Who are the Unreasonable People?

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted people who are proudly unreasonable. No, not the Tea Partiers or the Wall Street Occupiers. These unreasonable folk are “entrepreneurs who want to change the world.”

Daniel Epstein

Why call them unreasonable? Because they are participants in the Unreasonable Institute of Boulder, Colorado. Co-founded by Daniel Epstein, this six-week summer institute is “for entrepreneurs who want to solve social problems and make some money, too.” As Hannah Seligson explains in her Times article,

Welcome to the age of the spreadsheet humanitarian. The central idea of the Unreasonable Institute is that profit-making businesses can sometimes succeed where their nonprofit counterparts might falter. Mr. Epstein, 25, and a serial entrepreneur, says the Unreasonable Institute wants people who are willing to think big, even when skeptics scoff.

The competition for being a student of the institute is stiff. What are Epstein and his associates looking for?

“We select for-profit ideas that we think have the ability to meet the needs of at least one million people,” says Mr. Epstein, who founded the institute along with Teju Ravilochan, 24, and Tyler Hartung, 26.

The selected entrepreneurs include people like Myshkin Ingawale, 28, of Biosense Technologies, which makes a device that tests women and children for anemia; Luis Duarte, 30, who started YoRecicolo (I Recycle) in Monterey, Mexico; and Jamie Yang, 31, founder of a EGG-energy, a company based in Tanzania that sells rechargeable batteries through a portable power grid.

Does any of this work? Seligson provides several examples, including this one:

FOR some participants, the institute is just one stop on a kind of social entrepreneurship circuit; they’ve been awarded numerous fellowships, won different business plan competitions and are regular faces at industry conferences. For others, the institute is their first encounter with this scene. This is especially true for many of the 60 percent of fellows who live outside the United States.

By coming to Boulder this year, Mr. Duarte of Mexico, founder of YoRecicolo, which operates recycling programs, was able to meet like-minded people who work on recycling and waste issues. He even received an invitation to speak at a Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York last month. His company has been profitable since last year.

The name of the Institute, in case you’re wondering, comes from a quotation by playwright George Bernard Shaw, who said, “All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

I find it ironic that this group of unreasonable entrepreneurs is featured in the New York Times while the Occupy protests are growing in popularity. In New York and elsewhere, able-bodied, well-educated men and women are expressing their anger against “the system,” in many cases condemning capitalism as the cause of all that ails us. Then, there are the unreasonable people: young, idealistic, visionary, seeking justice, caring for the poor, and doing something tangible about the world’s ills by using the power of capitalism. This does make one wonder who really are the unreasonable people.

  • Ray

    Why do so many people believe that profits are immoral?  How did we come to equate profit with cheating and stealing?  If a business manages its enterprise so that the revenue generated exceeds the cost of operations, why do so many in our society define that as “corporate greed”?  And, what exactly is “corporate greed” anyway?  That’s not just a rhetorical question.  I have never heard that term defined satisfactorily or without bias.I appreciate this quote from one of the entrepreneurs interviewed in the article:“When people make choices in a market economy, they are deliberately choosing the solution that best meets their needs, she says. “Also, we don’t want to have to depend on donor grants and donations. That’s not sustainable.”Isn’t that the essence of what a free market economy is all about?  The good of the whole is always advanced when people are free to make independent choices in pursuit of their own self interest.

  • Anonymous

    Good questions. I think partly it’s related to cases of corporate illegality (e.g. Enron). But I’m sure there’s more than this.

  • Glenn Foote

    My observations:

    I think the institute is great.

    I am not sure you can assume the grants given are from the government. If they are, I do not believe it is appropriate or necessary with our current financial condition. If their cause is honorable, people will provide the resources.

    I would not put the institute or the people involved in the.Occupy Wall Street croissant. I would assume they are or will be in the 1%.

    America corporation and people will continue to give and volunteer to assist those on need where ever they are. Somehow people forget or are unwilling to see what has and is being done. Or they have an agenda. Take cae

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment.


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