By Jessica van Thiel, PATHFINDER
We have always been fans of the Unreasonable Institute. We’ve wanted to get involved with an accelerator lab since we started out. The focus, intensity and support of an accelerator lab seemed to be exactly what we needed in the beginning. With time though, PATHFINDER developed beyond the conception phase. While we were no longer eligible to participate, we still wanted to be a part of this exciting experience. So when we were invited to present and mentor at the Unreasonable Institute Lab in France, we were thrilled! Not only was it a big moment in our #SocEnt journey, but also, it was an important step in validation of our work so far.
Although there are many accelerator labs for social entrepreneurs, for example, The Community Innovation Lab, The Mission Center, Standford Business School Impact Labs program, etc., our experience has only been with the Unreasonable Institute thus far. Their mission is to help and provide tools to entrepreneurs to solve the world’s greatest problems. Problems like poverty, lack of education, and access to clean water. They identify promising entrepreneurs with compelling potential projects and provide them with access to mentors, funders, and partners to help maximize their impact with the overall goal for each venture to impact 1,000,000 people.
One aspect of the lab that I found particularly useful was the Unreasonable Institute’s mentoring community. Mentors are available to provide advice during the lab, but beyond that, if there’s chemistry, they can provide a lasting relationship and guidance to the entrepreneurs.
As a mentor myself, I found it enriching to connect with such passionate individuals. The mentoring day, or at least the one I participated in, is a grueling and self-realizing experience. The setting is intimate yet professional. Entrepreneurs meet with as many as ten mentors – all from different backgrounds – who provide useful and sometimes brutally honest advice. Entrepreneurs can feel drained after the experience and often even feel the need to completely rethink their business plan or idea.
So why would a new entrepreneur willingly put themselves through such a test? Because, based on the feedback I received from the entrepreneurs, it can be a completely eye-opening experience. The lab served as an opportunity to deliver a series of ‘mini’ pitches, each time allowing the entrepreneur to perfect their pitch and polish their message. In many cases, it also allowed them to see their project from completely different angles. It allowed for perspective and critical clarity on how to move forward. Most of the entrepreneurs were emotionally and physically drained by the end of the day. Yet they felt they were better for having persevered through the experience. Even as a mentor, I had a few ‘Aha’ moments with entrepreneurs where it felt like we were really brainstorming new ideas; we were making things happen!
From the point of view of a mentor, who participated in a rewarding and creative experience, I found the Unreasonable Institute Lab to be unique from past similar engagements. Rather than just providing advice, I felt involved, like we were building something important, together.
I will, without a doubt, stay in touch and hope to even work with some of the entrepreneurs I met. If the participants benefited from the lab as much as I did, I’m positive that in a few months, we will not only see the success of budding start-ups, but the beginning of lasting entrepreneur-mentor relationships. So, if you’re looking for an enriching and useful experience to help launch your start-up, the Unreasonable Institute Accelerator Lab is definitely the way to go.