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 iwho 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.
The Unreasonable Institute also offers fellows online support. Every three weeks the Unreasonable Institute office sends fellows an e-newsletter that lists grant funding and business school competition announcements, as well as information about other fellowship programs like Echoing Green. (The Unreasonable Institute also sends out a public e-newsletter once every two to three weeks – you can sign up to receive it, here.) Cesar manages an online community that fellows log into weekly in order to search for other Unreasonable Institute community members working in their fields of interest and geographic region, based on each fellows’ needs. Fellows can contact each other, Unreasonable Institute mentors, and partners who also maintain profiles on the community. Members of the public can contact fellows through the online community, too. Fellows can update their profiles themselves, and can use them to publicly share accomplishments. Fellows also share “reasons to dance” with each other and Unreasonable Institute staff via the fellowship class email lists. For example 2011 Fellow Thilakam Rajendran just shared that she will receive a 13th NCPEDP – Shell Helen Keller Award in the category of Role Model Supporter of Increased Employment Opportunities for Disabled People. Thilakam invited the other fellows and Unreasonable Institute staff to celebrate with her at the December 2nd ceremony in New Delhi. That is certainly a reason to dance!
As a final testament to the power of the Unreasonable Institute community consider that “to date six people are working around the world with Unreasonable Institute tattoos,” Cesar said. When an Unreasonable Fellow Pierre Bataille married in France last year the wedding was attended by an Unreasonable Institute founder, three fellows, and two members of the Unreasonable TV team. Want to be a part of the Unreasonable Institute community? Apply to be a 2012 fellow! Applications are due November 10th.