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Daniel Epstein: Reflections on our Unreasonable Experiment

Daniel Epstein (far left) leading a discussion on the back deck of the MV Explorer with some of the Unreasonable at Sea entrepreneurs.

The following is a personal reflection by Daniel Epstein, founder and director of Unreasonable at Sea


As I reflect on the voyage and on this journey around the world, I’m sitting at the back of the ship overlooking the white-capped blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Yesterday we sailed through the Straight of Gibraltar and tomorrow, we will step off the ship in the maritime city of Barcelona. Knowing today is our last day at sea, it felt the perfect time to pause, take a few minutes, and reflect on everything that has happened.

Unreasonable at Sea was one of the most radical experiences and experiments I’ve ever been a part of. There was so much uncertainty at the start of the voyage, there were so many unknowns and moving parts, that many people, sometimes even myself, believed this was an impossible feat. But as time went by, as we sailed farther and farther into the horizon, it felt dreams were becoming realized. We had 11 technology companies on the ship dedicated to solving some of the toughest social and environmental challenges of our time. We welcomed 20 mentors to sail with us for stints as long as a month– from the Prince of Saudi Arabia, to the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the founder of WordPress, and TIME Magazine Heroes. We collaborated with executives from some of the largest multinationals on earth, including Microsoft’s Innovation Studios and the Innovations team at SAP. And most notably for me, we set sail with a mix of over 630 undergraduate students from over 250 universities.

Over the course of 100 days, we were all trapped together on this ship with one intention: leverage the community, explore design thinking, and maintain an entrepreneurial bias towards putting a dent on the seemingly intractable challenges of our time. With so many moving parts, it seemed to me that this experiment had two probable outcomes: Either the communities on board would clash, or the communities would come together as a family. Ultimately, the reason I can write this post with a smile is because today, we are most certainly a family.

On a personal level, this experience for me came full circle. I was a student on Semester at Sea in the Spring of 2007, and that trip around the world largely informed my work with launching the Unreasonable Institute. It ignited a fire within me to stop at nothing to create the program. And now, 6 years later, we are finishing running what was in many ways an Unreasonable Institute on the same ship that inspired the program in the first place.

What was most beautiful about this experience was watching how it affected all the students on the voyage. They leaned into the program with an incredible amount of excitement, and they supported and were supported by our entrepreneurs and mentors the entire time. Some teams, like One Earth Designs, had as many as 40 student interns helping them bring their solar cookers into new markets as we set foot in 13 different countries. Others, like Agua, had 35 student interns who traveled to remote villages with the company and worked with local communities to give them access to clean drinking water. And on the ship, the entrepreneurial and creative energy was palpable.

I know that when I was a student, I would have killed to have had the opportunity to work alongside young entrepreneurs who were trying to change the world‚Ķ that part was obvious to me. What wasn’t so obvious was just how much value the students on Semester at Sea would add to our entrepreneurs and our mentors. Many of them changed our lives and for me personally, I can say without hesitation that the experience has branded me with a new mark. When I look at all the issues and challenges we face today, I am now hopeful. Not just because a few entrepreneurs are working on technologies that could address some of those challenges, but because there is a generational army of young, intelligent, passionate, and insanely capable students who, when they step off this ship and back into the real world, will do so with the conviction that they can and will change the world.

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