The Lean Lab Launched
The Lean Lab was born in early 2013, as a group of civic-minded neighbors — teachers, artists, law enforcement officials and social workers — began convening monthly for brunch at one another’s homes. We had one goal: to improve educational outcomes for Kansas City students. We began by pouring over all the relevant research, until another question emerged: despite the very clear data revealing that students of color living in poverty were consistently underperforming their more affluent peers, why haven’t our education structures evolved more?
In fact, over the last decade, as we’ve watched the evolution of mobile phones, the rise of social media, The Arab Spring, the Royals go to the World Series, and a spacecraft land on a comet, we’ve seen few updates in educational models, especially those that put an end to educational inequity.
This was the spirit in which The Lean Lab was born. We knew we had to begin questioning the assumptions on which we’ve built the foundations of public education and begin building new, bold initiatives, products, services, and school designs that redefine public education and truly serve Kansas City students.
In the fall of 2013, we borrowed an empty science lab from Alta Vista High School and began hosting small meetings where we discussed current challenges in education and the need to innovate.
By late 2013, we began using frameworks used in software development, the tech industry, and arts communities, applying them to education solutions. We were on the first place team at Startup Weekend EDU in Los Angeles, and we became regulars at regional startup events like 1 Million Cups. We officially adopted the name, The Lean Lab, an homage to Lean Startup techniques — a methodology which pushes innovators to take a basic idea, turn it into a bare bones product, and immediately seek feedback before building something better.
By early 2014, we had convened over 100 Kansas Citians, attained fiscal sponsorship and assembled an advisory board. In spring of 2014, we launched projectbrightspots.com, a project to digitally connect “bright spots” of teaching and learning across the Kansas City metropolitan area.
In June of 2014, in partnership with the Sprint Accelerator, we launched our Inaugural Incubator Fellowship — a program that took 6 education innovators with early stage ideas and developed them as entrepreneurs as they built new products, services, and school designs to benefit Kansas City students. These innovators have created solutions ranging from new K-12 charter schools to mobile apps for teachers. Their innovations have the capacity to reach 2,000 Kansas City students within the next year.
By September, we launched Lean Lab 201, a program to support innovators as they pilot their new solutions on school sites across the city.
In November, 2014, we hosted author Andy Smarick as he led a crowd of 60 + educators through a thought experiment rethinking the future of public school systems. We then lent a hand to Liberty School District and Park Hill School District as they began internal innovation projects.
Finally, in December, we received our official 501(c)(3) status and begun looking ahead to our 2015 cohort of innovators.
To date, we’ve convened over 530 Kansas Citians as we’ve discussed the future of Kansas City education, hosted eleven events, and incubated eight solutions with the capacity to impact over 2,000 students — all on a shoestring budget and with the gracious support of our donors, mentors, family and friends.
However, now is the time to powerfully move forward.
Yes, we’ve made a small dent. But we’re on a mission to ensure all 70,000 students that attend the 14 school districts and 20+ charter schools within the borders of Kansas City have access to services, products, or schools that both serve their needs and begin to redefine public education at its core.
As we we move into 2015, we ask you to join our movement. Support our current fellows as they begin launching new solutions into Kansas City schools. Support our future 2015 cohort as we continue to build the capacity to re-imagine Kansas City schools. Your donation fuels this work and, ultimately, fuels a Kansas City defined by entrepreneurship, arts, and education.
Katie Boody & Carrie Markel, co-founders, The Lean Lab