Tyler Hartung

Now In Its ‘Junior’ Year, Unreasonable Institute is Open for Business as Unusual

It causes me to reflect nostalgically when I say that we are nearing our third Unreasonable Institute, or as some would say, entering our “junior” year.

When American high school students enter their junior year (their third of four years of high school) they face tests that will determine which colleges they may (or may not) attend. Those in sports are expected to compete and perform at the varsity level. They move from underclassmen to upperclassmen. In short, the stakes are upped.

For the Unreasonable Institute the stakes are upped as well. This could, and by all means should, be an inflection year.

We can already see that inflection point happening when we look at the Finalists on the Unreasonable Marketplace, which is where the Finalist’s venture profiles are posted and where the world decides which 25 ultimately become Fellows in a race to raise the cost to attend the Institute.

Each year the finalists on the Marketplace are more and more advanced in terms of milestones to date, revenue generated, customers and beneficiaries served, and capital raised. For example, one entrepreneur on the Marketplace is already reaching 2 million customers per month with a product that fights malnutrition.

Additionally, thanks to the help of our Pipeline Partners we have reached entrepreneurs in countries where we have never before seen applicantions from including for the first time ventures from Palestine and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We continue to push hard to meet more “varsity level” mentors and engage new forms of Capital Partners who can bring invaluable insight and resources as these ventures try to scale to create Unreasonable impact.

On the other end, we now have 50 Fellows that have gone through our program, our Unreasonable Tribe. Some have succeeded wildly. Others have struggled. We are committed to bringing value to all of them.

(Left: Unreasonable Fellow Cynthia Koenig in discussion after an event. Image credit: Unreasonable Institute).

Amongst all this, as we grow as an organization – at times up to 15 people working on Institute-related things, nearing 150 partners around the world, 100 mentors, and soon to be 75 entrepreneurs/teams/ventures that we are committed to supporting – we work hard to keep the fast moving, agile, entrepreneur focused, relationships-oriented organization that we started as.

When I think back to my junior year I remember one other great aspect. That was the year I realized that if I set my mind to it I could bring more value to the world than I ever before imagined. We enter our junior year at Unreasonable with that same outlook.

Here’s to an Unreasonable junior year for everyone.

Editor’s Note: Check out the full press release on how to influence this year’s Unreasonable Insitute after the jump.


Boulder, Colorado – January 10, 2012 – Forty-six entrepreneurs hailing from 25 countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Netherlands, Chile, Palestine, India, and the United States, vie for twenty-five spots in the Unreasonable Institute, a six-week, high-intensity accelerator for companies using business as a means to tackle the world’s greatest social and environmental challenges. These forty-six finalists have already gotten through two rounds of vetting, outlasting over 300 applicants from 60 countries. And they face one final test: raising the $10,000 it costs to attend the Unreasonable Institute in 50 days in successively increasing small increments. The first 25 to succeed gain admission to the most Unreasonable program of their lives.

Getting into the Unreasonable Institute means living under one roof with two dozen entrepreneurs from around the world for six weeks, while learning from 50 mentors ranging from Tony Prophet, SVP of the Worldwide Supply Chain for HP, to Paul Polak, an entrepreneurs who’s enabled over 19 million farmers to move out of poverty. It means being able to form relationships with 20 major impact investment funds like Acumen Fund, Calvert, and Good Capital and dozens of angel investors. The six-week program culminates with a massive pitch event in front of hundreds of potential funders and supporters, after which entrepreneurs join a network of nearly 200 partner organizations. Nathaniel Koloc, one of last year’s “Unreasonable Fellows” said of his experience: “we got more done in 6 weeks than we would have in a year.” His venture, ReWork, quadrupled its monthly revenue, scaled to a second city, and secured two mentors for its board.

But why ask entrepreneurs to crowdfund $10,000 to get in? “If you’re going to hire someone for a sales position at your company, you ought to look at their sales record or ask them to sell you something,” explains Unreasonable Institute Program Director Megha Agrawal. “So we’re asking our entrepreneurs to show us that they can make the ask, that they can mobilize hundreds of supporters, that they can raise capital, and ultimately, that they will do whatever it takes to make it to the Unreasonable Institute.”

And it works. The 50 entrepreneurs that have gone through the Unreasonable Institute in the past 2 years so far have raised $375,000 total on the Marketplace thanks to the grassroots campaigns built by the entrepreneurs themselves, the marketing by hundreds of Unreasonable partner organizations, and the support of HP, which has again teamed up with the Institute. Aside from helping to raise awareness of the Unreasonable Marketplace with its global network, HP is contributing a scholarship fund for the entrepreneurs and providing technology for the 25 Fellows. “From these combined efforts we’ve had former child soldiers from Liberia, Nigerian farmers, Pakistani villagers, Congolese refugees, McKinsey consultants, and MIT grads raise the money successfully,” says Agrawal.

To make sure to the challenge doesn’t fall prey to the “Rich Uncle Problem” – where a wealthy benefactor dumps all the money on an entrepreneur at once – there are weekly contribution caps. “In the first week, the entrepreneurs cannot receive contributions larger than $10,” says Agrawal. That limit goes to $50 in the second week, $100 in the third week, and so on. “So entrepreneurs have to a form small movement of hundreds of people to get in.”

In the Unreasonable Institute’s last Marketplace, Ugandan entrepreneur Moses Sanga was initially skeptical of his ability to raise the money to attend the 2011 Institute. He started his company, Eco-Fuel Africa, enabling villagers to turn agricultural waste into a clean burning fuel source, with only $500. “How do these people expect a guy like me from a remote village in Africa, with no rich friends or relatives and with limited access to the internet to raise thousands of dollars?” he said he wondered at first. “No one in my entire village even knew what a credit card is and the nearest place to access internet was 17 kilometers away.” Despite his father telling him not to waste his time, Moses decided to give it a try anyway. He walked the 17 kilometers and spoke with CEOs of local businesses. “I simply shared my honest life story. One person heard it and he was touched. He told a friend and that friend told another friend. Before I knew it, I had many supporters around the world.” Moses not only succeeded in raising the money to attend the Institute, he went on to raise $60,000 at the Unreasonable Institute and to win a spot as a TED Fellow.

If you’re keen to support Unreasonable entrepreneurs striving to change the world like Moses Sanga, you’ll have your chance on at www.unreasonableinstitute.org/marketplace when the Marketplace goes live on January 17, 2012 for 50 days, closing March 7th.

How can you take part and make a change?


– Visit the Marketplace at http:// unreasonableinstitute.org/marketplace

– Read the stories of the entrepreneurs and learn about their ventures

– Donate to the ventures that get you most excited

– Share your vote via the email, Twitter (use #givewings) and Facebook links from the entrepreneur’s profile page


About Unreasonable Institute

Unreasonable Institute is a mentor-intensive accelerator for startup entrepreneurs and ventures hungry to tackle the world’s greatest social and environmental problems. Founded in 2010, the Unreasonable Institute annually unites 25 high-impact entrepreneurs from around the world in Boulder, Colo. for six weeks. During that time, the entrepreneurs live and work with 50 world-class mentors, pitch their ventures to hundreds of, obtain legal advice and design consulting, form relationships with up to 30 impact investment funds, and prepare to launch financially self-sustaining, globally scalable ventures that can serve the needs of at least 1 million people.

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