A first of its kind type of accelerator is preparing to hoist anchor and set off on a unbelievable journey. Unreasonable at Sea, the startup accelerator taking place entirely on a boat, has announced it would be setting sail around the world starting on January 9. On board are 11 entrepreneurial teams, selected through the Unreasonable Institute and the non-profit Institute for Shipboard Education, that have a desire to advance their companies internationally.
Entrepreneurs and mentors stuck together on a ship
During the startup group’s 100-day journey around the world, they will be joined by 20 mentors who have exceptional experience in the ways of the world and can offer insights into helping a team’s product succeed. Among the notables are Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Google’s VP of New Business Development Megan Smith, Stanford’s d.school’s co-founder George Kembel, co-founder and Executive Producer of the hit TV show ER and co-founder of Law & Order: SVU Neal Baer, and IBM’s VP of Global Business Development Cathy Rodgers.
As we reported last year, Unreasonable at Sea is the brainchild of Luke Jones, the Chief of Staff of Semester at Sea, and Daniel Epstein, the founder of the Boulder, Colorado-based accelerator Unreasonable Institute. The participants will set sail on a journey that will have them sailing 25,000 nautical miles and porting in 10 countries such as Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Burma, India, Ghana, Morocco, Spain, and others.
Meet the companies that want to change the world
So just who are the lucky participants taking part in this grand adventure? More than 400 applications were received from over 80 countries, but 11 teams were selected with 25 total members going on board. The ages range between 22 to 48. A few of the companies have already been established and profitable, but are seeking ways to scale globally:
- Aquaphytex: Goal is to provide clean water to 300,000 people without chemicals or energy, but through plants
- Damascus Fortune: Focus is to develop nanotechnology that transforms carbon emissions into material for spaceships
- Innoz: A highly-popular mobile application in India that is designed to leapfrog the Internet — it currently has over 120 million users
- Prakti Design: It aims to help feed 250,000 people daily with “ultra-affordable and fuel efficient stoves”
- Solar Ear: It claims to be the world’s first digitally programmable and rechargeable hearing aid
- Artificial Vision for the Blind: This company focuses on leveraging artificial intelligence to be a non-invasive cure for blindness
- Evolving Technologies: It plans to help make medical devices for maternal care “radically affordable” in emerging markets
- Protei: Wind-powered, shape-shifting, open source sailing drones that clean oceans is this company’s product
- Sasa: An SMS-based e-commerce service that connects offline artisans to consumers directly
- The IOU Project: A company looking to shift the dynamics of supply chains in apparel
- Vita Beans Neural Solutions: Looks to educate and empower teachers through what it calls a “gamified platform”
An unusual accelerator
When most people think about technology accelerators, they often cite Y Combinator, TechStars, 500 Startups, or similar programs. In this case, the Unreasonable at Sea program is one where teams are still getting mentorship and advice on how to build out their business, but at the same time, are on a rather lengthy field trip going about trying to really change the world. You’ll notice that none of these participating companies are involved in social media — you don’t really see anyone trying to build the next Facebook, competing against Zynga, or even creating a mobile photo-sharing app.
Companies on board will have a whole new situation in front of them. The group won’t be on the ship by themselves. It is operating in conjunction with the Semester at Sea college program, where students from around the world apply to continue their education. Les McCabe, President of the global shipboard study abroad program, says that it believes entrepreneurship will solve the world’s grand challenges and “we pride ourselves on offering students eye-opening learning experiences that will help them function as global citizens and become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.”
Students onboard will have the ability to interact with the entrepreneurs while also learning more about starting their own business. Hopefully they’ll be able to witness the challenges faced by early-stage startups and how that plays out globally.
Each company will have a unique experience at port cities
Semester at Sea’s Chief of Staff Luke Jones tells us that at each port call, the entrepreneurs will have between three to six days to meet the community and learn about the culture. The hope is that the experience will be translated into helping shape the startup so that it can succeed internationally. Each port is for different companies and the Unreasonable Institute has done its research into bringing together experts, influencers, and leaders to help answer questions that an entrepreneur might have.
Next week will be the accelerator’s first cruise — nothing like this has ever been done before. Although, it’s not that difficult to believe this is happening. We asked Jones whether any of the alumni in the Semester at Sea’s 50-year history has gone on to help change the world and he said yes: Jessica Flannery, the co-founder of the non-profit micro-lending service Kiva.org.
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