December 19, 2012
On January 9, 11 startups hoping to change the world will set sail on a ship to actually see the world.
The Unreasonable Institute has combined forces with Semester at Sea, the study abroad program on a ship. Entrepreneurs will join students on their journey for 100 days in Unreasonable at Sea. As they dock in 13 countries, from India to Ghana to Spain, they will spend time connecting with local investors, politicians, and businesspeople, and understanding the market for their products.
Solar Ear, which makes solar-powered hearing aids, might meet with hearing-impaired communities in Africa; Prakti Design, which makes stoves that take less fuel and emit less smoke, might connect with local aid organizations to learn about living conditions.
Back on the ship, entrepreneurs will have a chance to interact with the latest crop of Semester at Sea participants. They may give talks to inspire the students, but also learn from them – practicing their product pitches and getting feedback. “If we are ever going to have a chance in hell at having a dent on global issues, the solutions that develop and the processes we use to develop them must be intergenerational,” says cofounder Daniel Epstein.
Unreasonable at Sea has also recruited a roster of mentors including Google VP of business development Megan Smith, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, and Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu. And the startups can learn from each other, as they tackle global issues like poverty, disease, pollution, and education.
On land, the Unreasonable Institute brings social entrepreneurs to Colorado for six weeks of training and mentorship. It’s for startups focusing on the world’s toughest issues.
“[Technology’s] benefits have yet to reach the most marginalized amongst us. Even with amazing advances in inclusive technologies, two billion people still live on less than $2 a day, another billion don’t have access to clean drinking water, and climate change is accelerating at exponential speeds,” says Epstein.
Epstein himself spent a semester at sea, which inspired him to create the Unreasonable Institute. “It was this voyage around the world that exposed me firsthand to the massive social and environmental challenges that we face in the 21st century. The experience also branded me with a belief that entrepreneurship and markets were the most powerful tools at our disposal to turn these issues into opportunities,” he recalls.
Spending a few days or a week in each country won’t be nearly enough to allow entrepreneurs to develop localized solutions, but it’s a start. And when you’re tackling seemingly impossible problems, you have to start somewhere.
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