Unreasonable Ambition: How a movement of entrepreneurship training programs seeks to put a dent on poverty

News, SUP Partners

Boulder, CO – Amidst an entrepreneurial revolution sweeping the globe, Unreasonable Institute isn’t your run-of-the-mill startup accelerator. The Boulder-based non-profit only supports young companies tackling a social or environmental problems. It boosts their chances of success through five-week training programs, where they learn from star mentors like Whole Foods Chairman John Elstrott and Google Glass co-creator Tom Chi, while meeting dozens of funders who can give them the capital they need to get moving.

“It’s amazing to see entrepreneurs creating companies that can really help a lot of people,” explains Teju Ravilochan, co-founder and CEO of Unreasonable Institute. Unreasonable Institute boasts successful alumni, including:

  • Mosaic, the “solar bank” that started as an idea at Unreasonable Institute and now is the largest lender for home solar projects in the United States,
  • Eneza, the fastest growing mobile education app in Africa, equipping 650,000 students in Kenya to gain access to tutoring and test prep on $10 phones,
  • MANA Nutrition, which has cured over one million kids of severe acute malnutrition through a nutrient-enriched peanut butter.

The results are striking. 93% of the 150 startups in Unreasonable Institute’s portfolio have raised funding totaling over $100 million. And all together, those companies are benefitting 8 million lives.

But to Ravilochan and his team, it wasn’t enough. “We started Unreasonable Institute because we thought the best way to address billion-person problems was by helping entrepreneurs find solutions,” he explains. “But to have any chance of doing that, we need to find thousands of entrepreneurs and get them the people and resources they need to grow.”

Ravilochan noted Unreasonable Institute had one key barrier to scale. “Our model is high touch,” he explains. “Mentors spend a lot of time with our entrepreneurs.” Mentors (experienced business and social / environmental change leaders) each pick one company to work with for 6-12 months. “And we carefully match them based on diagnosing our entrepreneur’s needs and understanding the mentor’s skills.”

Entrepreneurs get a lot of attention from mentors who come through the program. That’s what makes Unreasonable Institute so valuable for them.” says Ravilochan. “So we weren’t going to be able to maintain the quality of our support and work with a whole lot more entrepreneurs. So we figured, hey, what if we could just teach other people to do what we do?”

Enter Unreasonable Labs. “We packaged up our curriculum and built a way to train teams we think could do what we do,” says Banks Benitez, Vice President of Global Expansion at Unreasonable Institute. “The local teams that we find in new countries to run Labs can then recruit locally-based mentors and funders to support the startups they find.”

“A Lab gives us a chance to pilot in a new location and test the team we find locally,” says Ravilochan. “If they do a good job, we work with them to create a permanent Unreasonable Institute where they are.” Unreasonable already has two permanent programs, located in Uganda and Mexico, with longer-term programs in Boston, Morocco, and Japan forming this year.

In 2015-2016, Unreasonable Institute has equipped 25 Labs in the locations below:

mapa

Many of the Labs running in 2016 are happening in countries without established entrepreneurial ecosystems, including Kabul, Afghanistan; Lagos, Nigeria; and Ljubljiana, Slovenia. “We ran 12 Labs in 10 countries in 7 languages last year,” says Benitez. “We’re super excited that this new cohort of teams we’ve chosen is helping us support entrepreneurs who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it.”

Asked why the wanted to bring Unreasonable Labs to their country, Unreasonable Labs Afghanistan Ajmal Paiman and Azadeh Tajdar said, “For the first time in history, we have adopted a market economy. Our ongoing development cannot continue through aid and donation. There’s no other way to address our challenges but through entrepreneurship, innovation, and private sector. And Unreasonable Labs might be the best avenue to addressing these needs.”

###

For more information, visit unreasonableinstitute.org/accelerators.

Contact Teju Ravilochan at teju@unreasonableinstitute.org.