Frequently Asked Questions
Note that these questions and answers are primarily about Unreasonable East Africa. Unreasonable Mexico’s website has details about their program here and Unreasonable Institute Global’s website has details about their programs here.
General Questions about Unreasonable East Africa
What is Unreasonable East Africa?
Unreasonable East Africa gives an “unreasonable advantage” to entrepreneurs creating solutions to East Africa’s biggest social and environmental problems. These entrepreneurs aim to make an outsized impact, often with a tiny amount of resources. They have bold visions, but they face tough odds — as we know most startups fail within a year or two. To give them an unreasonable advantage to beat these odds, we bring these entrepreneurs together to live under the same roof for 5 weeks, where they connect with 80+ world class mentors, are surrounded by a dense concentration of capital sources and are backed by lasting global network of support.
Our goal: Help each of these ventures grow and scale to meaningfully impact the lives of over 1 million people.
Please read more about this on our About us page
Where is Unreasonable East Africa based?
Unreasonable East Africa is based in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda! Kampala is emerging as a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, led by its millennial generation. 78% of Uganda’s population is under the age of 30, and the energy of the country’s young people is palpable. Check out this great piece about the rising young leadership in Africa and this piece about how Uganda is the most entrepreneurial country in the world.
Why only entrepreneurs from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania and not the whole of East Africa?
We have always been so excited to attract entrepreneurs from all over East Africa. A huge part of our value comes from the local network we are able to provide, and we realized we would not be able to offer the same value to all our entrepreneurs if we took in entrepreneurs from all East African countries. We will continue to build our regional network and consider taking in applications from the whole region in the coming years. Nonetheless, we love to be challenged. If you feel UNREASONABLE, maybe you can pull our leg. We do not guarantee though that we will take you in 🙂
Why did you choose the name “Unreasonable East Africa?”
The name Unreasonable was inspired by a quote from George Bernard Shaw, a celebrated Irish playwright (who won both a Nobel Prize in Literature and an Academy Award!) and the co-founder of the London School of Economics:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in adapting the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man(and woman).
We work with entrepreneurs that are working on solving massive social and environmental problems like poverty, inequality, global warming, lack of access to health care and education and many others. These entrepreneurs look at these massive challenges as great opportunities, leveraging the power of business to combat them while meeting the needs of our planet and its people. To do this, they must innovate new technologies, transform systems and pioneer new ways of thinking. They will not settle for the status quo, for acres of forest wasted or for unnecessary lives lost; they are adapting the world to themselves, and in doing so changing the world for the better… this is why we call them unreasonable.
Our job is to match these entrepreneurs with the knowledge, resources and tools they need to maximise and scale their impact. Because we work with unreasonable entrepreneurs in East Africa, we we are called Unreasonable East Africa.
A few examples of Unreasonable entrepreneurs that we have worked with so far:
An entrepreneur providing access to safe, clean drinking water in low-income communities by equipping entrepreneurs to set up water franchises. They currently have three locations in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, each selling an average of over 1,200 litres of water per day.
An entrepreneur that is reducing the rate of deforestation by producing an alternative type of fuel and briquettes made from agricultural waste on a massive scale. In addition, they produce energy efficient stoves that improve fuel efficiency by reducing the amount of fuel needed to make a meal.
An entrepreneur seeking to improve the reading culture among Kenyans by setting up a chain of libraries that provide age appropriate books and tutoring to young kids. The grades of the children they work with have improved 25% in comparison to children not utilizing the libraries.
Who’s behind the program and why are you doing this?
We are a group of young and highly unreasonable people. Our founders have faced challenges in starting their own social ventures in the past and hungered to unleash the power of entrepreneurship to tackle East Africa’s greatest problems. As start-up entrepreneurs, they faced an array of obstacles and over time realized that hundreds of early-stage entrepreneurs around East Africa faced the same hurdles. With a belief that we cannot afford to send the next generation of young people into the world unprepared to tackle its greatest challenges, they knew something had to be done. Creating Unreasonable East Africa was the answer.
How does Unreasonable East Africa sustain itself financially?
Currently, our main source of revenue comes from philanthropic funding from foundations, corporations and high net-worth individuals. Our main funders so far include Segal Family Foundation, DOEN Foundation, Halloran Philanthropies & Rockefeller Foundation (both through the Unreasonable Institute), the Unreasonable Institute itself and the Boehm Family. We are committed to being on a pathway to sustainability (just as we want our fellows to be!) so we are not reliant on philanthropic funding. Because of this, we are validating a business model through tuition from our fellows, with a combination of upfront tuition and revenue share agreements. For more on all this, please see our Costs page and/or contact Joachim via firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Happens at the Unreasonable East Africa Institute?
What is a typical day at the Unreasonable East Africa Institute expected to look like for an Unreasonable Fellow?
A typical day at Unreasonable East Africa is outlined below. Please note that we tailor our Institute to each cohort and therefore the schedule is subject to change.
- 7:30am – 9:00am: Breakfast
- 9:00am – 9:30am: Daily briefing on the day’s activities + plus Mentor introductions
- 9:30am – 12:00pm: Workshops to build skills essential for building an Unreasonable Venture, led by Mentors, Capital Partners, and the Unreasonable Team
- 12:00pm – 2:00pm: Lunch
- 12:00pm – 7:00pm: Time for Fellows to work (e.g. meet with Mentors and Capital Partners, correspond with teammates, respond to emails, convert the workshop learnings into tangible takeaways, etc.)
- 7:00pm – 8:30pm: Dinner
- After 8:30pm: Free time
To help understand what happens at the Unreasonable East Africa Institute, read this awesome blog post written by 2015 Unreasonable Fellow Arielle Sandor(Duma Works) on her experience at the Institute. You can also check out our Institute schedule from this year here (refer back to July/August 2015 on the calendar).
What does the 5-week Institute look like in East Africa?
Take a look at the Unreasonable East Africa 2015 Institute calendar to better understand the 5-week program. Once you get to the calendar page, scroll back to July 1 to August 6, 2015 to get a sense of the day-to-day and week-to-week schedule. Please note that we tailor our institute to each cohort and therefore the schedule is subject to change based on the challenges the ventures at the institute are facing. In addition to the regular daily structure, the following notable events may occur during the 5 weeks:
- The Opening Reception, where over 100 local supporters in Kampala will gather to hear about the work of the Unreasonable Fellows and celebrate the launch of the 5 week Institute.
- The Unreasonable Launchpad, where Unreasonable Fellows will pitch their ventures to over 400 potential funders, partners, and local supporters.
What opportunities does Unreasonable East Africa provide to acquire funding?
The opportunities we provide for raising capital are detailed on our 2016 Institute Page under “Comprehensive Funding Readiness”
Does Unreasonable East Africa guarantee funding for its Fellows?
We cannot and do not guarantee that our Fellows will receive funding during the Unreasonable East Africa Institute. However, we do guarantee unprecedented exposure to funders and world-class relationships with hundreds of capital sources. In past years we have had about 20 funders live at the Institute (including representatives from Eleos Foundation, Intellecap, Kiva, Novastar Ventures, Unreasonable Capital, OPES Impact Fund, Segal Family Foundation, Mango Fund, Pearl Capital Partners, LGTVP) and more come to our Investor events. Truth be told, we never know just how funders will participate in the Institute and/or interact with Unreasonable Ventures – be it living at the house for a few days, coming to our Investor Days events, or having separate meetings with entrepreneurs. What we do know is we work with the ventures we select to help find and build relationships with funders that are right for their venture. We have personal relationships with 50+ (and growing) angels, foundations, institutional investors, and access to Unreasonable Institute Global’s network of has 550+. Fundamentally, our goal is to do everything we can to get you the resources you need to rocket ahead and scale your business. Because of all this, our fellows have so far raised a combined total of over $5 million so far. We are facing some challenges here as well that you can read on this page around our Shortcomings.
Does Unreasonable East Africa provide access to both philanthropic capital (grants and foundation money) and investment capital (equity and debt)?
Yes! Some Mentors and Capital Partners focus on philanthropic capital, while other Mentors and Capital Partners focus on investment capital. We will expose the entrepreneurs to all types of capital sources. In addition, we survey the Fellows pre-Institute about types of capital and potential sources they believe should be there, ensuring there is an abundance and diversity of funding opportunities available. We also currently have an evergreen fund for just our fellows where they can easily access working capital to invest in activities that directly increase the revenues for their company. Learn more here.
Where do Unreasonable Fellows live during the Institute?
At Unreasonable East Africa, you will live in a house with a serene environment. In 2014, we lived at Ggaba National Seminary in Kampala, Uganda, which had a beautiful view of Lake Victoria while in 2015, we lived at a beautiful space, Apricot Guest House. We strive to design a very interactive environment where Fellows, visiting Mentors and Capital Partners, and the Unreasonable Team all live together for 5 weeks.
Do I have to stay in Kampala for the entire 5-week Institute?
The most valuable service we provide to our Unreasonable Fellows is our 5-week Institute. If accepted as an Unreasonable East Africa Fellow, you will have been chosen from hundreds of applicants around the region. Out of respect for them and to ensure that we are maximizing our impact, we ask that you attend the full 5 weeks of the Institute without missing more than 4 days (Sundays tend to be free days). If there are particular circumstances that require you to travel away from the Institute, we would be happy to discuss and evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis.
I’m concerned that 5 weeks is too much time.
This is one of the most common concerns that we have heard, and we certainly understand the difficulty of leaving your home, family, and team for 5 weeks. Seeing that we will be welcoming about 50 mentors to the Institute and a couple of the world’s top investment funds and foundations, running a series of workshops and hosting a culminating pitching event with hundreds of potential funders and acclaimed entrepreneurs, we have found that the best length for the Institute is 5. The best evidence that we can offer is the words of our past fellows that you can see when you scroll down here.
We are also designing the Institute in East Africa to enable our fellows have constant access to their markets which is one of the key benefits we have over the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder. According to Unreasonable mentor Paul Polak, credited for lifting over 20 million farmers out of poverty, developing a transformative product or service that meets the needs of your customers is only 20% of the job. The hard part, 80% of the job, is marketing, distributing, and sustaining your organization. Our focus is on the latter part of the job.
Who can I contact if I have more questions about what happens at Unreasonable East Africa?
Am I eligible for Unreasonable East Africa?
What sorts of companies are eligible to apply to the Unreasonable East Africa Institute?
We work with for-profit, non-profit, and hybrid companies tackling social and environmental problems. Aside from being fueled by a drive to effectively addresses a social or environmental problem, an Unreasonable East Africa company must be located in Uganda, Kenya or Tanzania, have a full-time team of at least 2 people, have a prototype or pilot, and be able to prove that they have meaningfully engaged with their customers. We also look for companies that have generated revenue through the sale of their core product or service and are highly-scalable (capable of reaching at least 1 million people). Read more about our eligibility criteria here. We should note that we overwhelmingly prefer that applicants meet our eligibility criteria BUT we also believe in being unreasonable! To us, that means that if you don’t meet one or more of our criteria but you truly believe that you belong at Unreasonable East Africa, then apply anyway and convince us you deserve a spot! Just know that while indeed we have made a few exceptions, we overwhelmingly select in accordance with our eligibility criteria.
Why do you accept only companies that have made at least US $1 in sales revenue?
We consider for-profit, non-profit, and hybrid companies. “For-profit” and “non-profit” is a distinction in tax law and we’re not so concerned about which legal structure you’ve chosen. We don’t need to be as stringent about how a company is legally incorporated. What is more important is selecting companies with a strong market-based, cash-generating engine for growth. As an example of a non-profit with a market-based engine for growth, consider BRAC. BRAC is the largest non-profit in the world, but it generates 80% of its annual budget from sales revenues, not donations. We like this. Given the mentors, investors, and curriculum we are designing, we are in the best position to serve companies that grow based on a foundation of revenue from sales of a product or service.
We are a founding team. Can our entire team attend the 5-week Institute?
To be eligible for Unreasonable East Africa, your startup can’t be just a solo company. We require that you have a team. However, you are not required to apply or attend the Institute as a team. You have the option of one or two members of your team attending the Institute.
How do I improve my chances of becoming an Unreasonable Fellow?
You can follow the suggestions outlined on the Eligibility page.
Is my age a factor in your selection process?
No, as long as you’re over 18.
Do I need to send in a business plan?
No. Our application process consists of short answer questions that are designed to understand your target market, the effectiveness of your solution, your business model, and your team’s ability to execute your solution. Aside from the questions we ask in our application, we do not accept outside materials like business plans.
Can I apply if I’m not from East Africa?
No. We are only taking in entrepreneurs whose companies are based in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. You do not have to be East African though to apply.
Is my company too early (or late) stage to apply to Unreasonable?
We now have a program, Unreasonable Labs, a 5-day program for companies that are in the idea stage. Learn more about it here.
For our 5-week Institute though, we are looking for companies that have a product or service (beyond idea-stage), but who are working to understand how to sell that product effectively or how to design the product or service in a way that produces real impact for their target population.
If you have a question about if you are the right stage, please email our awesome colleague Retsy Holliday at email@example.com
Do you require entrepreneurial experience?
We are looking for a relentless entrepreneurial spirit in all Unreasonable Fellows. This does not necessarily mean that you have already founded a company or organization, though we do appreciate that level of experience. What it does mean is that we are looking for people who are resilient to failure, who persist through challenges, and who have a record of taking problems into their own hands to create solutions. If you haven’t created a company in the past, convince us you are unyielding enough to weather the challenges of starting an enterprise.
If I’m not an Unreasonable Fellow, can Unreasonable still help me with my business?
To be of service to deserving entrepreneurs all over the world, our sister organization, Unreasonable Group has created Unreasonable.is. Several of Unreasonable Institute’s mentors, including Paul Polak, Tom Chi, Hunter Lovins, Chris Yeh,Pascal Finette, Cheryl Heller, and Seth Levine write blogs here. The founders of the Unreasonable Institute Daniel Epstein, Tyler Hartung, and Teju Ravilochan also write on Unreasonable.is. Beyond pointing you to relevant resources, we unfortunately cannot prioritize reading business plans, helping you find funders, or giving you in-depth advice as we are dedicating our time to working deeply with the handful of entrepreneurs we have chosen. But we encourage you to apply to Unreasonable East Africa and if you land a spot, we’ll do everything we can to help you!
My English is not very good. Can I still apply?
We firmly believe that English is not a pre-requisite to being an incredible entrepreneur. Please note, however, that all Unreasonable East Africa communications and content will be delivered in English. Therefore, you must be a proficient English speaker and writer in order to fully take advantage of the resources provided.
What is the application process like?
How does your application process work?
The application process to become an Unreasonable fellow consists of three stages: (1) a written application, (2) an interview, (3) a deeper follow-up interview and 4) a site visit. To learn about this process in detail, read more here.
What is the timeline for your application process?
The application process timeline is detailed here. Applications for the Unreasonable East Africa 2016 class will open on October 26 and close on December 4, 2015. We’ll conduct the first round of interviews in January 2016, and the second round of interviews in February 2016. The 2016 Fellows will be chosen and announced by early March 2016.
When will applicants know that they are accepted into Unreasonable East Africa?
They will know by early March 2016.
How much does it cost to attend Unreasonable East Africa?
Unreasonable East Africa charges a fee that is broken down into a fee upfront(when selected) and a fee tied into a revenue share agreement with the company. Read the details about the costs of attending Unreasonable East Africa, including additional FAQs on our Costs Page.
What does tuition cover?
The tuition pays for everything while at the Institute, including your food and housing (meaning you’ll have 0 expenses at the Institute itself), the participation of visiting mentors and capital partners, staffing the Institute, events like Investor Days (where you’ll build relationships with over 100 funders) and the Unreasonable Launchpad (where you’ll share your story in front of hundreds of people to garner even more resources!), and ongoing Unreasonable Alumni support. Read more about the costs here.
Does the tuition cover round trip airfare and visa costs?
No, unfortunately it does not. However, we are keen to help applicants who require financial assistance and can provide loans, possible access to sponsorship, and other solutions to help applicants secure the financial resources they require to attend Unreasonable East Africa. If you are accepted as an Unreasonable Fellow, please speak with the Unreasonable Team if you need financial assistance with your travel and visa arrangements.
Whoa, I want to get involved. What should I do?
I want to be an Unreasonable Fellow.
I want to fund some of the entrepreneurs.
Awesome. Please see this page.
I want to join the Unreasonable team or work with an Unreasonable fellow.
Wohoo. Check this page.
I would love to support Unreasonable East Africa’s work.
You are AWESOME. Please contact our CEO, Joachim Ewechu at firstname.lastname@example.org