The Fractured Landscape of Kansas City Education: The Lean Lab Listening Tour

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Aditya Voleti, the Director of Community and Partnerships at The Lean Lab, embarked on 134 interviews with all the key stakeholders in education innovation: parents, teachers, students, community leaders, school system leaders, investors, and education entrepreneurs. Locally, we wanted to understand the deepest problems felt by families, students, and educators. Nationally and locally, we sought to learn what kind of programmatic support entrepreneurs received, still needed, and felt was most effective in building sustainable ventures. Voleti and The Lean Lab team distilled these conversations into shared commonalities of problems felt by community members and entrepreneurs in order to design a more impactful, human-centered Incubator Fellowship program in A Community Approach to Innovation: A Short Report on the Findings from The Lean Lab Listening Tour. Read the report in its entirety here.


Two broad categories of needs emerged from our conversations with community members: coordination and communication. Regarding coordination, adults felt very painfully the fractured and unequal landscape of Kansas City education and yearned for coordination between schools, families, service providers, and business organizations. Students desired more engaging and collaborative learning opportunities in the classroom. Regarding communication, educators, families, and school system leaders spoke to the divide between charter and district public schools, and how ineffective the communication has been between all schools and the parent community in particular.


Entrepreneurs sourced other pain points related to their venture-building journey: “genuine” access. “Genuine access” meant access to funders and decision makers who did not just “show their face” at accelerator programs, but instead actually opened doors for the entrepreneurs (to funds, to customers, or to school buildings). It also meant providing equitable access to funding opportunities, particularly for female founders of color. In contrast to their white, male counterparts, female founders of color oftentimes went years without paying themselves a salary.


The Incubator Fellowship is The Lean Lab’s incubator program for education entrepreneurs. We connect those entrepreneurs with community members, specifically parents, teachers, students, school system leaders, mentors and seed capital to accelerate their growth. In order for ventures to be effective and close achievement gaps, we believe that entrepreneurs must be intentionally listening to and working with the community. The goal: close achievement and opportunity gaps to ensure that all children, regardless of race, gender identity, or socioeconomic status, have access to innovative and effective learning opportunities.

The Lean Lab will launch a new method of granting resources to early stage education innovators, that includes community voices. Beginning with our 2017 Incubator cohort, we will launch a funding process that is largely driven by parents, students and teachers. Concretely, we will be granting two $25,0000 awards to two fellows, who will be determined by a panel that includes parents, students and teachers, alongside philanthropists, investors and systems level leaders. The panel will be trained on a vetted due diligence process to evaluate the “investability” of the ventures.

What we must do now is to surface those leaders who are willing to solve these deep pain points and support them as they build enduring, sustaining institutions that address these concerns. This requires students, parents, teachers, decision makers, investors and community leaders to come together.

We are looking for people to become entrepreneurs and build the next solution. We offer seed funding, access to the Lean Lab network of mentors, secured beta-testing sites with school partners, and rigorous curriculum and support. Entrepreneurs will join us in Kansas City for two weeks in July, and again for three days in September and November, with remote support during design sprints. Application opens April 24. Visit our website for more information.
We are looking for community members to help us surface those entrepreneurs by connecting us with those hidden problem-solvers, working in school communities, getting things done but could use more support.
We are looking for community members and decision makers to help sustain the work of entrepreneurs by opening up their schools and networks, funding them, or joining our community investment initiative, a representative panel of all stakeholders, bringing together parents, students, teachers alongside philanthropists, investors and system level leaders to determine what innovations from The Lean Lab Fellowship receive investment and additional support.

To join the movement, email Aditya Voleti at He can’t wait to talk to you.