Frequently Asked Questions
Note that these questions and answers are primarily about the Unreasonable Institute at Boulder.
General Questions about the Unreasonable Institute
What is the Unreasonable Institute?
The Unreasonable Institute gets world-changing entrepreneurs what they need to scale their impact. Each year, we unite 20 entrepreneurs from every corner of the globe to live under the same roof for 5 weeks in Boulder, Colorado. These entrepreneurs receive training from 100+ world-class mentors, ranging from a Time Magazine Hero of the Planet, to the former head of user experience at Google X, to an entrepreneur who’s enabled over 20 million farmers to move out of poverty. In the process, these entrepreneurs form relationships with 250+ investors and funds, receive legal advice & design consulting, and pitch to hundreds of potential investors at the end of the Institute. Our goal is to accelerate these ventures so they can scale to meet the needs of at least one million people each. Check out the “What We Do” page for more info.
Where is the Unreasonable Institute based?
In 2014, the Unreasonable Institute has three locations: the flagship program in Boulder, Colorado, plus new programs in Aguascalientes, Mexico and Kampala, Uganda.
- The beautiful city of Boulder, Colorado, USA (ranked by Forbes Magazine as the most educated city in the United States in 2008) has a thriving entrepreneurial climate, a world-class university, and is becoming a true Mecca for social innovation and early stage investment. Check out these articles about Boulder in BusinessWeek, GQ, and Fast Company.
- Unreasonable Mexico is headquartered in Aguascalientes, repeatedly recognized as one of the cities with the best quality of life in Latin America. It has also been named the cleanest city in Latin America, and OECD has recognized Aguascalientes as having the best business climate standards in the world. For more about Unreasonable Mexico, go here.
- Kampala is the capital city of Uganda, and is now the home of Unreasonable East Africa! Kampala is emerging as a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, led by its millennial generation. 78% of Uganda’s population is under the age of 30, and the energy of the country’s young people is palpable. Check out this great piece about the rising young leadership in Africa. For more about Unreasonable East Africa, go here.
Why did you choose the name “Unreasonable Institute?”
The name is based on a quotation by George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man [and woman].” Plus, it describes exactly the kind of entrepreneur we are looking for: someone who is willing to ignore the skeptics, to persist through failure, and do whatever it takes to change the world for the better.
Who’s behind the program and why are you doing this?
We are a group of young and highly unreasonable people, who faced challenges in starting our own social ventures in the past. We hungered to unleash the power of entrepreneurship to tackle the world’s greatest problems. As startup entrepreneurs, we faced an array of obstacles and over time we realized thousands of early-stage entrepreneurs around the world faced the same hurdles. With a belief that we cannot afford to send the next generation of young people into the world unprepared to tackle its greatest challenges, we knew something had to be done. Creating the Unreasonable Institute was our answer.
How does the Unreasonable Institute sustain itself financially?
Our main source of revenue comes from the $10-12,000 USD we charge each team for attending the Institute, bringing in about $250,000 in revenue for us. We also raise around $250,000 in philanthropic funding from foundations, corporations, and high-net worth individuals. Our main funders so far include Halloran Philanthropies, Hewlett Packard, the Small Foundation, Vodafone Americas Foundation, Shell Gamechanger, Neal Baer, Kim Scheinberg, Rafe Furst, and Bob Pattillo.
What Happens at the Unreasonable Institute?
What does a typical day at the Unreasonable Institute look like for an Unreasonable Fellow?
A typical day at the Unreasonable Institute looks like this (note: everything before 6pm is always optional. Additionally this schedule may change based on feedback from Fellows):
7:30am – 9:00am: Breakfast
9:30am – 12:00pm: Optional Workshops to build skills essential for building an Unreasonable Venture, led by Mentors, Capital Partners, and the Unreasonable Team (optional)
12:00pm – 2:00pm: Lunch
12:00pm – 6:00pm: Protected time for Fellows to work (e.g. meet with Mentors and Capital Partners, correspond with teammates, respond to emails, convert the workshop learnings into tangible takeaways, etc.)
6:00pm – 7:00pm: Capital Partner and Mentor introductions. Get to know the people who will help you build your business.
7:00pm – 8:30pm: Dinner
After 8:30pm: Free Time
Here are two more resources to help you understand what happens at the Unreasonable Institute:
- Our Film Crew produced this online TV series to offer you a glimpse into life at the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder!
- Read this awesome blog post written by 2011 Unreasonable Fellow Saba Gul (Pakistan) on her experience at the Unreasonable Institute.
What does the 5-week Institute look like?
The 2014 Institute will look similar to the 2013 Institute schedule outlined on our Unreasonable Calendar page, except the 2014 Institute will be 5 weeks long instead of 6 weeks. Once you get to the calendar page, scroll back to June 12–July 23, 2013 to get a sense of the day-to-day and week-to-week schedule. In addition to the regular daily structure, the following notable events will also occur during the 5 weeks:
- The Unreasonable Institute Opening Reception, where 200 local supporters in the Boulder community will gather to hear about the work of the Unreasonable Fellows and to celebrate the launch.
- Mentor Week, when a large number of mentors arrive to provide 1-1 and team-based coaching and support to Unreasonable Fellows. This is a key time each Fellow to form lasting relationships with mentors, and to test out the formation of a Mentor Team, which can serve as a long-term advisory group for the venture.
- Weekly “Huddles”, where Unreasonable Fellows will be given relentless feedback and constructive criticism in small groups by their peers and by the Unreasonable team to improve and fill holes in their models, share lessons and utilize the powerful peer community to obtain feedback and rapidly advance their venture, and prepare for investor pitches.
- The Unreasonable Climax, where Unreasonable Fellows will pitch their ventures to over 850 potential funders, partners, and local supporters.
- Investor Days is a 2-day event bringing Unreasonable Fellows together with 100 Angels, Fund Managers, and Foundation Heads. We focus these two days on building relationships between funders and entrepreneurs. If you’re interested in learning more about how many entrepreneurs have received funding through the Unreasonable Institute, visit our Results Page.
What opportunities does the Unreasonable Institute provide to acquire funding?
Does the Unreasonable Institute guarantee funding for its Fellows?
We cannot and do not guarantee that our Fellows will receive funding at the Unreasonable Institute. However, we do guarantee unprecedented exposure to funders and world-class relationships with hundreds of capital sources. Fundamentally, our goal is to go to bat for you, to do everything we can to get you the resources you need to rocket ahead. You can read about how many Unreasonable Fellows have received funding here.
Does the Unreasonable Institute provide access to both philanthropic capital (grants and foundation money) and investment capital (equity and debt)?
Yes! Some Mentors and Capital Partners focus on philanthropic capital, while other Mentors and Capital Partners focus on investment capital. We invite all types of capital sources to Investor Days (and survey the Fellows about types of capital and potential sources they believe should be there), ensuring there is an abundance and diversity of funding opportunities available.
Where do Unreasonable Fellows live during the Institute?
At the Unreasonable Institute at Boulder, you will live in a former fraternity house in the heart of Boulder, Colorado that we affectionately call the Unreasonable Mansion. But, make no mistake — the house is beautiful, comfortable, clean, and it is our home for the course of the Institute! Fellows will bunk up, sharing rooms with 1-2 other Fellows, sharing meals with each other, and with visiting Mentors, and Capital Partners, who also live at the Unreasonable Mansion while in town. The house will be adjacent to the University of Colorado campus, where we will lead many of our discussions, skill training sessions, and workshops. Overwhelmingly, past Fellows, Mentors, and Capital Partners have been delighted by the chance to live under one roof together and have found the house amply comfortable.
Do I have to stay in Boulder for the entire 5-week Institute?
The most valuable service we provide to our Unreasonable Fellows is our 5-week summer Institute. If accepted as an Unreasonable Fellow, you will have been chosen from hundreds of applicants around the world. We ask that you attend the full 5 weeks of the summer institute without missing more than 4 days (not including Sundays). If you require a few days to travel to participate in exceptional opportunities, meetings, or conferences that you believe will accelerate your venture, we will be happy to discuss those opportunities with you.
I’m concerned that 5 weeks is too much time.
This is one of the most common concerns that we hear about attending the Unreasonable Institute and we certainly understand the difficulty of leaving your home, family, and team for 5 weeks. Seeing that we will be welcoming about 50 mentors to the Institute and 100 of the world’s top investment funds and foundations, running weekly pitchfests and hosting a culminating pitching event with hundreds of potential funders and acclaimed entrepreneurs, we have found that the best length for the Institute is 5 or 6 weeks. The best evidence that we can offer is the words of our alumni. Get their take on whether or not it was worth it here. The Institute was actually 6 weeks long in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and our 2010 entrepreneurs attended our program when it was 10 weeks long! For 2014, we are trying a 5-week program, to see if we can shave off a week while maintaining an equal level of value and productivity for the ventures.
Can we guarantee that this 5 weeks is a better use of your time than staying with your market? No. But according to our mentor Paul Polak, credited for lifting over 20 million farmers out of poverty, developing a transformative product or service that meets the needs of your customers is only 20% of the job. The hard part, 80% of the job, is marketing, distributing, and sustaining your organization. Our focus is on the latter part of the job.
Who can I contact if I have more questions?
Please feel to contact us at email@example.com or contact any one of our team members by clicking here.
Am I eligible for the Unreasonable Institute?
What sorts of companies are eligible to apply to the Unreasonable Institute?
We work with for-profit, non-profit, and hybrid ventures tackling social and environmental problems that have strong market intimacy and validation for their product. Aside from being fueled by a drive to effectively addresses a social or environmental problem, an Unreasonable Venture must have a full-time team of at least 2 people, have completed a prototype or pilot, be able to prove that they have meaningfully engaged with their customers, and be highly-scalable (capable of reaching at least 1 million people). We also look for ventures that have generated revenue through the sale of their core product or service. Read more about our eligibility criteria here or take our eligibility quiz here. We should note that while we overwhelmingly prefer that applicants meet our eligibility criteria, we believe in being unreasonable. To us, that means that if you don’t meet one or more of our criteria but you truly believe that you belong at the Unreasonable Institute, then convince us you deserve a spot and apply anyway. Just know that while indeed we have made a few exceptions, we overwhelmingly select in accordance with our eligibility criteria.
Why do you select ventures that have significant market intimacy instead of earlier stage ventures?
In running the Institute in the past four years, we realized that because we take entrepreneurs away from their markets for 5 weeks, we aren’t as effective in helping them find “product-market fit.” Instead, we’ve observed that the entrepreneurs who often benefit the most from the Institute are those that have validated their business models (by generating revenue) and impact models on the ground — when they come to the Institute, they get the guidance and resources to scale up. That’s why we are focusing the 2014 Institute on entrepreneurs that have this foundation of market intimacy. And that means we’re looking for entrepreneurs who have generated revenue, built strong teams, and shown that their solutions actually solve needs that their target populations have. If you’re able to make the case that your solution can be scaled without doing any of the above, then we welcome you to present your argument. Just know that we won’t be that easy too convince.
Why do you accept only ventures with sales revenues/earned revenue?
For 2014, we will be considering for-profit, non-profit, and hybrid ventures. “For-profit” and “non-profit” is a distinction in tax law and we’re not so concerned about which legal structure you’ve chosen. This is a shift from the 2012 and 2013 Unreasonable Institutes, when we selected only for-profit ventures. We learned that we don’t need to be as stringent about how a venture is legally incorporated. What is more important is selecting ventures with a strong market-based, cash-generating engine for growth. As an example of a non-profit with an market-based engine for growth, consider BRAC. BRAC is the largest non-profit in the world, but it generates 80% of its annual budget from sales revenues, not donations. We like this. Of course, we also like for-profit ventures. Given the mentors, investors, and curriculum we have assembled over the last four years, we are in the best position to serve ventures that grow based on a foundation of revenue from sales of a product or service.
We are a founding team. Can our entire team attend the 5-week Institute?
To be eligible for the Unreasonable Institute, your startup can’t be just a solo venture. We require that you have a team. In fact, starting in 2013, we invited two people per venture and the vast majority of ventures brought two people. You are not required to apply as a team, but we do suggest it based on feedback we’ve received from entrepreneurs who have attended past Institutes and had a period of overlap with teammates. They reported that their productivity dramatically increased. The cost of attending the Institute with two members of your team is $12,000. The cost of attending as the solo representative of your team is $10,000.
I’m a single founder without teammates so far. Can I get accepted into the Unreasonable Institute or do you only look for teams?
We only accept ventures run by teams of at least two people. This is because, to us, having a teammate on board demonstrates you’ve been able to light at least one other person on fire with your vision and that you are prepared for serious execution. Our observation is that if you are not able to convince another person to join you, it will be difficult to convince funders and mentors to commit to working with you into the long-term as well.
How do I improve my chances of becoming an Unreasonable Fellow?
You can follow the suggestions outlined on the Eligibility page — scroll down to the heading that starts “If you can show us the following…”.
Is my age a factor in your selection process?
No, as long as you’re over 18. In the past, we have accepted Fellows between the ages of 23 and 62.
Do I need to send in a business plan?
No. Our application process consists of 11 short answer questions that are designed to understand your target market, the effectiveness of your solution, your business model, and your team’s ability to execute your solution. Aside from the questions we ask in our application, we do not accept outside materials like business plans.
Can I apply if I’m not from the United States?
Yes, yes and yes. Not only can you apply, we are dedicated to working with entrepreneurs from around the world. We firmly believe that the issues we face today are global in scope and that solutions to these issues require global effort. For that reason, we absolutely, without doubt, accept entrepreneurs from every corner of the world. For our 2013 Institute alone, entrepreneurs applied from 47 countries!
Is my company too early (or late) stage to apply to Unreasonable?
We do not accept ventures that are in the idea stage.
The Unreasonable Institute Global at Boulder looks for ventures that are significantly past their pilot or prototype stage and have significant market validation for their venture (in the form of sales revenue). We’ve seen ventures that have already generated over $2 million in revenue take away tremendous value from the Unreasonable Institute. Take a look at Unreasonable TV Episode 2 for an example. And take a close look at the Eligibility page. Still not sure after all that? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note that Unreasonable Mexico and Unreasonable East Africa are looking for ventures that have a product or service (beyond idea-stage), but who are working to understand how to sell that product effectively or how to design the product or service in a way that produces real impact for their target population. In other words, the programs in Mexico and East Africa are for ventures that are earlier-stage than the program in Boulder, but all three programs require some market validation.
Do you require entrepreneurial experience?
We are looking for a relentless entrepreneurial spirit in all Unreasonable Fellows. This does not necessarily mean that you have already founded a company or organization, though we do appreciate that level of experience. What it does mean is that we are looking for people who are resilient to failure, who persist through the challenges, and who have a record of taking problems into their own hands to create solutions. If you haven’t created a venture in the past, convince us you are unyielding enough to weather the challenges of starting an enterprise.
If I’m not an Unreasonable Fellow, will the Institute still help me with my business?
To be of service to deserving entrepreneurs all over the world, our sister organization Unreasonable Group has created Unreasonable.is. Several of our mentors, including Paul Polak, Tom Chi, Hunter Lovins, Chris Yeh, Pascal Finette, Cheryl Heller, and Seth Levine write blogs here. Our founders Daniel Epstein, Tyler Hartung, and Teju Ravilochan also write on Unreasonable.is. Beyond pointing you to relevant resources, we unfortunately cannot prioritize reading business plans, helping you find funders, or giving you in-depth advice as we are dedicating our time to working deeply with the handful of entrepreneurs we have chosen. But we encourage you to apply to the Unreasonable Institute and if you land a spot, we’ll do everything we can to help you!
My English is not very good. Can I still apply?
We are an international organization and firmly believe that English is not a pre-requisite to being an incredible entrepreneur.
The Unreasonable Institute at Boulder will be run in English, so you would need to be able to read, write, and speak English sufficiently to communicate with the English-speaking mentors and staff at this location.
Note that the Unreasonable Mexico program will be run in Spanish (translated provided for some mentors who may be English-speaking). The Unreasonable East Africa program will be run primarily in English, but as you may know, many Africans speak multiple languages and we expect the program there to reflect that. In future years, we hope and plan to open more Unreasonable Institute programs in more countries which operate in the languages local to those places.
What is the application process like?
How does your application process work?
The application process to become an Unreasonable fellow consists of three stages: (1) a written application, (2) an interview, (3) and a deeper follow-on interview with an expert. To learn about this process in detail, read more here.
What is the timeline for your application process?
The application process timeline is detailed here. Applications for the Unreasonable Institute at Boulder will open on September 23 and close on November 7, 2013. We’ll conduct the first round of Interviews between December 2 and December 13. The final round of interviews will take place from January 6 – January 17. The 2014 Fellows will be chosen by January 20, 2014.
When will applicants know that they are accepted into the Unreasonable Institute?
They will know no later than January 20th, 2014!
How much does it cost to attend the Unreasonable Institute?
The Unreasonable Institute at Boulder costs $12,000 USD for two representatives of a team to attend and $10,000 USD for one representative of a team to attend. Read the details about the costs of attending the Unreasonable Institute at Boulder on our Costs Page.
Didn’t you used to run something called the Unreasonable Marketplace? What happened to that?
Yes, we did indeed run something called the Unreasonable Marketplace. It used to be the third and final stage of our selection process. We’d select 50 finalists and challenge them to raise the $10,000 it cost to attend the Unreasonable Institute on our online crowdfunding platform. We used it to select entrepreneurs for our first 3 Institutes. While it worked in the end, we found that it put applicants from lower-income nations at a disadvantage. We also felt that it forced accomplished entrepreneurs to jump through hoops unnecessarily. You can read a blog post that we wrote on the subject here if you’re interested in more information.
We still use the Marketplace but not for selection any more. Now we use it to help the entrepreneurs we’ve chosen to attend the 2013 Institute. In case they cannot afford or do not wish to pay the $10-12,000 it costs to attend the Institute out of pocket, they can use the platform to raise the funds from friends, family, and other contacts.
What does the $10-12,000 cover?
The $10-12,000 (depending on whether you’re attending as a single representative of your team or with a teammate) pays for everything while at the Institute, including housing, food, training, flying out the mentors, staffing, and all excursions. The costs are low for 5 weeks because we’ve secured in kind sponsorships of space and technology from a number of our sponsoring partners. Read more about the costs of the Institute here.
Does the $10-12,000 cover roundtrip airfare and visa costs?
No, unfortunately it does not. However, we are keen to help applicants who require financial assistance and can provide loans, possible access to sponsorship, and other solutions to help applicants secure the financial resources they require to attend the Unreasonable Institute. If you are accepted as an Unreasonable Fellow, please speak with the Unreasonable Team if you need financial assistance with your travel and visa arrangements.
Questions about Launching New Unreasonable Institutes
What is involved in an Unreasonable Lab?
An Unreasonable Lab is a 5-day mini-Unreasonable Institute. The goal of the Unreasonable Lab is to accelerate a small group of local entrepreneurs by matching them with mentors, running workshops, and helping them prepare for investment. Semi-finalists will be responsible for inviting entrepreneurs, locking up mentors, securing event space, and structuring the 5-day experience.
What can I spend the US$10,000 on?
You can spend it however you like, as long as it is in service of running the Unreasonable Lab. In all likelihood, it will cost more than US$10,000 to plan and run your Unreasonable Lab, but the US$10,000 should help you get started. Costs include: venue costs, food costs, marketing costs, and the costs for your time. In the interview, you will need to convinces us of how you will effectively spend the money.
What is the purpose of an Unreasonable Lab?
The Unreasonable Lab has a number of related purposes:
1) We have learned that the best way to hire someone is to see them in the job. And so when we think about hiring/selecting Unreasonable Founders, there is no better way for us to evaluate if a semi-finalist can run a successful Institute than to see them running something very similar to the Institute. The Unreasonable Lab is intended to be a small taste of what it takes to run a longer and more sophisticated Unreasonable Institute. The Unreasonable Lab will also show us how much demand/interest there is for such an Institute in the country/region. If a semi-finalist cannot pull together enough entrepreneurs and mentors, then perhaps the country/region is not ready for an Unreasonable Institute.
2) We have learned that the best way to train someone to run an Institute is to have them run an Institute! Actually running a program – even if it is 5 days – is worth hundreds of hours of training and thousands of pages of documents. Once their Unreasonable Lab is complete, semi-finalists will have learned valuable lessons on what to do and what not to do the next time.
3) Running 10 Unreasonable Labs around the world means we reach hundreds more entrepreneurs. It furthers our mission to help entrepreneurs from every corner of the globe address the world’s toughest problems
4) Running 10 Unreasonable Labs simultaneously will be an enormous learning experience for us on how Unreasonable is adapted to new contexts and countries. It will also refine our thinking about what it takes to train and support new Unreasonable Institutes around the world.
How long does it take to run an Unreasonable Lab?
From when you are selected, you will have 90 days to run your Unreasonable Lab. You can run it in a shorter period of time if you’re ready, but we estimate that 90 days should give you enough preparation time to pull off a successful program.
How much money (on top of the US$10,000) does it cost to run an Unreasonable Lab?
It depends on how far US$10,000 goes in your country. It also depends on if you plan to compensate yourself for the time you invest in planning for the Unreasonable Lab and how many people are helping you. In the interview process, you will need to demonstrate how you plan to spend this US$10,000.
Do I have to complete an Unreasonable Lab if I want to run a full Unreasonable Institute?
Yes. It is a necessary part of the selection process.
What if I just want to run an Unreasonable Lab but not a full Institute?
If you simply want to run an Unreasonable Lab without being considered to run an Unreasonable Institute, then you will not be eligible for the US$10,000. However, if you are still interested in running the Lab without the financial support, then let’s have a conversation. Please email Caitlin Ferguson at email@example.com.
What is included in the Unreasonable Handbook for the Unreasonable Lab?
The Unreasonable Handbook is a set of documents and resources that will help you effectively run an Unreasonable Lab, and ultimately a longer Unreasonable Institute. It contains the Unreasonable approach to accelerating entrepreneurs. From how to recruit and lock up mentors to how to design the curriculum to how to hire new members on to your own team, the Unreasonable Handbook will give you the knowledge, tools, and resources you need to run a successful program and also run your internal operations.
What type of support do I get from Unreasonable HQ to run the Unreasonable Lab?
In addition to giving you the Unreasonable Handbook, you will also have access to over-the-phone training and support from members of the Unreasonable HQ team. In addition, we will also have an online network where all 10 semi-finalists can share best practices, challenges, and seek support from one another as they prepare to run their Lab in their country.
When am I ultimately selected as an Unreasonable Founder?
Unreasonable HQ will select 3-5 finalists to become Unreasonable Founders AFTER they attend the Global Unreasonable Institute in Boulder in July/August of 2015.
This seems expensive! What do my annual fees go to?
Your annual fees go to:
- access to the Unreasonable Brand
- costs associated with selecting new Unreasonable Founders each year (this includes training costs, travel costs for members of the Unreasonable HQ team to attend Unreasonable Labs, travel costs for finalists to travel to Colorado to attend the Global Unreasonable Institute, and food and lodging costs at the Global Unreasonable Institute in Colorado)
- costs associated with salaries of Unreasonable HQ staff to provide ongoing support to new Institutes
- costs associated with the building of and licenses for the centralized systems that we provide to all Unreasonable Founders
Why do the fees decline over time?
The majority of the costs that Unreasonable HQ incurs for a new Institute take place in the first year. In subsequent years, the training provided from HQ is less, the systems costs are less, and the travel costs are also less.
What is involved in raising my own funding to financially support an Institute? Does Unreasonable HQ help with this?
You are responsible for raising your annual budget (including the fees owed to Unreasonable). Unreasonable Global, Unreasonable East Africa, and Unreasonable Mexico all raise their annual budget from local and national philanthropic funders in their region of focus. Unreasonable HQ will provide best-practices on how to go about raising this funding, but Unreasonable HQ will not provide any philanthropic capital itself.
What can I expect to be my annual budget?
Your budget depends heavily on the purchasing power of the country in which the Unreasonable Institute is held. That said, the budget for Unreasonable East Africa and Mexico is between US$200,000 – $250,000 per year.
How are new Unreasonable Institutes legally structured?
Unreasonable Institutes will be legally structured as a franchise of Unreasonable HQ.