Daniel Epstein is the co-founder of the Unreasonable Institute, an international accelerator for startups focused on addressing social and environmental challenges.
Every year, aspiring entrepreneurs from around the world vie for a coveted six week 'Summer Institute' bootcamp at the Institute's Boulder, Colorado headquarters. They're coached by mentors, grilled by financial experts, and toughened through peer review. At the conclusion of the Summer Institute, they're lined up in front of potential investors. Some succeed in landing capital -- others don't.
It's a process that builds passion, Epstein has discovered. 'It's easy for us to measure our success by tracking typical metrics like revenue, investment received, customer acquisition, and so on. What we weren't expecting was donations of equity from our entrepreneurs. Or tattoos.'
Yes, tattoos. Following the program, several of this year's entrepreneurs had Unreasonable Institute logos inked on their bodies.
Ben Lyon, Co-Founder and VP Business Development of Kopo Kopo Inc. was one of the tattooed entrepreneurs. 'Unreasonable Institute was the best summer of my life. After spending ten weeks with people as crazy as me, I wanted some way to commemorate the experience. Whenever I look at the tattoo, I'm reminded why I do what I do.'
These expressions demonstrate the program's power. But another gesture of gratitude sparked an idea that could change the Unreasonable business model.
An unreasonable brand universe
Following the bootcamp, a handful of this year's graduates asked Epstein if they could adopt the Unreasonable name for their companies.
'These entrepreneurs saw the value in adopting the Unreasonable brand as a way of catalyzing their growth and focus. They are, after all, launching companies designed to challenge the status quo and disrupt the model of generating aid, environmental and social good. They are launching unreasonable ventures.'
Although the concept of different companies revolving around a single brand isn't unusual, it's usually a top down process. Richard Branson honed his vision with his music company, then spun it off to everything from airlines to cellphones.
It's true Epstein saw inspiration in the Virgin model. But with Unreasonable, the brand universe seems to have been created in a much more spontaneous, organic way. It feels like a groundswell, not a corporate agenda.
The universe is starting to take shape. In October an 'adventure tech' company Epstein had worked with for four years rebranded itself Unreasonable Adventures. By the end of November, the goal is to launch Unreasonable Media and Unreasonable Productions.
Perhaps Unreasonable is an indicator of how a new generation of businesses can harness the power of shared beliefs. Creating rapid growth across sectors in the process.
What's the formula?
Unreasonable lives at the convergence of business and belief. Although it exists to bring rational business expertise to startups, there's nothing cold or bloodless about it. As Epstein says 'This is not business as usual, this is business unusual.'
Not every company can drive passion like Unreasonable, or create an organic movement that turns into a rapidly expanding brand universe. But there are lessons every business can take away.
- It's about great people, not a great idea - A fearless exchange of ideas is much more powerful than a fully formed business. Unreasonable created the platform for that idea exchange, and let its entrepreneurs do the rest.
- Embrace the hybrid - It's often not a sector, but an idea, that becomes the root of a company. It's not about what you do, but why you exist. Reframe the question, and new hybrid opportunities may become apparent.
- Be intentionally unintentional - Epstein and his team are 'intentionally unintentional' about how they structure the day to day of the Institute. It's a strategy that assumes great things happen when you take your hands off the steering wheel. The trick is in setting a big goal, then letting your team surprise you with their paths to achieving it.