What is The Lean Startup Challenge?

Each year upwards of $50,000 is made available to eligible* students who are aspiring first-time entrepreneurs via three Lean Startup Challenges that typically run from May 1 to October 31.

The Lean Startup challenges are not a competition.

Everyone who meets the requirements by the deadline is eligible for the funding. Once you provide receipts for the funds spent, you will be reimbursed up to the maximum amount.

Eligible* Alberta post-secondary students or recent graduates that have been chosen to represent their publicly funded college, university or polytechnic can earn almost $5,000 each by completing a series of Lean Startup** Challenges described below.


Created in collaboration with Google Launchpad and Lean Startup mentor Adam Berk, these challenges are designed to help students:

  • Validate their business idea
  • Make their business more scalable by implementing technology
  • Become revenue-generating ventures within six months of starting the Lean Startup Challenges

To answer any questions participants have about the Lean Startup Challenges, we utilize a Slack channel and facilitate 2-hour web calls via Zoom on Monday and Tuesday each week until the pitch competition at the Innovation Rodeo in July.

We then move to 1-hour calls on Thursdays until the end of August, one call every other Thursday in September and October. We plan to have monthly peer mentoring calls to assist finalists as they continue their entrepreneurial journey after the Challenges end in October.

Eligible Students*

For the Lean Startup Challenges and the $25,000 Pitch Competition, eligible students are defined as individuals who are

a) post-secondary students that are currently taking three or more courses at one of Alberta’s 26 publicly funded colleges, universities, or polytechnics

b) currently taking a minimum of one course from one of Alberta’s 26 publicly funded colleges, universities or polytechnics and have taken at least three courses during the last 18 months from one of Alberta’s 26 publicly funded colleges, universities or polytechnics or

c) have graduated from one of Alberta’s 26 publicly funded colleges, universities, or polytechnics within the last 12 months and

d) have not competed in a prior 150 Startups $25,000 pitch competition.

For the $25,000 pitch competition, eligible students are defined as EARLY-STAGE FIRST-TIME ENTREPRENEURS who came up with the idea, own at least 50% of the idea, have not previously started and do not currently run a company that

a) sold more than $10,000,

b) taken a loan of $10,000 or more, or

c) raised more than $10,000 in capital/equity funding.

LEAN STARTUP  is a trademark owned by Eric Ries, and his most recent book is called The Startup Way

This page was revised on June 28, 2022, to make it easier for participants to understand important dates, the requirements to qualify and what is reimbursed. Please contact us if you find any errors, omissions, or have suggestions for improvement.

#1 - The $750 Problem Validation Challenge

This challenge is designed to help students validate their business idea.

Those who meet the requirements below by the deadline are then eligible to be reimbursed for up to $750 in expenses related to the creation and running of digital marketing.

Deadline to Qualify

The first Sunday in June @ 11:59 p.m. (MDT)

Because our experience has been that many students leave their interviews until the last minute when left alone, we introduce scarcity by offering an extra $250 cash to the first 10 students who complete the 25 problem discovery interviews by the deadline. You will be notified if you are one of the first 10 participants to register their 25 interviews.

Requirements to Qualify

Complete and use this form to register at least 25 problem validation interviews—interviews that use past-oriented questions (‘have you ever,’ not ‘would you ever’) to validate that there is a problem worth solving and discover who the target customer is. These interviews are with a person who is paying for something (aka customer) – not a user who gets something without paying for it.

Eligible interviews must be conducted after the Saturday morning of the kick-off weekend or May 1st, whichever comes first.

What is Reimbursed

  • Up to $750 you spend developing and promoting a landing page for you to interview potential customers for the Customer Discovery Challenge
  • Up to $500 of this $750 can be spent on Facebook or similar ads that drive customers to an ‘approved’ landing page that shows your idea and collects the information of those interested in learning more about your product or service (see an example of a suitable landing page here)
  • Approved’ landing pages are landing pages shown to Craig Elias that he agrees via email are suitable for validating your idea and collecting the name and contact information of people actually interested in your idea.
  • Of the $750, any funds spent getting someone to do something for you will be reimbursed at the rate of 10% (e.g. if you pay a photographer $500 to take some pictures, we only reimburse $50. If you spend $500 to rent photography equipment and take the pictures yourself, we will reimburse you for the full $500)
  • Only funds spent between the day after you met the requirements to qualify for the Problem Validation Challenge and 11:59 p.m. (MDT) on the Sunday before the Innovation Rodeo are eligible for reimbursement.

Some examples of getting someone else to do things for you include, but are not limited to:

  • Paying for a photographer
  • Paying for someone to make a training video for you
  • Paying for someone to design and maintain a website for you

A cheque request is created once you email proof of payment – aka receipts – to [email protected]. To minimize paperwork, it is requested that you submit your receipts at the end of the qualification period or once you have spent the maximum amount or the maximum you want to spend.

NOTE: All students—not just the first 10 to complete their interviews—must meet the requirements of the Problem Validation Challenge to move on to the Customer Discover Challenge and the Revenue Generation Challenge.

#2 - The $1,500 Customer Discovery Challenge

This challenge is designed to help students better understand their future customers.

Those who meet the requirements below by the deadline are eligible to be reimbursed for up to $1,500 in expenses related to applying technology to their business.

Students must share via an email to Craig Elias what technology they are planning to apply and receive a confirmation email from Craig Elias stating that the technology they are spending funds on is approved as applying technology to their business in order to be eligible for reimbursement.

Eligible interviews are only those conducted after you completed Lean Startup Challenge #1 .

Deadline to Qualify

The requirements to qualify must be completed the Sunday before the Innovation Rodeo starts @ 11:59 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time (MDT).

The technology must be applied and paid for by 11:59 p.m. MDT on August 31st.

Requirements to Qualify

  • Meet the requirements for the Problem Validation Challenge
  • Create a landing page like this one on 150Startups.com to drive people to
  • Drive people to your ‘approved’ landing page (NOT A FACEBOOK PAGE) using digital marketing (E.g. Facebook, Instagram, banner ads, Google ads, etc.) and communicate your value proposition to convince them to complete the form on your landing page.
  • Complete and use this form to register at least 10 ‘Customer Discovery’ interviews of those who filled out the form on your approved landing page, based ONLY on your digital marketing efforts and the questions detailed on the interview registration form.
  • Post on a public YouTube channel or one of your 150 Startups pages a four to five-minute video explaining
    • What you learned from your first round of interviews
    • Why you chose the landing page content you did
    • What you learned from your second round of interviews
    • What you plan on doing next
  • The page you post your video to can be private or public

What is Reimbursed

  • 50% of the money spent on applying approved** technology to your business up to a maximum of $1,500 in reimbursement.  ** The technology you plan to apply must be approved via email by Craig Elias prior to you spending money and be applied by 11:59 p.m. Mountain Time on August 31st
  • The technology must help you scale your business by making it easier for people to become your customer or making it easier for you to have someone as a customer
  • Students must spend a minimum of $2,000 applying technology to their business that makes it easier for people to become their customers or makes it easier for them to have someone as a customer

Suitable ways to apply technology to your business include, but are not limited to,

  • Building a website or mobile app
  • Developing an online training platform
  • Implementing an online ordering system

#3 - The $2,500 Revenue Generation Challenge

This challenge is designed to encourage students to maintain their momentum, get their first customers sooner and generate initial revenues faster.

Those who meet the requirements below by the deadline are then eligible to receive $0.50 in matching funds for every $1.00 they generate in revenue between when they qualify and the end of October that year.

Deadline to Qualify

August 31 @ 11.59 p.m. (MDT)

Requirements to Qualify

What is Reimbursed

  • $0.50 for every dollar of revenue generated, to a maximum of $2,500