Tony Torres
G50 Gardner Steel Conference Ctr

W. W. Clark
218-G Benedum Hall

D. G. Cole
605 Benedum Hall

Class time

Time TBD
Location TBD


Passion in discovering how to innovate at speed, while helping make the world a safer place.

Course Goals

Hands-on experience in understanding, and working with the Defense (DOD) and Intelligence Community (IC) on actual current problems.
At the completion of this course, students will be able to

  • Implement real-world aspects of entrepreneurship, a skill that is becoming more requisite for all science and engineering career paths.
  • Use these tools and mindset to accelerate their ability to  perform meaningful research here at Pitt.
  • Be “quick starters” who know how to more effectively formulate problems, to navigate funding agencies, and to conduct research that solves relevant problems with impact on society.

Course Materials


  • Business Model Generation, Osterwalder et al.
  • Value Proposition Design, Osterwalder et al.
  • Startup Owner’s Manual, Blank & Dorf
  • Talking to Humans, Constable & Rimalovski 

Lecture Videos

Coming soon


Launchpad Central



  • Meaningful customer discovery requires the development of a minimum viable product (MVP). Therefore, each team should have the applicable goal of the following:   
  • Your weekly LaunchPad Central narrative is an integral part of your deliverables.  It is how we measure your progress.  
  • Your team will present a weekly in-class PowerPoint summary of progress
  • Product deliverables:
    • Teams building a physical product must show us a bill of materials cost and a prototype.
    • Teams building a web product must build the site, create demand and have customers using it.
    • Teams building a mobile product are expected to have working code and have customers using it.

Each week, team members must do the following:

  • update business model canvas weekly;
  • identify which team member did which portion of the work;
  • detailed report on what the team did each week; and,
  • weekly email of team member participation.


This course is team-based and your grade will be a combination of both individual and team performance.

Class Strategy

This is a practical class---essentially a lab---not a theory or “book” class.  Our goal is to help you understand customer and stakeholder needs in the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community and to  understanding the problems/needs of government customers using the Lean LaunchPad methodology; rapidly iterate technology solutions while searching for product-market fit; understand all the stakeholders, deployment issues, costs, resources, and ultimate mission value.

The class uses the Lean Startup method. Rather than engaging in months of business planning, the method assumes that all you have is a series of untested hypotheses---basically, good guesses about what the product solution is, who the customer is, other stakeholders, impact of potential regulation, deployment, funding, etc. Regardless of how elegant your plan, the reality is that most of it is wrong. You need to get out of the building and get off campus to search for the facts that validate or invalidate your hypotheses, and ultimately enable you to pursue strategies that will accelerate the launch and development of your business.

Our class formalizes this search for a repeatable, scalable mission model. We do it with a process of hypothesis testing familiar to everyone who has been in a science lab.  In this class you will learn how to use a mission model canvas---a diagram of how your organization will create value for itself and mission value for its customers---to frame your hypotheses.

Second, you will ``get out of the building'' using an approach called Customer Development to test your hypotheses. You will run experiments with DOD/IC customers, stakeholders, and advocates, and will collect evidence about whether each of your business hypotheses is true or false.  Simultaneously you will be using use agile development to rapidly build minimal viable products to accompany those experiments to elicit customer feedback.  That means that every week you will be talking to DOD/IC customers and stakeholders outside the classroom testing your assumptions about different customers, product features, mission value, deployment, requirements and the government acquisition process.  You will talk with at least 100 of them during the class.  Using those customers’ input to revise your assumptions and hypotheses, you will start the cycle over again, testing redesigned offerings and making further small adjustments (iterations) or more substantive changes (pivots) to ideas that are not working. 

A pivot might mean changing your position in the value chain. For example, your team may realize that you can buy an off-the-shelf product and modify it to solve and immediate customer need. Or you can become an OEM supplier to a government contractor providing a critical part of a larger system, rather than selling directly to SOCOM.  Other pivots may move your company from a platform technology to becoming a product supplier, or from a systems supplier to a service provider.  Some teams may make even more radical changes. For example, your team may discover that there are more customers in the DOD than your original DOD/IC mentor. Or you might discover that the product you are developing is dual-use (it can be used for DOD/IC applications and the civilian market.)

The goal is to design and build something DOD/IC customers would actually want to use and deploy.  This process of making pivots---substantive changes to one or more of your mission model hypotheses---before your DOD/IC customers would begin an acquisition program for millions of dollars helps you avoid huge future costs and potentially unforeseen dead-ends far down the road of development. 

Instructional Method

The class uses teaching methods that may be new to you:

  • Experiential learning
  • Team-based projects
  • Team teaching
  • Weekly team presentations
  • Observing other teams and providing constructive feedback
  • A flipped classroom
  • Advanced topic lectures
  • LaunchPad Central 

Class Culture

This class pushes many people past their comfort zone. If you believe that the role of your instructors is to praise in public and criticize in private, do not take this class. You will be receiving critiques in front of your peers every week.

Amount of Work

Teams have reported up to 10 to 15 hours of work each week. Getting out of the classroom is what the effort is about. If you can’t commit the time to talk to customers, this class is not for you. Teams are expected to have completed at least 10 in person or Video TeleConference interviews each week focused in the business model canvas area of emphasis for that week.

Pre-class Preparation

This class hits the ground running. It assumes you and your team have come into the first class having read the assigned reading, viewed the online lectures, have been briefed by your DOD/IC mentor, and have already talked to 10 customers, and have a first MVP to present.


The DOD/IC suggested projects are your first stop for a class project. However, you may consider a DOD/IC related subject in which you are a domain expert. If so, we will try to match you with a DOD/IC mentor and sponsor. In all cases, you should choose something for which you have passion, enthusiasm, and hopefully some expertise.

Given the amount of work this class entails, there is no way you can do the work while participating in multiple startups. A condition of admission to the class is that this is the only startup you are working on this quarter/semester.

Shared Materials

Your weekly presentations and final Lessons Learned presentations will be shared and visible to others. We may be videotaping and sharing many of the class sessions.
Anything you develop during this class (software, hardware, ideas, etc.) is open-sourced.