Here at the Labs we’re big fans of lean. That means constant iteration on our product – which for us is our programs. At the start of each cycle, we identify a set of assumptions to test, measure the results, and then reflect on what we’ve learned and how it means we can improve.
Four of the biggest lessons from our first two fellowship classes are:
Getting the right team takes time. Not just because everyone needs time to get to know their classmates and figure out who has complementary working styles. Fellows also learn a lot about their own preferences, motivations, and long-term goals in the first month, which can significantly change what they’re looking for in a teammate.
Three months isn’t enough. And not just because of team formation. While we like to move fast, we’ve seen the short timeline proves to be the death of some of the most interesting, high-potential fellowship ideas: For more complex concepts it just isn’t enough time to get to a compelling MVP.
Tech alone isn’t sufficient. Our most successful alumni have both a top-notch technical team and a way to tap into deep expertise around their problem area – whether that’s through full-time staff, expert advisors, community experts, or relationships with city agencies or community-based organizations (CBOs).
Scale requires partnerships. Alumni are reaching out to governments, universities, CBOs, and private companies for help with distribution and marketing, as partners on pilot studies, and as funders (or customers) who help take successful interventions to scale. This takes time.
Building on these lessons, in 2016 we’re excited to be launching Fellowship 2.0. Some of the changes you’ll see this year include:
Extending the program from three months to five to create more time for team formation and encourage bigger risk-taking on more complicated concepts
Adding the “Expert” role to seed teams with greater topic expertise and help the whole class get up the learning curve faster. We’re also giving these folks the option to only join us for the first two months so that timeline or financial constraints won’t be a barrier.
Focusing on a single challenge area. This is the biggest change but potentially the most powerful. It allows us to let the fellows work as a cohort for the first month before committing to teams. Plus, we can build a richer research experience and bring critical partners and advisors in earlier to build buy-in and set teams on a path for success.
As always, we’ll be carefully monitoring whether these changes further improve the quality of the ideas that emerge from the summer, team health and happiness, and the long-term prospects of our alumni. Stay tuned for updates!