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December 2, 2010 / Sophie_Paterson

The Unreasonable Institute

Many people would think that using 25 young entrepreneurs to solve the world’s problems in just six weeks sounds optimistic, or perhaps quixotic, or they might say it sounds downright unreasonable. And they’d be right, but they’d be dealing with The Unreasonable Institute, who make achieving the unachievable their business.

Based in Boulder, Colorado the Unreasonable Institute selects 25 top social entrepreneurs from across the globe and through a 6 week intensive incubation, attempts to nurture, support and accelerate them and their ideas into the success stories of the future. The Institute has over 60 high-flying mentors from various industries, who live and work with the entrepreneurs during June and July.

The UI’s promotional video shows the personal side of the experience, with the fun and vivacity of an American summer camp the 25 ‘Unreasonable Fellows’ come to regard each other as siblings, but don’t be disarmed by their high-five happy exteriors, these people mean business. The video highlights their ethical convictions as they learn the skills and get the support they need to tackle the challenges facing the world today. It may sounds grandiose, but the UI prides itself on thinking big. Poverty, the environment and global hunger are high on their agenda and applicants are encouraged to affect at least 1 million people with their models. The UI ethos leans heavily towards the self-help models of enterprise which allow people and communities to grow out of dependency and become self-sufficient. Vladimir Dubovskiy, Creativity Expert for the team talks about “Harnessing the forces of capitalism to propel competitive social change.”

You may wonder how on earth you can run admissions for such a scheme. How do they separate the great from the genius? But the UI has that covered too. Applications are followed by interviews for a promising 100 candidates who are then narrowed down to 50. In a fundamental test of entrepreneurial ability, fifty finalists showcase their innovative ideas online, where the public vote through sponsorship for those they think are the best. The first 25 people to reach $8,000 in sponsorship will become Unreasonable Fellows. To keep the process democratic and challenging the sponsorship is capped per-week so applicants must network to raise capital from as many people as possible rather than gaining large investments from a few sponsors. This sponsorship covers the tuition fees and living costs for the successful 25, whilst the unsuccessful 25 keep their sponsorship (minus a 5% admin fee). However the global exposure of being in the final 50 is extremely valuable in itself.

The UI is now in its second formal year and the world hasn’t been saved yet, so I asked Tyler Hartung VP Finance & Operations what his team use as measures for their success:

In the short term, we can look at things like: Are they hitting major milestones to advance their venture towards creating the impact they pledged? Are they locking up key partnerships, board/advisory members?   Are they gaining investment necessary to move forward?”

“At the highest level, success will be about the impact that Unreasonable entrepreneurs go on to create. How many lives have they improved? How have those lives been improved?  Has their idea been replicated in other places the problem exists?”

The UI has some very high profile partners who are already doing or are developing programs to support early-stage entrepreneurs and they are “ecstatic” to see similar intensive projects cropping up across the globe, Tyler Hartung again: “If more organizations arise who are working towards a similar end goal, we are going to leave this world in a vastly better place than we found it.  How could we not be excited about that?!  Of course, we would like to be as involved in that as possible, but really it’s not about us or any other organization, it’s about improving the current state of our world in immense ways.”

As the UI model is replicated internationally it will be interesting to see whether the UK is capable of forgetting its famed cynicism in favour of some unreasonable thinking.

Applications to become a 2011 Unreasonable Fellow close on the 15th of December and on January the 15th anyone can be unreasonable by sponsoring their favourite entrepreneurial ideas.


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