Long form presentation


Assessable Tasks


The students will work in self-formed teams to simulate the experience of developing a startup from scratch.

Key tasks, all as group work:


  • Presentations: weekly presentation of lessons learned, updated Business Model Canvas versions based on customer interview findings, formulation of new hypotheses to test (over 10 weeks).
  • Field research: customer discovery interviews (at least 30 interviews per team or until key business model hypotheses are sufficiently validated).
  • Financial analysis and industry analysis: market sizing (total addressable market, served addressable market, target market estimations.
  • Value proposition test and test results for midterm
  • Financial scenario development, calculating and validating unit economics, investment strategy, cap table, term sheet
  • Pitch development and delivery.
  • Final lessons learned presentation.

Final Grade Calculation

10% participation in class, giving constructive feedback to your peers

30% progress in customer validation, customer interviews

20% midterm validation test and presentation

20% financial analysis, scenarios, and projections

20% final pitch and lessons learned

Extra Credit Policy

No extra credit

Required Reading

Textbooks may be purchased (new or used), rented, or downloaded through standard sources such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Chegg. Be sure to use the ISBN number in order to ensure that you are ordering the correct edition.

Book available on directly from the publisher:

Lean Analytics, Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz, 2013

Articles, Papers:

The End of Competitive Advantage, by Rita Gunther McGrath, HBR, 8, 2013.

What is Disruptive Innovation? By Clayton Christensen, Michael E. Raynor, and Rory McDonald, HBR, December 2015

A Friedman Doctrine–; The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits, by Milton Friedman, The New York Times, 9, 1970. (paywall)

The Founder’s Dilemma by Noam Wasserman, HBR, 2008

The Role of the Business Model in Capturing Value from Innovation: Evidence from Xerox Corporation’s Technology Spinoff Companies Henry Chesbrough and Richard S. Rosenbloom, Oxford University Press, 2002

Why the Lean-Startup Changes Everything, by Steve Blank, HBR, 2013

Recommended Reading

The following two books are recommended for your reference and for help in writing and conducting research:

Business Model Generation, Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

Talking to Humans, Giff Constsable and Frank Rimalovski (fre download)

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights, Steve Portigal, 2013

Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, Gabriel Weinberg, 2015

The Founder’s Dilemma, Noam Wasserman, 2013

Value Proposition Design, by Alexander Osterwalder


Lean LaunchPad videos on Udacity by Steve Blank

Lean Startup video by Eric Reis


So, You Need a Letter of Recommendation

Dear former students and employees. I’d be delighted to write you a letter of recommendation.

I’ll need you to do some work first.

First – make sure this is not a last-minute exercise. I’ll need a few days for synthesis, and I frequently travel, so make sure you’re giving me a minimum of a week between request and due date, and note you may still get me in a busy moment so more time is better.

  • Tell me where the letter will be sent. Is it a generic recommendation letter? For a specific job? For your #1 pick for grad school? If it’s for a job, or grad school, tell me something specific about why that job, that grad school.
  • Tell me why you would like to recommendation from me. What about the class / work experience was particularly interesting, challenging, what have you learned upon reflection.
  • Write a first draft of the letter, completely edited. If you tend towards overconfidence, then try humility. If you are plagued by self-doubt, then make this an exercise in aggrandizement. I want you to intentionally brag and show off.

I’ll then take all of these inputs and edit your letter, being sure to add my own flourish based on what you provided.


Your former Professor / Employer / Mentor

Jen van der Meer