Unreasonable at Sea: It's an accelerator, on a cruise ship

By Erin Griffith , written on January 4, 2013

From The News Desk

Yes, it's an accelerator on a cruise ship. Yes, it's the same cruise company that hosted the cast of MTV reality show "Road Rules: Semester at Sea" in 1999. Yes, accelerators have jumped the shark and your bullshit detector should be doing backflips right now. But hear me out -- this one actually sounds cool.

It's called Unreasonable at Sea, named after the accelerator that organized it, Boulder-based Unreasonable Institute, founded by serial entrepreneur Daniel Epstein. The company has chosen eleven companies to join Semester at Sea's boat full of students to port-hop their way around the world for five months. It leaves San Diego January 9 and will hit 15 cities in 12 countries on its way to Spain in April.

Mentors like Desmond Tutu, Megan Smith of Google and George Kembel will join them on the boat. The founders work with students of Kembel's entrepreneurship class. They'll have opportunities in each stop to meet with local investors, mentors and potential customers at each location, all for the tiny cost of a sliver of their equity.

Still, even with all the bells and whistles, it sounds like an extended spring break for a bunch of wantrepreneurs. The Road Rules connotation doesn't help. (For the record, I seem to remember that season being more boring than most. Too much studying.)

But it's not -- each of the eleven companies are focused on social good. They solve issues would not be categorized as "#firstworldproblems;" if fact many of them are very much Third World problems. Like sustainable water treatment (Aquaphytex), or the catalytic conversion of carbon emissions, aka turning pollution into money (Damascus Fortune), Internet access for mobile users in developing countries (Innoz), innovative and safe cookstoves for the poor (Prakti Design) and sun-powered hearing aids (Solar Ear). The eleven companies, which hail from ten different countries, are working on the kinds of innovations that have us at PandoDaily excited, not bored, by tech in 2013.

They're all profitable with viable business models, too. The goal in the program is international expansion. Semester at Sea takes them through markets they aim to reach, and will give them valuable contacts and context for expansion. Building a global company, even for a startup, takes more than just a week in a port with a few local meetings. But it lays the groundwork much faster than the entrepreneurs could on their own.

Luke Jones, Chief of Staff for Semester at Sea, says his students, being globally minded, have always expressed a huge level of interest in entrepreneurship and social good. The idea of bringing an accelerator, with founders going up to age 48, on the boat shows Semester at Sea students what is possible. He's been working on the project for over a year with The Unreasonable Institute. "Its a big deal for us," he says. At least 75 people will be on board in association with the project. "We haven't ever opened up our ship at that level before," he says. Not even for reasonable old MTV.