This post is a two-part series by Banks Benitez, Unreasonable Institute SVP of Global Expansion—first, reflecting on lessons learned from the launch of 5-day Labs around the world in 2015, and second, how this experiment in global scale looks moving forward.

The Unreasonable Institute team entered 2015 with some big questions to evaluate how we can scale and drive more impact as an organization. What would happen if we equipped and connected teams from every corner of the world that were dedicated to accelerating local, impact-driven entrepreneurs? How could we increase our rate of learning? How could we exponentially increase the number of entrepreneurs we accelerate every year? What was the best way to identify and select teams and locations for full-scale Unreasonable Institutes, like Unreasonable Mexico and Unreasonable East Africa?

When the year concluded, we didn’t necessarily have complete answers to these questions, but we did make progress by launching Unreasonable Labs—the experimental division of the Unreasonable Institute aimed at global scale.

unreasonable labs ghana

A session at Unreasonable Labs in Ghana.

Unreasonable Labs are 5-day accelerators hosted around the world targeting local, impact-driven entrepreneurs. Unreasonable Institute HQ holds an open call for teams to apply to run an Unreasonable Lab in their region or country. Then, we select a small cohort of teams and give them the Unreasonable brand, our entire playbook and curriculum, application software, a learning platform where they can connect to share best practices, plus lots of TLC from the Unreasonable Institute HQ team.

In 2015, we selected 12 Labs in 10 countries, accelerating over 125 entrepreneurs in 7 languages. Tweet This Quote

In 2015 alone, the inaugural Unreasonable Labs received 150 applications from 60 countries; ran 12 Labs in 10 countries on 6 continents; accelerated over 125 entrepreneurs; and worked with over 120 Lab organizers and volunteers to pull it all off. Here are the four biggest lessons learned from our experiment in global scale.

1. We learned how to let go.

Before any Labs ran in 2015, we worked hard to codify our curriculum so Lab Teams could access and use it. This curriculum was a useful starting point for all Lab Teams, but it was inspiring to see how they took our curriculum, adapted it, customized it, translated it, or even replaced parts of it—all with the goal to maximize its relevance and value for their entrepreneurs. In the process, our curriculum became 12 times better because it was more applicable within each local context.

In the past, we thought of ourselves at Unreasonable Institute HQ as the ones responsible for creating and disseminating curriculum. That seemed like something HQ should do. However, as Lab Teams adapted and customized curriculum, it quickly became apparent they were taking it to new heights. We discovered that letting go and allowing for the curriculum to be crowdsourced was a far more powerful (and faster) way to arrive at a product that was truly transformative for entrepreneurs.

2. Teams looked different, but were successful for similar reasons.

From Japan to Ghana, Boston to Morocco, and New Zealand to Ecuador, the teams that ran Labs looked surprisingly different. In Japan, for example, the team had a small core team of three (all with other full-time jobs) surrounded by 70 volunteers. In Morocco, the team was from the Moroccan Center for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, which opened their space and dedicated their staff’s time to run the Lab. In Boston, dozens of volunteers, united under the CityAwake organization, coalesced to run our first city-focused Unreasonable Lab.

unreasonable morocco

The team and participants from Unreasonable Labs Morocco.

Although the teams were different, they were successful for the same reasons. First, they made the Lab a priority, ensuring they had enough capacity to run the program and planning far enough in advance. Second, they had a high degree of operational and logistical excellence. Third, they were committed to ensuring entrepreneurs made significant progress over the course of the Lab. Finally, each team adapted the curriculum, added cultural flare, and made it their own. For example, in Morocco, the team delivered the Lab in three languages—Arabic, French, and English. In Ghana, the team added an additional orientation day before the Lab started, where entrepreneurs went on a team-building adventure outside of Accra.

We learned faster than we ever have before simply because we let go of control. Tweet This Quote

3. We are getting closer to product-market fit.

Unreasonable Labs is like a startup within the Unreasonable Institute. Like any startup, the first mission was to develop hypotheses around our target market and value proposition. After a year in-market working with customers (our Lab Teams), we’re now zeroing in on these two essential components. Our target market is an organization that works closely with impact-focused entrepreneurs in a given region, but does not have experience or expertise accelerating those entrepreneurs. A great example is a co-working space like an Impact Hub or a civil society organization that sees accelerating entrepreneurship as central to their mission of empowering a city or region. Our value proposition for this target customer is “an accelerator in a box,” where with our curriculum, expertise, and ongoing support, teams don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They can run a higher-quality program in less time. Plus, they are connected to a global community of Unreasonable startup organizers, entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors.

unreasonable labs

A snapshot from Unreasonable New Zealand.

We also began to hone in on the type of HQ support most valuable for Lab Teams. In addition to use of the Unreasonable Institute brand and our tried-and-tested curriculum, they needed an end-to-end playbook, including everything from how to select entrepreneurs to how to fundraise. We provided systems like an application software, a Lab intranet where teams could connect with each other and serve as peer mentors, and use of the Unreasonable website to market their Lab. We offered constant and customized HQ support, from weekly calls to regular email updates to actually attending every Lab. In 2015, we were arguably too hands-off (because we were so busy) when it came to program managing the Lab cohort. We learned that having a Lab program manager is crucial to set up teams for success.

To make our curriculum better, we’re moving away from slide-decks and lectures. Tweet This Quote

4. We are uncovering what makes excellent curriculum.

We’re not there yet, but after so many iterations last year, we’re beginning to uncover what makes a curriculum truly valuable for entrepreneurs and their work. We’re moving away from slide-decks and anything that resembles a lecture. We’re adapting our curriculum to be 80% applied learning, with no more than 20% of any workshop being lecture. We’re also building more frameworks and tools that help entrepreneurs to self-mentor their way through a concept or exercise.

Overall, our inaugural Unreasonable Labs program was a successful, worthy experiment we will continue. With these four takeaways in mind, this year will see the second iteration of Unreasonable Labs. In my next post, I’ll announce our 2016 locations and talk about our strategy going forward. Stay tuned.

About the author

Banks Benitez

Banks Benitez

Banks is the Senior Vice President of Global Expansion at the Unreasonable Institute where he is charged with scaling the Unreasonable Institute around the world. In his four years at the Institute, he has played a variety of different roles: from entrepreneur recruiting and selection to managing the global mentor network to leading curriculum design. Now, he launches Unreasonable Labs, the experimental division of Unreasonable Institute, around the world. Banks is a Colorado native with a Bachelors in Economics from Vanderbilt University and a Masters of International Development from the University of Sydney in Australia.

  • Logan Coffman

    Wow Banks, great read. I had the gist of what the Labs program was, but never realized how much scale the Institute had seen in just one year. 12 labs in 10 countries? That’s incredible. Excited to see the strategic expansion of the Labs movement in 2016. Thanks for the post!

  • Banks, thanks so much for unlocking these lessons with the world! I think I hear entrepreneurs talk more about scaling than any other topic and the repetition of this word and hearing conversations on this topic was one of the first things I noticed when I started at Unreasonable. So thank you for sharing your and Unreasonable Institute’s lessons in this innovative global scaling experiment as I know it will benefit many other entrepreneurs and organizations who are hungry to scale and can be more set up for success to do so effectively with these lessons in mind!

  • Taylor Lonsdale

    I think that the second takeaway is so critical. It was my first thought when I saw the title of the article. Understanding that these entrepreneurs are coming from different cultures influences the way that they function is imperative to each groups success. I really admire Unreasonable’s ability to understand and more importantly adapt to this notion.

    I also appreciate the fact that Unreasonable is “building more frameworks and tools that help entrepreneurs to self-mentor their way through a concept or exercise.” I think this is a great way to get entrepreneurs to become self reliant. I imagine this also helps to boost self esteem, rather than walking them through a task, they are able to analyze and make their own decisions. Great read!

  • Ben Heiserman

    This is a great read, and it’s really exciting how much progress Unreasonable Labs had made. It sounds like you guys are on the right track focusing on working directly with the lab teams and honing in on the most valuable HQ support for the success of Unreasonable Labs and your customers. I do wonder though how you folks came to the conclusion that a lab program manager was necessary for Lab success? Are there other potential positions that might improve the overall functionality and communication for the Labs?

  • Sarah Nelson

    Being able to adapt and change to fit the needs of others is so critical and the Lab programs are a good example. Being able to adapt to different regions and adapt to be the best programs possible makes the Lab programs successful.

    Facilitating entrepreneurs at a local level makes a much large impact on the locals and gives local people jobs and wealth. This creates a lot more opportunities for smaller communities to find their passion and create something they’re passionate about. This a great program and has great potential to grow and impact more and more entrepreneurs and communities.

  • Gregory Clemmons

    It almost seems that this Lab program benefited Unreasonable in the same amount that Unreasonable has benefited the participants of the lab program and their communities. I would be interested to look at the situation from the point of view of the participants and see the takeaways that they had. Very interesting read!

  • David Kidd

    Great read. Excited to see how valuable the applied learning will end up being as you continue to expand labs. I really support what you’re doing, keep up the good work.

  • Danielle Flynn

    I believe this Lab Program that Unreasonable launched in 2015 was beneficial for themselves to learn, along with helping others around the world learn about a great company. At this time, this is a very exciting read as me and my classmates will be venturing into a developing country, Croatia, and working and adapting to how business works there. Being the first time I leave the country, I can’t wait to see how other countries work and adapt to their circumstances and find a good medium, just like these labs are doing.

  • Tommy Moore

    These labs seem like a great way to encourage entrepreneurship and business all over the globe. The fact that each company has their own spin on how to run these labs is a great way to tailor each lab so that it is more relevant to the region its being held in. The curriculum not being set in stone is a somewhat risky decision that definitely paid off for these labs. Both the organization of and the actual labs themselves are both learning processes. Overall it is a positive experience for both those who participate in the labs, and the Unreasonable institute themselves.

  • Reid Trauernicht

    It’s awesome to see that not only are you guys helping people all around the world through Labs program, but you’re also going through the entrepreneurship process as well. It allows you to brainstorm with these new age entrepreneurs and do things no one else is thinking of doing. I really admire what you guys are doing. It’s exciting to see where Unreasonable will end up and how it’s going to change the lives of the people it touches. Keep it up!

  • Hjordis Robinson

    I agree with this completely. An organization’s ability to identify when they need to revise their program in order to better fit the needs of others. For example the Lab programs that was developed by the Unreasonable Institute will aid in helping both the company itself and aspiring entrepreneurs. The lab provides a new platform on which ideas and techniques can be shared among such a wide span of people and its exciting to know that organizations are still extremely interested in encouraging innovation.