Beats | December 20, 2013

‘Lean’ Startups Set Sights on Climate Change, Hunger, Empowerment

The team at


From Zipcar’s model of sharing transportation capacity to mobile apps coded by pre-teen and teen girls to help the homeless find food, “lean startups” are trying  to tackle the world’s biggest problems.

“Lean experimentation” emphasizes the need to pivot quickly without attachment to previous iterations. Presenters at this month’s Lean Startup conference demonstrated how lean startup principles can be applied to tough social and environmental problems that require bold experiments and countless pivots.

“The foundational principle of all lean is respect for people,” Eric Ries, author of the book, Lean Startup, and leader of the lean movement, reminded the audience in his “State of the Lean Startup” address. “Let’s not forget that our goal here is not products and money and the artifacts of our work but rather to support and make good use of the time, energy, creativity, passion, and intellect of our people.”

Zipcar and Buzzcar’s founder Robin Chase shared her framework for “hacking” the toughest problems.  Her wheelhouse has been transportation and the emissions and climate change associated with it. Her approach: find excess capacity, slice it, aggregate it, and open it up to the public.  Such “platforms for participation” are needed to meet impending crises like climate change, she said.

Christie George of New Media Ventures added that, to address our collective challenges, funders and (mostly) nonprofit ventures alike need to “incentivize truth” – accepting and not penalizing failure as a part of the iteration process for finding solutions.  She challenged organizations to “tell the truth when things are not going well” and funders to “not let truth stop you when funding.”

A trio of 10- to 14-year old girls from Black Girls Code shared their apps: Food Bank and Feed Me.  Food Bank is an app that connects food suppliers and distributors like churches and nonprofits.  Their companion app, Feed Me, connects distributors with needy consumers and allows them to view notifications, search for food, and reserve food on their phone.

“When girls hack, they create positive change in their communities,” 10-year-old Charmienne concluded to a standing ovation.

Photo Credit: The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin