Class Details


Hacking for Defense (H4D) is designed to provide students the opportunity to learn how to work with the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community (IC) to better address the nation’s emerging threats and security challenges. (See the background here.) Unlike current practices in the DoD/IC that can stall and in some cases thwart rapid innovation,  this course provides a platform that can develop prototypes that match DOD/IC users’ needs in weeks. Agencies or Commands in the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community may provide follow-on funding to these student teams for further refinement and development of prototypes.
In the existing Lean LaunchPad class taught Winter Quarter, student teams come to class with a vision of a product or service they’d like to build. In this Hacking for Defense (H4D) class, student teams may either select from an existing set of problems provided by the DoD/IC community or introduce their own ideas for DoD/IC problems that need to be solved. Although teams pick a problem to solve, Hacking for Defense is not a product incubator for a specific technology solution. Instead, it provides teams with a deeper understanding of selected problems and the host of potential technological solutions that might be arrayed against them. Using the Lean LaunchPad Methodology the class focuses teams to:

  1. Solve extremely complex real-world problems
  2. Rapidly iterate technology solutions while searching for product-market fit
  3. Understand all the stakeholders, deployment issues, costs, resources, and ultimate mission value
  4. Deliver minimum viable products that match customer needs in an extremely short time
  5. Produce a repeatable model that can be used to launch other potential technology solutions


This class is team-based and has limited enrollment by application only. Working and studying will be done in teams. You will be admitted as a team. Teams must submit a proposal for entry before the class begins. 

​The teams will self-organize and establish individual roles on their own. In addition to the instructors and TA, each team will be assigned a mentor (an experienced entrepreneur, service provider, consultant, or investor), a POC from the problem sponsor and an active duty military liaison officer at Stanford to provide assistance and support. Teams can receive resources use for travel and prototyping, and can compete for additional post-class support.


This is a team-based class and has limited enrollment by application only. Admission is by teams of four Stanford students from any school or department. Working and studying will be done in teams. There are three ways to apply to the class:

  • 1) As a team: Teams must submit an application for entry before the class begins by forming a team and selecting one of the problems to work on.
    • Teams must submit an application and interview with the teaching team prior to the class start date.
    • Teams must submit a mission model canvas and interview with the teaching team prior to the class start date.  
    • Your entire team must attend the interview and first class to be enrolled.
  • 2) As a team with a technology/startup idea: If accepted the team will be assigned a mentor and work to find an appropriate problem. It is suggested that these teams apply early and get in touch with the teaching team to work on finding the appropriate sponsor.
  • 3) As an individual: Individuals can apply to the class independently and, if accepted, will work with the teaching team to join a team formed around a problem. Individuals need to choose their preference for a problem (but if accepted, they are not guaranteed to work on that problem)
  • The class list and any wait-listed students will be posted online
  • If you are looking to create/join a team, attend brown bag lunches/info sessions to meet other students. Additionally, this google form will help you search for a team, and the teaching team can help you fill gaps or find teammates to match.


  • Priority is given to Stanford Graduate students. Non graduates can be on teams. Non students can serve as advisors to the teams.
  • Exceptions for team size and external members will be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • This is very intense class with a very high workload. We expect you to invest at least 10-15 hours per week.

Attendance & Participation

  • You cannot miss the first class without prior approval 
  • This is very intense class with a very high workload. If you cannot commit to 10-15 hours a week outside the classroom, this class is not for you.
  • The startup culture at times can feel brusque and impersonal, but in reality is focused and oriented to create immediate action in time- and cash-constrained environments.
  • If during the semester you find you cannot continue to commit the time, immediately notify your team members and teaching team and drop the class.
  •  If you expect to miss a class, please let the TA and your team members know ahead of time via email.
  • ​We expect your attention during our presentations and those of your fellow students. If you’re getting bored, tired or inattentive step outside for some air. If we see you reading email or browsing the web we will ask you to leave the class.
  • We ask that you use a name card during every session of the quarter.
  • During your classmates’ presentations you will be required to give feedback online via ​the LaunchPad Central system. Please bring a laptop to every class and be prepared to give your undivided attention to the team at the front of the room.


Meaningful customer discovery requires the development of a minimum viable product (MVP). Therefore, each team should have the applicable goal of the following:

    1. Product deliverables:
      1. Teams building a physical product must show us a costed bill of materials and a prototype.
      2. Teams building a web product need to build the site, create demand and have customers using it. 
      3. Teams building a mobile product are expected to have working code and have customers using it.
    2. Your weekly blog narrative is an integral part of your deliverables. It’s how we measure your progress.
    3. Your team will present a weekly in-class presentation to show your progress.

Intro to Lean Launchpad

This class is not about how to write a business plan. It’s not an exercise on how smart you are in a classroom, or how well you use the research library to size markets. And the end result is not a PowerPoint slide deck for a VC presentation or a Ycombinator Demo Day. And it is most definitely not an incubator where you come to build the “hot-idea” that you have in mind.

This class combines Lean Startup theory with a ton of hands-on practice. Our goal, within the constraints of a classroom and a limited amount of time, is to give you a framework to test the business model of a startup while creating all of the pressures and demands of the real world in an early stage start up. The class is designed to give you the experience of how to work as a team and turn an idea into a solution for a real world problem facing the Department of Defense and other government agencies.

You will be getting your hands dirty talking to “customers” – military and other government stake holders and end users as you encounter the chaos and uncertainty of how a startup actually works. You’ll practice evidence-based entrepreneurship as you learn how to use a business model to brainstorm each part of a company and customer development to get out of the classroom to see whether anyone other than you would want/use your product. Finally, based on the customer and market feedback you gathered, you will use agile development to rapidly iterate your product or concept to build/design something customers would actually buy and use. Each block will be a new adventure outside the classroom as you test each part of your business model and then share the hard earned knowledge with the rest of the class.

  • We teach Lean Startup Theory + hands-on practice
  • You will learn Urgency, Evidence-based entrepreneurship, Customer Development, “good-enough” decision making
  • You will do so by talking to 10-15 customers a week and present your results in class weekly

See for a week-by-week narrative.

Lean Launchpad Resources

How you'll learn

Flipped Classroom

 Unlike a traditional classroom where the instructor presents lecture material, our lectures are online at Launchpad Central ( Watching the assigned lectures is part of your weekly homework. The information in them is essential for you to complete your weekly interviews and present the insights the teaching team will expect in your presentation for that week. We expect you to watch the assigned lectures for the upcoming week before class and we will use time in class to discuss questions about the lecture material and to provide supplemental material. You need to come prepared with questions or comments about the material for in-class discussion. We will cold-call students to answer questions about the online lecture material.

​Experiential Learning

You will be spending a significant amount of time in between each of the lectures outside the class talking to customers. Each week your team will conduct a minimum of 10 customer interviews focused on a specific part of the business model canvas. This class is a simulation of what startups and entrepreneurship is like in the real world: chaos, uncertainty, impossible deadlines in insufficient time, conflicting input, etc.

Inverted Lecture Hall

Sitting in the back of the classroom are experienced instructors and professionals who have built and/or funded world-class startups as well as seasoned military professionals with significant experience in the field.  We won’t be lecturing in the traditional sense, but commenting and critiquing on each team’s progress. While the comments may be specific for each team, the insights are almost always applicable to all teams. Pay attention.

Peer to Peer Culture

While other teams are presenting the results of their weekly experiments, the rest of the class is expected to attentively listen, engage, and react to what they see and hear. Sharing insights, experience, and contacts with each other is a key way that this unique laboratory achieves results.

​Class Culture

Startups communicate in a dramatically different style from the university or large company culture you may be familiar with. At times it can feel brusque and impersonal, but in reality is focused and oriented to create immediate action in time- and cash-constrained environments. We have limited time and we push, challenge, and question you in the hope you will quickly learn. We will be direct, open, and tough just like the real world. This approach may seem harsh or abrupt, but it is all part of our wanting you to learn to challenge yourselves quickly and objectively, and to appreciate that as entrepreneurs you need to learn and evolve faster than you ever imagined possible. This class pushes many people past their comfort zone. If you believe that your role of your instructors is to praise in public and criticize in private, you’re in the wrong class. Do not take this class. You will be receiving critiques in front of your peers weekly. The pace and the uncertainty pick up as the class proceeds. As part of the process, we also expect you to question us, challenge our point of view if you disagree, and engage in a real dialog with the teaching team.


Pre-Class Preparation

This class hits the ground running. It assumes you and your team have come into class having read the assigned reading, viewed the online lectures, and prepared a set of contacts to call on. If you apply individually, you must attend the information sessions and the mixers to meet other students that have applied individually.

Suggested Projects

We suggest that you consider a problem in which you are a domain expert, such as your graduate research. In all cases, you should choose something for which you have passion, enthusiasm, and hopefully some expertise. Do not select this type of project unless you are prepared to see it through.

​Only Project

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 Material

Your weekly presentations and final Lessons Learned presentations will be shared and visible to others. We may be video taping and sharing many of the class sessions.