Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Unreasonable Institute: Startup Life On The Good Ship Entrepreneurship

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 7, 2013

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The Colorado based Unreasonable Institute has taken entrepreneurship literally and put together more than 1,000 people: the founders of 11 startups, representatives from SAP and Microsoft, several dozen mentors and instructors, along with several hundred university students from 200 schools, on a ship circumnavigating the globe.

It's a project, called "Unreasonable at Sea" and will last about 100 days having set sail from San Diego in early January and calling on 15 ports in 12 countries ending in Spain in April.

I spoke with some of them during a stop in Hong Kong. Here's my notes:

Being stuck on a ship, they say, helps them focus them on their tasks, such as rapid prototyping, sharing ideas, and learning from each other. However, a recent storm made many of them think, "Why are we on this ship?"

A typical day starts with workshops in the morning, a communal lunch, the afternoons are free, then dinner is communal with post dinner "fireside" interviews with key people who are encouraged to share intimate and personal details about why they want to be entrepreneurs, their biggest failures, etc.

The ship travels from port to port meeting with local investors, startups, potential customers, teachers, etc. 

The Unreasonable Institute is focused on training entrepreneurs who have startup businesses that perform social good.

Erin Griffith lists the companies on board:

They solve issues...[that] are very much Third World problems. Like sustainable water treatment (Aquaphytex), or the catalytic conversion of carbon emissions, aka turning pollution into money (Damascus Fortune), Internet access for mobile users in developing countries (Innoz), innovative and safe cookstoves for the poor (Prakti Design) and sun-powered hearing aids (Solar Ear). 

Everyone on board agrees to stay for the whole trip but one of the CEOs of a startup had to leave briefly to sign papers for a large funding from VCs and will rejoin in the next port of call in Vietnam.

There is an "island effect" having everyone on the ship that helps solve problems startups might be facing by mixing people from different backgrounds and expertise.

There are mentors visiting the ship from Google, Stanford business school, HP, IBM, Wordpress, Priceline, and many serial entrepreneurs.

The Unreasonable Institute has accepted 70 startups into its program of mentorship since 2010. Of these, 50 have received funding of nearly $27 million in total, and 60 are still operating. In 2012 only for-profit startups were accepted into the program.

This short trailer explains more about the institute.

The World's Most Unreasonable Trailer from Unreasonable Media on Vimeo.

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