By Marc Stoiber
November 3, 2011 - Daniel Epstein is the co-founder of
the Unreasonable Institute, an international
accelerator for startups focused on addressing social and
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
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
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
"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
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.
This article first appeared in Huffington Post and is reprinted here with the
kind permission of the author. Follow Marc Stoiber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/marcstoiber