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Q&A with Daniel Epstein, Founder of Unreasonable at Sea

Tori: There’s a lot of buzz on the ship right now about the Unreasonable at Sea experiment. How would you describe the program to those who are unfamiliar with it?

Daniel: Unreasonable at Sea is an experiment in the power of entrepreneurship to solve seemingly intractable social & environmental challenges. We are working exclusively with companies who are hellbent on tackling the toughest problem-sets of our time, and we are running the entire program on the Spring 2013 Semester at Sea voyage. Twenty-three Unreasonable Founders from eleven technology-based companies will be spending the next four months participating in onboard workshops, meeting with world class mentors who will be visiting throughout the voyage, and taking part in pitch events, investor meetings, and customer feedback sessions in each port as they try to spread their ventures to new international markets.

 

Tori: Of all the venues you could have picked to conduct this experiment, why did you choose Semester at Sea’s floating campus?

Daniel: The mission of Semester at Sea is to “educate individuals with the global understanding necessary to address the challenges of our interdependent world.” Match that mission statement with the mission of the Unreasonable Institute, “to unlock entrepreneurial potential to solve the world’s greatest challenges,” and you begin to understand why we have partnered up. I also know firsthand how powerful the Semester at Sea community can be. In the spring of 2007, I sailed as a student on this very ship. During that voyage I not only gained firsthand exposure to some of the massive social and environmental challenges that we face in the 21st century, but I was also lit with the  belief that entrepreneurship and markets were the most powerful tools at our disposal to turn these issues into opportunities, and to solve them at scale.  Six years later, Semester at Sea’s floating campus is now enabling us to gather some of the world’s greatest thinkers and doers in a unique learning environment, expose them to thirteen international markets, while also restricting them to the close quarters of a ship over an extended period of time.  That unique mix of elements is bound to create some incredibly powerful results.

 

Tori: What types of companies have joined the voyage, and what are the entrepreneurs hoping to achieve from this experience?

Daniel:  We work with for-profit, technology based companies who are using the core product or service to tackle major social and environmental challenges. An Unreasonable Company must have a full-time team of at least 2 people, have completed a prototype or pilot, be able to prove that they have meaningfully engaged with their customers, and be highly-scalable (capable of reaching at least 1 million people). Lastly, and most relevant to this experience, we will only work with companies who can convince us that they are ready to scale internationally and that porting in 13 countries will be a strategic move for their organization. We currently have on board with us a wide range of companies who are innovating diverse solutions, from solar powered hearing aids and non-invasive cures for blindness, to efficient cook stoves and shape-shifting robotic sailing drones that will help clean up our oceans.

 

Tori: How will students be able to engage with the Unreasonable at Sea program while on board?

Daniel:  One of the most amazing attributes of Unreasonable at Sea is that as we sail around the globe, we are privileged to share this ship with over 600 undergraduate college students.  In order to facilitate interactions between our program and the students, we are teaching one of the largest classes on the ship that will use our 11 tech ventures as in-person case studies.  Each evening, we are also hosting interviews with our Unreasonable mentors (from a Time Magazine Hero to the Prince of Saudi Arabia and the founder of WordPress…etc) which are open to the entire shipboard community.  Furthermore, many of our companies are now speaking in classrooms across the ship, and dozens of students are already creating new internships with the Unreasonable Founders.

 

Tori: What factors do you think will be most essential to ensure the success of this experiment?

Daniel:  Like with any experiment or program, it always comes down to the people.  A program is only as good as the people who make it up.  After vetting our 11 companies from nearly 1,000 who applied, and now that we have set sail for a week together, I’m confident that we have the right ingredients in place.

 

Tori: What are your hopes for the next 100 days before the MV Explorer arrives in Barcelona?

Daniel:  Our goal is to experiment in what works in terms of making a dent on global issues.  I hope we learn a great deal about what is most efficacious and I’m eager to see our companies bridge new markets with their technologies.

 

For more information about Unreasonable at Sea and the on-board entrepreneurs, mentors, and learning partners, please visit www.unreasonableatsea.com.

Photo by Danny Askew, Unreasonable Media

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