Saturday, December 24, 2011

Unreasonable Institute: Reasons to Dance

I write for Care2. This post was originally published on Nov 11, on the Care2 Trailblazers For Good blog. I really enjoyed researching and writing this post, so sharing it here on Pop Culture Activist, too!



Each year Boulder, CO based nonprofit the Unreasonable Institute hosts twenty-five promising entrepreneurs from around the world who are developing solutions to solve some of the world’s greatest problems. The entrepreneurs spend six weeks living together under one roof where they receive training and establish connections with first-class mentors and investment decision makers. At the conclusion of the Institute each fellow gives their pitch to an audience of four hundred people, of which at least one hundred are potential investors. The fellows become a part of a growing network of Unreasonable Institute alumni, mentors, entrepreneurs, consulting organizations and partners.

 I caught up with Tyler Hartung, Co Founder and VP Finance and Operationsf to learn more about these relationships and the power of the Unreasonable Institute network. Tyler said “You can only do so much in six weeks. The number one most valuable thing about the Institute is the relationships you build.”

 Relationship building begins with the selection process. The top fifty finalists for each fellowship cohort are then challenged to crowdfund the Institution’s participation fee. During this process the entrepreneurs connect to each other extensively via email to help each other succeed in the process. The first twenty-five finalists to meet the goal are admitted to the Institute. Tyler said that as a result the fifty finalists “are not competing against each other, but collectively against failure”. He has seen fellows who have already met the campaign goal to help other finalists cross the finish line. Two applicants, one from Guatemala and one from Mexico, were working on related ventures. Even though the Mexican applicant did not make it into the crowdfunding challenge, the entrepreneur became essential to the success of the Guatemalan entrepreneurs’ fundraising efforts. After attending the Institute, the Gautemalan entrepreneur visited and consulting with the Mexican entrepreneurs team!

The six-week program also facilitates relationship building. One year the Institute had four fellows from Canada, South Africa, India and China who are mothers and entrepreneurs. The women bonded over these commonalities during the Institute and are still in touch. Instead of listening to lectures fellows go on hikes with mentors, and pitches to potential investors are replaced with dinner table conversations. “Business isn’t business”, Tyler says. “Business is people. Capital and connections flow through relationships and people.” As a result of the relationships that fellows develop through Unreasonable Institute they are able to scale faster and can impact more lives. For example 2010 Fellow Daniel Rosen re-launched his venture Solar Mosaic after the conclusion of the Institute, and was able to hire employees – including another fellow from the 2010 cohort, Rafael Smith!

2010 Fellow Cesar Gonzalez now works for the Unreasonable Institute as VP of Systems. I got to talk with Cesar about alumni relations, one of the programs that he manges for the Unreasonable Institute. Cesar reaches out to two to three of the Unreasonable Institute’s fifty fellows each week, for hour-long conversations. Fellows update Cesar on their progress and needs. Cesar can then provide guidance and connections to the fellows, as needed. Upon learning that 2011 Fellow Anne Githuku-Songwe was looking for a developer Cesar introduced Anne to 2010 Fellow Ben Lyon who had recently performed his own search for a developer, and had resources to share with Anne. Fellows from different class years are also given the opportunity to meet and collaborate once a year at the Institute, when former classes are invited back to celebrate the new class of Unreasonable Fellows. When fellows visit regions where other fellows live they get together for “Unreasonable Drinks” – recent meet ups took place in New York City, Palto Alto, CA and Uganda.

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