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 10-20 ventures from every corner of the globe to live under the same roof for six weeks in Boulder, Colorado. These entrepreneurs receive training from 50 world-class mentors, ranging from a Time Magazine Hero of the Planet, to the 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 25 investment 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.
Where is the Unreasonable Institute based?
We are based in the beautiful city of Boulder, Colorado, USA (ranked by Forbes Magazine as the most educated city in the United States in 2008). Boulder has a thriving entrepreneurial climate, a world-class university, and is becoming a true Mecca for social innovation and early stage investment. We are proud to call Boulder our home.
- BusinessWeek: “Why Boulder is America’s Best Town for Startups”
- GQ: “Boulder is the nation’s worst-dressed city that looks best naked”
- Fast Company: “Why you should start a company in Boulder”
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 unique 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):
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.)
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!
- Read this awesome blog post written by 2011 Unreasonable Fellow Saba Gul (Pakistan) on her experience at the Unreasonable Institute.
What does the 6-week Institute look like?
The 2013 Institute will look similar to the 2012 Institute schedule outlined on our Unreasonable Calendar page. Once you get to the calendar page, scroll back to June 13-July 25, 2012 to get a sense of the structure of the 6 weeks. In addition to the regular daily structure, the following notable events will also occur during the 6 weeks:
- The Unreasonable Institute Opening Reception, where 300 local supporters in the Boulder community will gather to hear about the work of the Unreasonable Fellows and to celebrate the launch.
- The Unreasonable Scrimmage, where Unreasonable Fellows voice specific needs they have to at least 100 members of the skilled community in Boulder. Powered by 2011 Unreasonable Venture ReWork and facilitated by Unreasonable Mentor Tom Chi, this event gives entrepreneurs the chance to work deeply with programmers, accountants, lawyers, marketers, and engineers to produce real results. The 2012 Unreasonable Scrimmage led to entrepreneurs securing customers, building mobile apps, launching new brands and websites, securing suppliers, and even designing a prototype of a milk pasteurizer.
- 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. The 2012 Investor Days ended with 21 of 22 ventures securing an average of 8 investors excited to follow up with them and over $500,000 firmly committed to our entrepreneurs within one month. Because closing a deal usually takes months, we’re delighted to see how quickly capital has been flowing to our entrepreneurs. As soon as we get more information of the results of the 2012 Investor Days, we’ll post it here! 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, which are detailed in the question above. 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 while in 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 6-week Institute?
The most valuable service we provide to our Unreasonable Fellows is our 6-week summer Institute. If accepted as an Unreasonable Fellow, you will have been chosen from hundreds of applicants around the world. Out of respect for them and to ensure that we are maximizing our impact, we ask that you attend the full 6 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 6 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 6 weeks. Seeing that we will be welcoming about 50 mentors to the Institute and 20 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 6 weeks. The best evidence that we can offer for the fact that these 6 weeks are valuable is the words of our alumni. Get their take on whether or not the 6 weeks was worth it here. The vast majority of entrepreneurs from the 2011 and 2012 Institutes have also reported that six weeks was just the right length for the Institute, including entrepreneurs who left families and large teams. Additionally, our 2010 entrepreneurs attended our program when it was 10 weeks long. They felt then that 10 weeks was in fact the right length!
Can we guarantee that this 6 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or contact any one of our team members by clicking here.
Am I eligibile for the Unreasonable Institute?
What sorts of companies are eligible to apply to the Unreasonable Institute?
We work with for-profit ventures tackling social and environmental problems that are near ready to scale. 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. 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 are preparing to scale instead of earlier stage ventures?
In running the Institute in the past three years, we realized that because we take entrepreneurs away from their markets for 6 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 who then come to the Institute to learn how to scale and get the guidance and resources to do it. That’s why we are focusing the 2013 Institute on entrepreneurs that are ready to scale. And that means we’re looking for entrepreneurs who have generated revenue, built strong teams, shown that their solutions actually solves a need their target population has. If you’re able to make the case that your solution can be scaled without doing any of the above, then we welcome you present your argument. Just know that we won’t be that easy too convince.
Why do you accept only for-profit ventures?
While in the past we’ve worked with both non-profits and for-profits, we tried running an Institute with only for-profit ventures in 2012. We learned that for-profit ventures have benefited more from the Unreasonable experience on the whole, as the mentors and capital sources that we bring to the Unreasonable Institute are more focused on for-profit ventures. Second, we believe we’re able to concentrate our efforts on serving one type of entrepreneur enabling us to provide greater value for our Fellows. As we open more Institutes in the future, however, we may very well open the Institute experience to non-profits once again!
We are a founding team. Can our entire team attend the 6-week Institute?
We require that you have a team in order to be accepted as an Unreasonable Fellow. And for the first time this year, we will be opening the Institute to teams! You’ll be able to attend the Unreasonable Institute with other member of your team. In the past, we have only accepted one founding member per venture to attend the Unreasonable Institute as we wanted to ensure that while they were at the Institute, their teammate could be on the ground tending to the day-to-day operations of the company. However, emboldened by the fact that our sister organization Unreasonable @ Sea got a great response to its requirement that only teams attend, we are excited to experiment this year and invite teams to apply. 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. Additionally, we will also have a teammate week, which allows teammates to attend the Institute and all sessions for $500. If you’re accepted as an Unreasonable Fellow, we’ll fill you in on when this will be.
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 in our Becoming Competitive page.
Is my age a factor in your selection process?
No, as long as you’re over 18. In 2012, we accepted Fellows between the ages of 23 and 55.
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 2011 Institute alone, entrepreneurs applied from over 60 countries!
Is my company too early (or late) stage to apply to Unreasonable?
We do not accept ventures that are in the idea stage. We look for ventures that are looking to scale in the very near future, who are significantly past their pilot or prototype stage. We want the ventures we work with in 2013 to 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. See some examples of ideal applicants for more information.
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. Click here for more information on what characteristics we look for in all Unreasonable Fellows.
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. Considering, however that the Institute will be run in English, you will need to be able to read, write, and speak English sufficiently. Within the next three years we look forward to scaling outside of North America and to potentially running Institutes in different languages.
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. 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 will open on September 10 and close on October 25. We’ll conduct the first round of Interviews between November 26 and December 7. The final round of interviews will take place from December 8 – December 18. The 2013 Fellows will be chosen by December 23, 2012.
When will applicants know that they are accepted into the Unreasonable Institute?
They will know no later than December 23, 2012!
How much does it cost to attend the Unreasonable Institute?
It costs $12,000 for two representatives of a team to attend and $10,000 for one representative of a team to attend. Read the details about the costs of attending the Unreasonable Institute 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 costs 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 $10,000 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 6 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.