The Unreasonable Institute, version 2.0
The Unreasonable Institute is gearing up for its second year and the wind is at its back. More than half the entrepreneurs selected last year received funding to implement their ideas or start their businesses, which included micro-home solutions for the urban poor in New Delhi, an institute in India for girls formerly engaged in sex work and a reality TV show about entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.
Organizers have gotten dozens of mentors from the fields of business, environmental activism and social entrepreneurship to return to the sprawling sorority house in Boulder, Colorado, where the institute is housed. [Disclosure: Dowser's founder, David Bornstein, was a mentor last year.] They are currently soliciting applications for this year’s cohort of 25 fellows — and trying to figure out how to improve the idea.
One change this year is that the program will run for six weeks rather than ten because serious entrepreneurs are reluctant to take that much time away from their work. The selection process will be angled towards entrepreneurs who have more developed business ideas. They’ll be looking for candidates who have prototypes of their products, or models, rather than those who are still sifting through the ideas stage. They’ll also be partial to entrepreneurs who have actually sold products. Even getting $1 in real sales, explains Tyler Hartung, VP of Finance and Operations, “shows they’re out there getting feedback [and] interacting with the market.” Last year, one fellow recognized a few weeks into the program that he needed to spend more time talking with potential customers before he could move forward with his business idea. This year, if you plan to apply, be sure that you understand your customer base.
The institute was founded to help social entrepreneurs (with businesses or not-for-profit ventures) accelerate their impact. Its curriculum reads like a mash-up of a 6-week MBA program and a “Real World” episode. Entrepreneurs live and eat together, exchange ideas, receive training, confer with mentors, and have the opportunity to pitch to serious funders. And all of this gets captured on Unreasonable TV.
To qualify, the entrepreneurs must have a big idea — one that promises to make a positive social or environmental impact, and has the potential to reach a million people. Out of hundreds of applicants, 50 finalists get to prove their mettle by raising the $8,000 to attend the program. They must do so in $50 to $100 dollar installments — and it’s a race. The first 25 to finish get to attend the institute.
This year the institute will also be expanding its “pipeline partners” — drawing applicants from 80 organizations (four times as many as last year) and fellows will be making trips to New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. to meet with potential partners and social investors.