Verity Noble

Reasonably Big Changes at the Unreasonable Insitute : Disruption is our business, which is why we’re shaking things up

Here at the Unreasonable Institute things are ticking along nicely: 21 out of 22 entrepreneurs from the summer 2012 institute have investors interested in funding them, a total of $23.3 million has been raised by Unreasonable Fellows since the program began back in 2009, and we’ve seen the creation of more than 400 jobs through the growth of their enterprises – great results. So we should just keep doing what we’re doing, right? WRONG!!

Unreasonable’s aim is to positively impact billions of lives, not thousands; to accelerate high-impact ventures from Outer Mongolia to Rio, not just the 25 ventures who come to Boulder each year; and to unlock entrepreneurial potential in everyone to overcome our world’s greatest challenges, not just in those who call themselves entrepreneurs.

To do this, we need to scale and then scale some more, we need to make sure we continuously improve as an organization to provide the best possible blueprint for the program to be reproduced all over the world. So for the 2013 institute we are working to deepen the quality of our program for those who participate and we’re making a few changes:

1. It’s open to teams. While individual entrepreneurs are still welcome to attend, the 2013 Institute is also open to two members of a team.

What led us to this change?

Feedback from entrepreneurs told us that they could have got so much MORE out of the institute if only they had the bandwidth.

One person alone trying to attend every workshop, soak up all the awesome mentor advice, build relationships with capital partners, strategize with their fellow Unreasonables, prepare presentations and overhaul their business model, all while maintaining contact with their team at home and continuing to run their business, is, understandably, almost impossible. (Not that we particularly like that word!)

By opening it up to team members, we expect the enterprises to accelerate even faster simply due to increased work capacity and having someone else on site who has in-depth knowledge of that enterprise.

2. Fewer ventures will be admitted. In the past, the Unreasonable Institute has always chosen around two-dozen companies to attend the Unreasonable Institute. This year, we will be focusing on 10-20 and going deeper.

What led us to this change?

Imagine 25 Unreasonable entrepreneurs, 10 mentors, four capital partners, five Unreasonable team members, five mavericks (Unreasonable interns) and two wonderful chefs all being in one big frat house together at any one time. Yeah, you’ve got it, it can be as crazy as … well, something pretty darn crazy!

Feedback told us that while everyone loved the camaraderie, sometimes the chaos detracted from what we were trying to do – helping unlock entrepreneurial potential to overcome our world’s greatest challenges. Fewer ventures will enable Mentors, Capital Partners and the Unreasonable team to focus more of their time per entrepreneur, and will give the entrepreneurs the space they need to learn how to scale their businesses tenfold.

At the end of the day our metric is not around the number of ventures at the institute but the number of lives that are affected, so we have chosen to experiment with fewer ventures to see if we can accelerate fewer faster.

3. The application process is half as long (but still as stringent!) In the past three years, the Institute’s application process took six months to run and included a crowdfunding challenge. We have now simplified the selection to a 3-month process, enabling us to pick the entrepreneurs attending by December 23, 2012.

What led us to this change?

A mentor from New York who has built and scaled 10 manufacturing businesses in Minnesota can give mind blowing business advice to an Unreasonable entrepreneur from Africa who is working to change the face of microfinance through mobile technology. But just imagine if we found a mentor from Africa who has built and scaled ten mobile phone networks, and sits on the board of two microfinance institutions? Their contextual experience, expertise and in-country contacts could mean the advice and support they can offer is truly and immediately game-changing for that enterprise.

The faster selection process now gives the Unreasonable Team 6 whole months to select mentors and funders that are particularly relevant to the chosen ventures, and to customize what we’re doing for the specific entrepreneurs we bring in. (This is why we’re making these announcements now).

We believe that the seemingly unbroken norms and processes we follow are often those that provide the richest opportunities for growth. They tend to be the things we ignore, precisely because they don’t change, so change them we shall!

Verity Noble is the vice president of Programming at the Unreasonable Institute.

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