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Monday, July 28th, 2014

Field Notes: Rich Hoops on Being Unreasonable in Nairobi

SVP Boulder County is proud to call the members who make up our ranks “Partners”. Working side-by-side, we’re partners in the vision, and the work that’ll get us there. A dynamic, involved, and invested bunch, this occasional FIELD NOTES series asks Partners to reflect on their lives, involvements, SVP, and what they think matters most.  

“​PART II: What is it about Boulder? An Unreasonable Time in Uganda” 2014- Rich Hoops, SVP Partner
By Rich Hoops, SVP Boulder County Partner
​Nairobi, Kenya

After the conference in Tanzania, I spent a week in Nairobi working with my portfolio companies, conducting site visits and general due diligence with prospective companies. I then headed to Kampala to work with the entrepreneurs/enterprises at the Unreasonable Institute-East Africa.

As a part of their longer-term plan, the Boulder-based Unreasonable Institute (who just wrapped up their fifth institute) established a goal of having a hundred institutes in a hundred countries. Four weeks ago in Kampala, Uganda, the first-ever institute outside of Boulder began. Included were twelve enterprises from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

I’ve been a long-time Unreasonable mentor and active investor/supporter of the East African social enterprise ecosystem. I was excited when a few young, energetic folks approached the UI folks about bringing an institute to East Africa, specifically Nairobi – the commercial and entrepreneurial hub of the region.

Last summer, when the Ugandan team was in Boulder to observe and learn about the program, Unreasonable East Africa’s co-founder Jaochim Ewechu, said they instead wanted to hold the institute in Kampala. I was simultaneously excited and worried: excited at the prospect of the awareness and interest of the sector beyond Nairobi; at the same time, concerned whether they could attract quality enterprises, especially from outside of Kenya? Would they secure quality, committed mentors (the bulk of the value of the program) who would travel to Uganda to participate? In the end, I told the team I would support them however I could, and let’s go make it happen.

The Boulder Institute is largely held at a CU frat house, called the “mansion”; in Kampala, I arrived Sunday night to the Catholic Seminary where the institute is hosted. I immediately began talking with some of the Fellows, and by Monday afternoon was in deep discussions with various mentors, teams, etc.

As I settled in to the institute and began to introduce myself to the community, the obvious question arose: “So, where are you from?” Many knew the Unreasonable Institute was founded in Boulder, but as I began to work with Fellows and suggest other potential funders, mentors, advisors, legal resources and such who I know back home, I’d hear again and again, “All these people are in your network back home?”, and “What is it about Boulder?”

By the start of Tuesday’s Investor Days (a two-day event where the UI Fellows present to and get feedback from potential funders/investors), I was quite impressed with the quality of the enterprises and the entrepreneurs driving them, certain several will get investment capital in the coming months.

Mid-week, Eric Glustrom joined us. A Boulderite himself, Eric most recently started Watson University, is a former Ashoka fellow, and one of Forbes 30 Social Entrepreneurs Under 30. And, he founded Educate, a Ugandan based NGO that works to inspire and train Ugandan high school students in leadership and social change.  Erik and Educate have quite a reputation in Uganda, and as he told the Fellows that he was from Boulder, again we’d hear that now common inquiry, “What is it with Boulder?”

Thursday night brought The Unreasonable Climax – basically, as those who’ve attended a Climax in Boulder know, entrepreneurs on parade. Held at a local cinema, each UI Fellow gets six minutes to describe the story of how they first encountered their problem/opportunity, and how they’re working to help solve it.

As the evening approached, again I was again excited and nervous (though not as nervous as the UI-EA team), about who and how many would show up. To all of our delight, by the time the first Fellow took the stage, the cinema was full and the night full of energy and applause for these tenacious folks tackling the region’s hardest challenges. The Unreasonable staff were amazing, and worked their hearts out to deliver a solid program. Most importantly, feedback from all the various stakeholders (i.e. Fellows, mentors, investors, supporters, etc.) was overwhelmingly positive.

After the Climax presentations were over and the audience spilled outside for a final bit of networking and celebrations, I spotted Devin Hibbard, the executive Director of the Boulder-based, Beads for Life. We met in the middle of the room and had a wonderful chat about our mutual interest in the region and the excitement about the growth of the sector in Uganda.

In the midst of our little Boulder reunion, as others inevitably joined the conversation and inquired, “How do you know each other?” We told them we live in the same, wonderful town back in the U.S. and one last time  heard: “What is it about Boulder!?”

Overall, a wonderful time in Kampala!

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