Entrepreneurs Change the World

Photo: SAP

Contrary to what it sounds like, the Unreasonable at Sea program is not about a group of disgruntled cruise ship passengers. Named in honor of George Bernard Shaw’s theory that all progress depends on “the unreasonable person seeking to change the world,” this innovative program reflects the belief that technology is solving some of the greatest challenges of our time. Its guiding principle is that an unreasonable approach is a prerequisite to achieve something that’s never been done before. Putting those beliefs into practice, the program recently brought together eleven entrepreneurs from ten countries and five continents for a sailing voyage around the world. These entrepreneurs’ businesses are focused on solving some of the hardest problem-sets of the 21st century and they will settle for nothing less than global scale. Their products and services take on social, educational, and environmental challenges using clean water, solar energy, low cost medical technology, mobility, and more.

As a mentor-driven accelerator, the Unreasonable at Sea program united these start-ups on one ship with some of the world’s greatest thinkers and doers. Exposing them to 13 international markets, and restricting them to the close quarters of a ship over an extended period of time was expected to yield incredibly powerful results to positively impact the world. The purpose of the voyage was to engage with local experts to experiment and learn how to globally scale their business proposals.

Mentoring, networking, and technology support make a difference

SAP, along with Microsoft Xbox 360, was one of the learning partners for the journey, which set sail from San Diego, California, on January 9 and docked in Barcelona, Spain, on April 25. At all 13 ports of call and throughout the journey at sea, SAP provided technology, networking, and mentoring support to the participating start-ups including direct access to world leaders, venture capitalists, non-government organizations (NGOs), customers, and local SAP experts.

Mentors included 20 prominent business thinkers, including Megan Smith, vice-president of Google, Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, and Nobel Peace Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In addition, the entrepreneurs used SAP HANA in-memory computing technology to develop demonstrations showcasing their businesses’ capabilities and how they could deliver even more value to customers.

Next page: Vishal Sikka talks about SAP’s responsibility to the world

Photo: SAP

Under SAP’s guidance, the start-ups also engaged in design thinking, a methodology that matches customer needs with what is technologically feasible, focused on turning business strategy into market opportunity with customer value. George Kembel, co-founder of Unreasonable at Sea and renowned design thinking guru from the d-school Institute for Design at Stanford, created and managed the program agenda. The entire initiative gives the CEOs of start-ups guidance and business connections to help refine, fund, and scale their business models.

“It is our responsibility in the software industry to work on the most challenging issues in front of us; fundamental things like poverty, education, healthcare. Technology innovation can help to solve these, and it is our imperative to drive this,” says Dr. Vishal Sikka, member of the SAP Executive Board, Technology and Innovation. “Working with entrepreneurs and start-ups is exactly the right place to focus on purposeful work. These entrepreneurs have not only the same instinct toward wanting to improve the human condition, but also have the same focus on doing this much faster than what we are seeing today.”

Results for all at journey’s end

Each start-up walked away with refined business models and prototypes, as well as investment and partner opportunities. The program was just as much a learning experience for partners like SAP. Following the voyage, SAP created a community of experts focused on scaling accelerated innovation.

Benjamin Boeser, a Senior Product Manager of Chairman Projects in the Office of the CTO at SAP, accompanied the entrepreneurs during part of the journey as a company ambassador. He believes each start-up embodies an important vision for a better future. “These start-ups had an extremely rewarding experience, gaining multi-cultural perspectives and business model advice, and networking with potential investors. If entrepreneurs are crucial to business growth and innovation, Unreasonable at Sea represents a progressive approach to mentoring and support that promises a more sustainable world.”

There’s nothing unreasonable about that.