We live in a world where there are more questions than answers, where big problems are prominent and big solutions seem few and far between. It doesn’t make any sense – why are things the way they are?

We don’t know always no why, and we don’t always need to – we just need to know how to change them. And a new generation of entrepreneurs are waking up each and everyday to do just that. For these entrepreneurs, the road to reason requires them to be Unreasonable.

What do we mean by being Unreasonable?

Being Unreasonable is a state of mind that propels people who are crazy enough to think they have what it takes to solve big global issues into action. An Unreasonable entrepreneur takes an innovative approach to solving the types of big-picture problems that affect at least a million people. We are not talking about the cosmetic, there’s-an-app-for-that type of problems – there’s no app for world hunger. These are the problems that affect humanity on a social, environmental and economic level.

One institution has established itself to bring these entrepreneurs from around the world into a collaborative environment to help them scale their ventures. It’s called the Unreasonable Institute.

The Unreasonable Institute is a social-enterprise incubator in Boulder, Colorado (USA) that according to founder Daniel Epstein, exists for people who want to solve ‘big f**king problems.’ Each year, the Institute brings together approximately 20 high-impact individuals from around the world for an intensive six-week program, where they:

“accelerate ventures that will define progress in our time.”

We have written about the Unreasonable Institute for the past few years now, and each year the story gets better. In 2010, the inaugural year of the Institute, the energy was electric and the first round of Fellows graduated (read post Social Entrepreneurship – Boulden Up and Be Unreasonable). In 2011, there were several exciting storylines and a bunch of hard-hitting ventures that emerged with funding (read post Beyond Reason – The Importance of Being Unreasonable), including Solidarium from Brazil, who Joel met during his trip to Curitiba earlier this year on My Crowdfunding Study (read post … My Days with Alianca and Solidarium). 2012 was lights out, as many ventures got funded, while almost all the ventures have investors who are interested. Here’s a quick video that shows who these entrepreneurs were:

Now applications for the 2013 Edition are open. The question, is what happens at the Unreasonable Institute that makes it special – beyond the chance to get funded and meet others with equally crazy ideas, what happens behind the scenes?

The answer is a lot, but first let’s look at the profile of the typical social entrepreneur. Most entrepreneurs trying to solve the big-picture problems have a profile that resembles the following:

  • on the front end, they are usually seen as either crazy or rebellious, as their tolerance for the status quo is next to zero and acquiescence is not their strong suit. Their ‘we-need-change’ routine requires a 24/7 bravado and an attitude of perpetual perseverance;
  • on the back end, however, it is a different story. These entrepreneurs often feel misunderstood and face a constant PR battle. They are pressed for resources and often feel overwhelmed from their duties.

This is why the Unreasonable Institute exists. They get it. Entrepreneurs from across the world (see map below) have flown into Boulder each summer for the past three years for this reason.

If you get the chance to walk through those doors, you come to a place where they understand what the entrepreneur needs to take that next big step. Inside the Institute, they have a coordinated method of chaos to help bring you the wisdom and resources you need to take flight, including:

  • Mentorship

Experienced mentors are brought in from around the world to teach different aspects of the venture-creation process and guide the entrepreneurs through rough patches. Their network is extensive and each mentor brings a different perspective to the table. You can see videos from their mentors at the Mentor Library:

+ http://unreasonable.tv/view/library/

  • Unreasonable Scrimmage

A new addition to the Institute in 2012, the Scrimmage was designed to bring skilled members from the local community to the table to help the entrepreneurs scale their ventures. Each Unreasonable Fellow brought a key challenge or problem to the table and presented it to the table of 120 community members. The results were amazing.

As an example, in one day, Sheik Turay (pictured below), an entrepreneur from Liberia who employs former child soldiers to grow and sell cocoa beans, did the following:

• Incorporated his company in the US
• Built an active team
• Rebranded as Liberation Chocolate
• Secured a chocolate supplier in Boulder
• Built a new website
• Started work on writing a full business plan

Imagine that!

  • Investor Days

Impact investors are brought in to help the Unreasonable entrepreneurs obtain the necessary funding to scale their ventures

Teams of 3 or 4 investors sits down with each Unreasonable entrepreneur and try to answer the question, how do we get more money flowing into this venture? Rather than trying to negotiate from separate sides of the table, they approach it from a partnership perspective and try to ensure that the venture gets the fuel it needs to take off.

The result of Investor Days was 12 out of 22 ventures were funded, and 21 out of 22 have investors interested in them, not bad!


The Unreaonable Institute does not take the venture-capital model and apply it to social enterprises. It is a new model where collective interest trumps individual intentions, and open collaboration paves the way for scalable innovation. It’s a place where real impact entrepreneurs with really big ideas come to take flight.

What do you need to apply?

The full criteria can be found below, but the key points include:

+ http://unreasonableinstitute.org/eligibility/

  • Is your venture addressing a massive social or environmental problem
  • Is your venture a for-profit company?
  • Has your venture generated at least $1 in revenue?

If you have answered yes to the following questions, along with a few others, you can apply!

How does the application process work?

+ http://unreasonableinstitute.org/selection-process/

  • Submit your written application by October 25th, 2012
  • Interview process with Unreasonable team
  • 10 to 20 ventures will be selected to attend the 2013 edition

How much does it cost?

+ http://unreasonableinstitute.org/the-costs/

  • $10,000 for an individual or $12,000 for two people from one team
  • teams can use Unreasonable’s crowdfunding platform to raise the money

How do you apply?

Start an application today (click below). The deadline is October 25th!

+ https://www.wizehive.com/appform/login/unreasonable

In this world, the road to reason requires being unreasonable. If the Unreasonable Institute can teach us one thing, it’s that full collaboration is needed from everyone in the community – it’s not the efforts of one or two people that are going to create the necessary changes, but the collective effort of the masses.

If you are interested in more content related to social entrepreneurship, we recommend the following sites:

+ Unreasonable.is
+ Echoing Green
+ Start Some Good

For more #socent content from our blog, check out the articles listed below.

+ SocEnt & the Rise of the Impact Entrepreneur
+ Strategy Sessions: Crowdfunding + the Social Enterprise

PLAN – the Business Model

Being unreasonable. It’s a concept that is starting to really catch on. It is becoming increasingly obvious with each passing day that we need the future leaders of tomorrow to start stepping up today in order to solve global problems, and that’s why organizations like the Unreasonable Institute exist. Last year we wrote a blog, Social Entrepreneurship – Boulden Up and Be Unreasonable, that we hoped might spark one or two people out there to apply for Season II at the Be Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado. As it turns out, it did – and now it’s that magical time of year again to apply to become a fellow at the Unreasonable Institute for Season III. If you need any convincing as to why this is your time to apply, read on.

As a member of this beautiful planet we call Earth, you have probably started to notice a few problems that are affecting society on a large scale; whether it is social, economic, environmental or otherwise, the problems I’m talking about are the ones that cannot be solved by one person over the course of a month, year or even a few years – these are the types of problems that take a collective effort by a committed group of individuals over a long period of time to resolve. These are the type of problems that social entrepreneurs wakeup to try and rectify each and everyday.

What is a social entrepreneur?

Our definition of a social entrepreneur is someone who uses their raw entrepreneurial abilities to tackle a economic, social or environmental problem that affects a significant segment of society. Rather than the payment being monetary, social entrepreneurs work for one thing – change.

If you’ve ever tried to affect change on any level, you will know that in most scenarios nothing could be more challenging. In the eyes of society, you would almost have to be unreasonable to even think that you could successfully tackle one of these issues. And that’s why social entrepreneurs are a unique group who have the passion, vision and skill set to drive in social change on a massive scale.

Being an entrepreneur, whether social or otherwise, is not the easiest path. But for most people, it’s the only path. There are highs and lows at every level, and there is always a level of uncertainty that forces you to be continuously reevaluating how to proceed. If there are two lessons that I have learned about entrepreneurship it’s this:

1) The first steps are the hardest
2) You don’t have to do it alone

And that’s where the Unreasonable Institute comes in. What is the Unreasonable Institute?

The Unreasonable Institute is a hub for kickstarting ambitious, large-scale social ventures. Each year, twenty-five of the world’s most audacious social entrepreneurs are invited to Boulder for a six-week acceleration program. Fundamentally, the Unreasonable Institute is about giving social entrepreneurs their wings.

According to co-founder Daniel Epstein (@EpsteinDaniel):

“Our goal is to arm these entrepreneurs with mentorship, capital, and one hell of a network so their ventures can scale to improve at least one million lives … and do that while making a profit.”

By putting all the resources entrepreneurs need to succeed in one place, the odds of being able to successfully launch a world-changing idea increase exponentially. The stakes are high for anyone stepping into The Unreasonable Institute and the opportunity is massive. Here are three examples (from a list of the 26 participants in this summer’s program) of high-octane ventures that pitched to investors at the end of this summer’s program:

Solidarium (see video presentation) – started by Tiago Dalvi (@dalvitiago), Solidarium aims to reduce poverty in Brazil (ranked 184 out of 192 for social equality) by empowering local producers and connecting them to the marketplace. By working with Solidarium, local producers can create sales channels through large-scale global retailers and increase their sales dramatically. The company just reached the mark of more than 100,000 products sold and recently became profitable. I love Brazil and I think Solidarium has found a great social business model that can make a huge impact.

BLISS (see video presentation) – started by Saba Gul (@sabagl), BLISS aims to empower young girls in Pakistan through entrepreneurship training. BLISS teaches the girls the requisite skills during daily classes and then provides them with the opportunity to use their abilities to earn a sustainable source of income for themselves and their families. The company sells Bliss handbags and according to Saba, “sales are through the roof.” I love the idea of empowering young girls through entrepreneurship!

One Degree Solar (see video presentation) – started by Gaurav Machanda, One Degree Solar aims to get families off the streets and into their homes by equipping them with low-cost solar powered lighting. The company is selling the bulk of its solar lighting in Liberia right now, but is progressively expanding throughout other parts of Africa. I’m bullish on solar and think this is a great way to use it to fulfill a massive social need.

For the 2011 program, over 1,200 entrepreneurs from over 70 countries applied. Of that group, only 301 made it through the written process, of which 50 were eventually selected for interviews. The remaining 50 participants were required to raise $10,000, the cost of the Unreasonable program, through an online marketplace – the first twenty-five to raise that money were selected for the program.

As for financing their ventures, the majority of entrepreneurs in the 2010 Unreasonable Institute successfully raised capital within three months of program completion. Judging by the caliber of entrepreneurs pitching at this year’s competition, the rate of successfully financed ventures will likely increase.

So what about next year’s competition? According to the Unreasonable Institute …

“As for 2012, we’re stepping it up a notch.”

I believe them. So if you are sitting there mulling over what to do with your social venture, the answer is simple – get in there! Click on the link below and submit your application (view eligibility here) to become a part of the next wave of entrepreneurs who shake up this planet like never before. As one entrepreneur put it, “It’s not venture-changing, it’s life-changing.”

apply be Unreasonable

+ Building Blocks for the New-Era Business
+ Finance 2.0 – Wall Street Meets the Web

Crowdfunding Strategy – Summary

Trends and Research – Summary

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What was little more than a concept ten years ago is now becoming mainstream thanks to a growing number of people who believe that the reach of entrepreneurship extends far beyond business. People everywhere around the world are waking up to a dream not based on dollars, but social change. In this blog we will look at the importance of being unreasonable and why one organization sees it as an essential trait to becoming a social entrepreneur.

Social entrepreneurship, in its essence, is about using raw entrepreneurial skills to solve a social problem. Rather than relying on the government, corporations, or a charity to address an issue, social entrepreneurs try and put the world on their shoulders to drive in a solution.

We believe the dawn of the social entrepreneurship era was back in the 1970’s when Muhammed Yunus, the founding father of microfinance, created Grameen Bank. He conceived the idea while talking to a group of local craftsmen in Bangladesh. When he loaned this group the $27 dollars they needed to get their business venture off the ground, it struck him that an opportunity existed to bring a whole new level of finance to the underserved third world. What happened next is history, with Yunus turning Bangladesh into the birthplace of microfinance, which has now spawned into a billion dollar global industry.

The process of becoming a social entrepreneur is very similar to that of becoming a business entrepreneur. You need to put together a business plan, a team and raise some capital. While some people may associate the term social with a fluffy way of doing things, this is not the reality of social entrepreneurship. So what does it take to become a social entrepreneur who can get the job done?

According to the global social entrepreneurship incubator, the Unreasonable Institute, you need to be one thing: unreasonable. What does it mean to be unreasonable?

The World’s Most Unreasonable Trailer from Unreasonable Institute on Vimeo.

You need to be crazy enough to think that your idea can solve a prominent global issue and change the world in the process. Sounds reasonable ok. So how does this organization, or anyone else for that matter, differentiate the people who sound crazy from the people who are crazy (about their ideas)?

The Institute goes through a rigorous screening process where they watch video applications from hundreds of social entrepreneurs from around the world and whittle the group down to 35. Their ideas are voted on (with real money) by thousands of experts around the world in the Unreasonable Marketplace. Like any other business, the whole objective is to see if the idea and business plan are feasible. When you break it down, it’s just like starting up any other business.

When the votes are in, 25 individuals are invited to join a team of over 60 experts in the summer for an ten-week bootcamp on building a scalable social venture. In what has probably become our favorite tagline, the Unreasonable Institute claims “we accelerate the world’s most unreasonable entrepreneurs.” Never has being unreasonable been so fashionable.

Now if you are sitting there in your chair, reading this blog, thinking that you are a highly unreasonable person with a big, socially scalable idea, and it’s before November 30th, then apply for the 2011 cohort!

The seeds of social entrepreneurship can be seen everywhere around the world, as people begin to scratch their itch and make things happen. Universities, MBA programs, corporations, and governments are feeling the force and providing various degrees of education and support for social entrepreneurs. In Brazil (watch for our blog next week on entrepreneurship in Brazil), the Hub, a social entrepreneurship startup hub, is teaming with Artemisia up to pioneer the inaugural social venture pitch competition this weekend (November 18).

At Lumos, we were introduced to the concept of social entrepreneurship three years ago, in the halls of UVic Business, through our Global Sustainability course. Our case study for that class was on Honey Care, a social venture that was started in Africa, which was a very unique case study to be examining at that time in a business school.

Earlier this year, we got some skin in the social entrepreneurship game when we did some business planning work for the Woodwyn project here in Victoria.

Overall, we believe that there is no better time than now to boulden up and be unreasonable. Whether bouldening up means getting in an application for next summers bootcamp in Boulder, or logging in to Kiva to kick in $25 as a microfinance loan for an entrepreneur across the ocean, jump in, you won’t regret it. While business is business, this is personal, and that’s the beauty of it.