Getting Unreasonable

We emphasize each and every day about the ability in each of us to nurture our entrepreneurial mindset. Here at VCU, and indeed, all around Richmond opportunities abound to put that mindset to work.

Often, though, that entrepreneurial urge is prompted from a seemingly insignificant event.

A prime example of these opportunities and ideas was the recent Unreasonable Lab Virginia. We were proud to help sponsor this event and to see several of our current and former students acting as mentors, organizers, and attendees to help coax a slate of budding entrepreneurs through a final pitch.

Here’s how it works:

Unreasonable Lab is a 7-day accelerator for entrepreneurs who are just dipping their toes into the startup waters, and are anxious to tackle social and environmental problems. The entrepreneurs at the inaugural Unreasonable Lab were inspired by such things as a childhood love for community gardens to being frustrated by STEM opportunities as a youngster.

Over the seven days in the program, entrepreneurs will identify the issue they wish to address and how they will monetize it. They’ll meet with potential customers to begin crafting their pitch and messaging, and use feedback to begin validating their startup ideas. A final session finds them working side-by-side with mentors to fine-tune their ideas and develop tools for reaching out to potential investors.

Venture Creation University

Venture Creation University is VCU's strategy for ensuring all students are exposed to innovation and entrepreneurship and have access to entrepreneurial pathways. To find out more about this effort, and to learn about innovation and entrepreneurial programs offered at VCU, visit:
http://entrepreneurship.vcu.edu/

This year, the class included:

Jeff Beck: His AnswerNow app links parents with professionals to get real-time feedback on raising a child with autism.

Della Sigrest: Full STEAM Ahead links young women to events and support in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

Amanda Montgomery: Amanda has created Hummingbird Gardens, a market garden that gives back to the community and provides educational experiences for children.

Michael Cooke: Michael has created Fyat, an on-demand service for those who provide care to elders in their own homes.

Ayann McMullen: Harmony Organizing is an aid for organizing your life, and helps with goal-setting for high school students.

Rupa Singh: Love This is a mobile shop that sells ethically made products, fashions, and gifts that were created with a social mission.

Lisa Nisenson: She created Greater Places – a technology platform that caters to locals and lends their voice to urban planning in disadvantaged communities.

Manyang Rath Kher: Coffee 734 helps Sudanese farmers in Ethiopia by selling their product through Humanity Helping Sudan here in Richmond. Proceeds from her sales will help to grow farms and provide other essential items for these refugees.

The final evening of this program was a reception with over 100 attendees. Each entrepreneur was given 90 seconds to present their carefully crafted pitch, and to explain what made them passionate about the issue they hoped to address. Not only did each finalist cover the basics of their venture, they used in-depth personal stories to explain their motivation. The crowd was enthralled, and each pitch was met with resounding applause. Attendees were given Monopoly money to cast ballots for what they considered the most market-ready idea.

Winning the inaugural Unreasonable Lab Virginia was Jeff Beck with his AnswerNow app. He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “There are not enough professionals to go around, so the idea is to leverage technology to lower that barrier for parents, as a support.” He plans to use his $1,000 prize to take his entrepreneurial idea to the next level.

As exciting as this event was for these startups, you need not wait for the next Unreasonable Labs to ignite your entrepreneurial mindset. Each Thursday in Founder’s Corner, we host Pop-Up Pitch. Students at VCU are invited to present their big ideas, get valuable feedback, and advice on possible next steps towards entrepreneurship. This is coupled with mentors that are available all day on Thursdays. Our prize is only $200, but the process is the same as the final Unreasonable Labs reception – craft an entrepreneurial idea, plan your pitch, and pop up. Much like these entrepreneurs, your venture has to start somewhere. VCU is a Venture Creation University, and it might be that place.