Forty-two young entrepreneurs, hailing from 16 countries and targeting issues ranging from the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Liberia to the use of agricultural waste to produce energy in Bangladesh, will compete for one of 25 spots to attend a 10-week Boulder-based incubator called the Unreasonable Institute.
The mentor-intensive Institute has developed an unusual way to engage the global community in selecting its 25 entrepreneurs while admitting them free of charge, testing their entrepreneurial ability, and covering its costs of operations.
They have created an online platform called the Unreasonable Finalist Marketplace where the 42 finalists in the Unreasonable Institute's selection process can showcase their ventures. People from around the world then vote with their dollars on the most viable ventures for creating social and environmental impact. Beginning January 22, the first 25 ventures to raise $6,500 on this marketplace will be the ones selected to attend the Unreasonable Institute.
These 25 entrepreneurs will attend the Unreasonable Institute's inaugural incubation program between May 28 and August 7, 2010 in Boulder, Colorado. They'll receive 10 weeks of rigorous entrepreneurial skill training, access to seed capital, opportunities to pitch to over 200 investors and philanthropists, and mentorship from 50 proven entrepreneurs and investors like the former head of global brand marketing at Coca Cola and the Co-Founder of Google.org. This incubation program, including room and board, costs the Unreasonable Institute $6,500 per entrepreneur.
"We have applicants from New York to Nigeria and we know $6,500 is not affordable to both demographics," explains Founding President Daniel Epstein.
To ensure the programs affordability while recovering costs, the Unreasonable Institute team turned to the idea of "crowd-sourcing" as modeled by Kickstarter. Kickstarter is an online platform for enterprising artists to raise funds for their early-stage projects by soliciting small contributions from hundreds of sponsors. Adopting this model enables the Unreasonable Institute to have its cake and eat it too. "We charge our entrepreneurs $6,500 without allowing them to pay it," says Epstein. "We instead ask them to demonstrate their entrepreneurial ability by galvanizing the financial support of hundreds of people through the Marketplace."
While ensuring free admittance and testing entrepreneurial mettle, the marketplace appears to favor those with connections to affluent relatives. "We call this the 'Rich Uncle Problem,'" says Tyler Hartung, Epstein's teammate and fellow Unreasonable Institute Co-Founder. "A finalist from the United States with a wealthy uncle would be apt to convince him to donate the full $6,500 to her the day the marketplace opens," explains Hartung. "Her Ugandan competition probably doesn't have the same luxury."
To solve this problem, the Unreasonable Institute regulates how much a sponsor can give each week. The first week the marketplace is open, neither the American entrepreneur nor the Ugandan entrepreneur can receive more than $10 from any sponsor. The second week, the maximum they can receive from a sponsor is $50. The third week, the maximum is $100, and so on until the last two weeks when there's no maximum. "Not only does this marketplace level the playing field by making the Institute affordable to anyone, but we also believe it is the ultimate vetting process for our entrepreneurs."
The world gets to weigh in on which 25 entrepreneurs the Unreasonable Institute will incubate as they launch globally-scalable ventures that could improve the lives of millions of people when the marketplace opens on January 22, 2010 at www.unreasonablefinalists.org.
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