The Lean Model Canvas Approach to Developing Research Grants

11/29/21 | 5 MIN READ

Learn about how you can use the LEAN Model Canvas to help you draft a grant proposal.

What is a Great Grant Proposal?

Great grant proposals will provide a solution to an important problem. This is what grant reviewers and funders will be looking for when they assess your grant proposal. What makes them great is that they clearly articulate and convince the audience why the problem is important and why your solution is the best for that problem. Whether you're a lab or a start-up, you will need to figure out a way to raise non-dilutive funding for your small business or proposal idea. Your success will depend on whether or not you are able to convince others that you will be good at what you do.

🔬Read: What are SBIR/STTR Grants?business plan stock image

Lean Model Canvas For Startups

Lean model canvas was put together by Ash Maurya. The lean model canvas specifically for startups was adapted from the basic lean model canvas idea. The original basic lean model canvas was created for all types of business plans (startup or not). Learn more about how to create a business plan here.

The lean model canvas plan is a single page document that combines eight aspects of a business. On the single document you should be able to visualize your entire business plan, or in this case proposal. There are two main ideas for the lean model canvas:

  • Put together broad ideas on a single page
  • Allow you to visualize high risk parts of your business and ways to improve your business

Parts of the Lean Model Canvas

Below is a breakdown of the 8 main parts of the Lean Model Canvas. They are:

  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Key Metrics
  • Value Propositions
  • Unfair Advantage
  • Customer Segments
  • Cost Structure
  • Revenue Streams


The problem section allows you to clearly, in a single sentence, state the problem that you are trying to solve. What is the ultimate reason for the business?


Each problem you define in the problem section needs to have a solution that corresponds to your company or project. Your solution should also be a single sentence. The solution is the heart of the product, and this is very important to highlight in your lean model canvas.

Key Metrics

Key metrics refers to how you measure the success of your solution. The metrics should reflect the wellbeing and health of your venture. 

Value Proposition and Customer Segments

The next two main sections are the value proposition and customer segments sections. These two are closely related. Value proposition is about posing a unique value to the solution you create. In order to figure out how it's unique you need to figure out your market. Learn more about value propositions here. Understanding your market is all about understanding your customer segments, and how they might use your product. 

Unfair Advantage

The unfair advantage refers to the maturity of a particular startup or project. You can include other sources of undiluted funding or what your start-up has done in the past to supplement this.

The Cost Structure and the Revenue Streams

The cost structure and the revenue streams are closely linked. The cost structure explains what it will cost for the startup to provide their solution. The revenue streams explain how the startup can fulfill these costs. 

NIH Grant Proposal Scores

The NIH structures its research project grant reviews in five main components. These five components closely relate to that of the lean model canvas's eight components. Learn more about the NIH grant review process here. Here are the five criteria and what they mean:

  • Significance - Is the work important?
  • Innovation - Is it new thinking?
  • Approach - Is it feasible?
  • Investigator(s) - Is the team well suited for this project?
  • Environment - Is there adequate support and resources?

To learn more about how a shared wet lab space can help with your environment score, check out this article

Lean Model Canvas Applied to Grants

In order to customize a lean model canvas for research grants, you will need to edit a few of the categories. The categories for a lean model canvas for research grants are:

  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Novelty
  • Value Proposition 
  • Knowledge of the Field
  • Unfair Advantage
  • Target Audience
  • Resources
  • Potential Impact

As you can see, these are a bit different than the basic categories for a lean model; there are some new categories, explained below.


Novelty means new and unique. You want to use this section to explain what is novel about your solution, and whether there has been a paradigm shift, a shift in thinking, etc. How is your product different from ones that have come before?

Target Audiences

Instead of Customer Segments, you will explain your Target Audience. The target audience is the group that will eventually fund your proposal, in this case the grant reviewers!

Knowledge of the Field

In order to demonstrate that you have knowledge of the field you need to paint yourself as an expert in that field. What is known? What is unknown? Questions like these can help you shape your argument for why you (and your team) are qualified for this project.


The resources section is used to describe what resources you will need to succeed. Do you need a specific team, a specific expertise, or certain type of environment?  You can also elaborate on how you will get these things.

Potential Impact

The potential impact section is where you can elaborate on the impact of your proposal. How big of an impact will you expect? This is different from the target audience in that the target audience is your audience in a funding capacity, not in an innovation impact capacity. Learn more about finding your market here.

business plan document working stock image

Specific Aims or Executive Summary

Purpose of doing a lean model canvas is to be able to better formulate your specific aims or executive summary page on your grant proposal. Creating the model will allow you to visualize your business plan and your plan for your proposal.

The specific aims page needs to reflect a linear form of logic. Begin by identifying the Gap in knowledge or the unmet medical need, and how your solution or goals are matched up with your intended audience. From those objectives you need to make central hypotheses about how your proposal can fix that problem or need.

You should also keep in mind that the Specific Aims Page should be treated like a moving and breathing document that can be edited over time. Many times people edit their Specific Aims page after they have completed their overall grant proposal. This is because they might have a better idea of what they want to articulate after they write the full proposal. You can learn more about the Specific Aims page here. Here are a few tips on making your specific aims page:

  • Lay out your aims clearly so that reviewers understand them the first time
  • Write for a general science audience
  • Pique the reviewers interest
  • Keep it general and interesting

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can a proof of concept experiment help me with my grant proposal?

A: Yes, usually data and other figures can help strengthen your proposal. This is because it shows the reader that your innovation is effective and worthwhile.

Q: How can you write a specific aims page for a technology that is applicable to many markets?

A: One way to go about this is to create a LEAN Model Canvas for each project separately. Then you can vet each project to see what should be included in the overall proposal.

Q: How can I find undiluted funding from the NIH?
A: The NIH has created a great website for finding projects that could fund your idea. Check it out here.

Other Helpful Articles:

9 Strategies for Winning Grants at the NIH and Beyond

This information comes from a talk with Dr. Olga Lubman, ScienceDocs consultant, in partnership with University Lab Partners. Access the video here.

Dr. Lubman is a scientist and an entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in biomedical research in both academic and corporate settings. Dr. Lubman has written and contributed to over 17 different grant applications spanning federal (NIH, NSF) and private foundations raising funds for research and salary support.

Be sure to subscribe to the ULP Youtube Channel to never miss another webinar, and connect with us on LinkedIn to stay in the loop!


The Ultimate Guide to Wet Lab Incubators

Download The Ultimate Guide to Wet Lab Incubators in Southern California, a handbook to assist life science start-ups through the entire decision-making process to find wet lab space.

Download Now

Fill out the form below to download the Ultimate Guide

Apply for residency today

Do you have a great company in the bioscience or medtech industry? Do you need wet-lab and/or fabrication space to develop and test your product?