Thursday, April 1, 2010

What Happens When 25 Unreasonable Fellows Get Together?

The Unreasonable Institute, the social enterprise incubator that I wrote about last month, will find out soon enough. According to Unreasonable co-founder Tyler Hartung, 25 for-profit and not-profit social enterprises from 16 countries have now raised their $6,500 tuition fees via the crowd-funding marketplace on Unreasonable’s website. The average fellow had 98 sponsors with KITO International, which teaches entrepreneurship skills to street youth worldwide landing the most with a whopping 251 sponsors.

There were a few pleasant surprises along the way. “Behind the scenes, the entrepreneurs began an amazing support network where they shared advice, celebrated successes together, and personally sponsored each other,” says Hartung. “The extent to which it happened was beyond our expectations.” Also, says Hartung, an anonymous donor put $25,000 into a “finalist selection fund” with the stipulation that it be equally split up among the candidates, who were then instructed to give it away to three ventures other than their own. Naemeka Ikegwuonu of Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio in Nigeria, was a major beneficiary of that windfall. His company broadcasts agricultural, environmental management and market information for rural poor small farmers, but was severely underfunded. “Three weeks into the marketplace with only 400 USD raised, I lost hope,” he says. His fellow candidates chipped in some of their own money and a good portion of the finalist selection fund to bump Ikegwuonu into the final 25. “Their efforts rekindled my spirit,” he says.

While the folks at Unreasonable are lining up the final group of mentors for the incubator (which includes Neal Baer, executive producer of “Law and Order”), the fellows are busy applying for visas, making reservations for flights, and preparing themselves for ten weeks at the Unreasonable Institute’s program in Boulder, which begins on May 28. “We’re researching the background, expertise and personal interests of all mentors to ensure every second of our interaction is informed and worthwhile,” says Kito founder Maria Springer. “We can’t wait to hear what we are doing wrong and how we can make it right.”
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