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Unreasonable Innovators for an Unreasonable World

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

At the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado, a young social entrepreneur can gain exactly “the kind of perspective” he or she needs to get a solid business off the ground, says Jehan Ratnatunga, a fellow at the institute. In a single day, he says, “you [might] have lunch with someone from Pakistan and then go and talk to someone from France and then go bounce ideas off of someone from Nigeria.”

Unreasonable InstituteThe Unreasonable Institute was founded by University of Colorado at Boulder graduates Daniel Epstein, Teju Ravilochan, Tyler Hartung, Vladimir Dubovskiy and Nikhil Dandavati with the goal of providing promising young entrepreneurs from all over the world with the skills they need to make their ventures sustainable, scalable, and replicable. “We were all trying to create some large-scale change in the world,” says Hartung in an interview with Entrepreneur Magazine. “‘But we realized we lacked the skill, the knowledge, the networks–all the tangible things needed to create that impact. We want to give those tools to other young entrepreneurs.”

In order to do that, the Institute selects 25 young entrepreneurs from all over the world for a 6-week training session in Boulder, which is followed by a trip to San Francisco to meet with potential investors and supporters. At the institute, fellows meet with each other, attend classes and workshops, gain advice from expert mentors –who include Paul Polak, the founder of International Development Enterprises (IDE) and Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders (EWB)—and refine their project proposals. The fellows are also given the opportunity to connect with the institute’s “capital partners,” a group of 30 of the world’s top funds and foundations, including the Acumen Fund, Good Capital, and ResponsAbility. Representatives from each of these partner funding organizations spend time at the institute, getting to know the entrepreneurs and building long-lasting relationships with them.

The Institute training sessions culminate in the Unreasonable Global Summit, held in Boulder, an opportunity for fellows to further present and showcase their proposals in order to attract more funding and support. These presentations are broadcast online on Unreasonable.TV and are available for viewing.

“To have an opportunity to get serious and pitch your ideas to investors [. . .] that’s an amazing opportunity,” says Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, a participating fellow from Nigeria. Ikegwuonu manages a radio station in Nigeria that “broadcasts agricultural, environmental and market information that is timely, relevant and well adapted , to over 250,000 listeners who are smallscale farmers.” But there are over 90 million smallscale farmers in Nigeria, he says in an interview on the organization’s website, and he wants to reach more of them.

Ikegwuonu needs an investment of $270,000 to build a taller radio tower and purchase a stronger transmitter. And the institute, he says, provided him with not only a platform with which to reach the funders and supporters who might be interested in helping him reach those additional farmers, it also gave him the experience of a “cross-fertilization of ideas.” Ikegwuonu says “I already have a business plan but I want[ed] to make sure it include[ed] one or two new ideas that will benefit my listeners and my pitch.”

“Nigeria is a big country and a big country should also have big problems and big solutions,” says Ikegwuonu. At the Unreasonable Institute, he is gaining the support and tools he needs to make his business a part of the solution.

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