Who else but a group of GenYers would have the audacity to christen a new not-for-profit venture "The Unreasonable Institute?" That's exactly what Tyler Hartung, Daniel Epstein, Teju Ravilochan, and Vladimir Dubovskiy have done. All aged 25 or younger and grads of the University of Colorado at Boulder, the four partners are creating an incubator for new social enterprises -- both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations -- using Boulder-based TechStars as a model. The inspiration for the name comes from this George Bernard Shaw quote: "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, thank you very much. "All of us have worked in some sort of social start up," says Hartung. "Like a lot of our peers, we're idealistic and we want to start businesses that have social missions, but people our age don't have the support, knowledge or networks to start social ventures." The Unreasonable Institute seeks to remedy that by pairing 25 fledgling social entrepreneurs with 50 mentors for ten weeks in Boulder. The hope is that advice and ideas from peers as well as experienced entrepreneurs from the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds will help incubate social ventures that will make a lasting impact on the world.
This year, the incubator's first, the founders vetted 33 candidates from 284 applications from 45 countries. Their criteria: "the ventures need to address the root cause of an environmental or social problem or need," says Hartung. "And they can't be donation or grant driven. They have to have a revenue mechanism that covers costs. We're also looking for those that can scale outside of their country of origin and eventually meet the needs of a million people." Tall order! According to Hartung, some of the candidates are for-profit, some are not-for-profit, and a few are hybrids. And their founders run the gamut from a former child soldier to an MIT engineer.
Here's the fun part: the final 25 ventures will be chosen, well, by any of us who would like to participate. Each of the 33 candidates has a profile on Unreasonable Institute's website and each have 50 days to raise the $6,500 tuition fee through their respective networks. But there's a catch. The first week of fund-raising, individual donations were limited to $10 each; the second and third week, the cap goes up to $50 and $100. The first 25 candidates to raise $6,500 will attend the Institute. So far, two ventures have reached that goal: KITO International, which promotes entrepreneurship among street youth worldwide; and (get ready) Who Gives a Crap, which proposes to make not-for-profit toilet paper and donate all profits to water sanitation projects throughout the developing world. Several others are close to full funding.
The program will run from May 28 to Aug. 7 and the "Unreasonable Fellows" will most likely live in a University of Colorado sorority house, where they'll be visited by mentors such as Tom Suddes, founder of the Suddes Group, Marc Mathieu, founder of BeDo, Gregory Miller, the former managing director of Google.org, and Bob Patillo, founder of Gray Ghost Ventures, among others. To sweeten the pot, First Light Ventures, which is affiliated with Gray Ghost, is tossing at least $150,000 into the "Unreasonable Village Fund" which will be awarded to one of the fellows by their peers at the end of the program. The ten weeks will wrap up with a "pitch fest" where the fellows will have the opportunity to meet and woe 200 or so social venture capitalists.
I think this is social capitalism at its best and I'll be watching the Unreasonable Institute closely over the next few months and providing you with a few updates. How about you? Are you game to fund one of these ventures? What's your favorite?
DONNA FENN is the author of Upstarts! How Gen-Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
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