Deep Impact: Six Takeaways from the Unreasonable Impact World Forum

Oct 25, 2017 12:50 PM ET
Campaign: Entrepreneurs

Originally published on Barclays

Hosted by Barclays and the Unreasonable Group, the Unreasonable Impact World Forum brought together 27 innovative companies from around the globe to discuss new possibilities for solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Here are six insights and ideas from key speakers:

1. ‘Unreasonable’ people find solutions

Daniel Epstein opened the conference with a question: Why is this called Unreasonable Impact? The answer? A quote from the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who famously said: ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in adapting the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable individual.’ Epstein continued: “If Shaw is right, then we can’t afford not to bet on the world’s unreasonable individuals. Who are the most ‘unreasonable’ individuals? They’re entrepreneurs. Where most of the world sees issues and catastrophes, they see solutions.” Epstein predicted confidently that several of the bold problem-solvers invited to describe their businesses from the stage would be future Nobel Prize winners.

2. Delegation is the key to success

“‘If you want something done right, do it yourself’ is the worst possible advice to give to an entrepreneur,” said Jeff Hoffman, serial entrepreneur and Unreasonable Mentor. “What I tell them is: ‘If you want something to grow, stop doing it all yourself. You will grow nothing if you are in the way. The only way to scale is by trusting other people and empowering them as you get larger.’ People tell me: ‘I know everything that goes on here, I’m a great leader’, but I say: ‘Actually, you’re a great bottleneck, because nobody can move forward if you’re off that day.’ Until you can empower people and let go – which is hard, because it’s your baby – you can’t properly scale.”

3. Plan for growth from the very beginning

Most job creation takes place in the scale-up not the start-up phase,said entrepreneur and panel chair Ruma Bose, but how can impact businesses be helped to grow? “Why is Barclays involved in Unreasonable Impact?," asked Robert Thorne, MD, Senior Relationship Management at Barclays Investment Bank. “We recognise that we need to work on scalability. One of the things we’ll see as we go forward is the creation of jobs from the entrepreneurs in this room. The ability for us to input into the challenge of helping these people, and to use our rolodexes to see if we can actually get the right people in front of them to grow this is incredibly important.” Adam Rowse, Barclays’ Head of UK Business Banking, added: “We’ve put together a new team who can talk to entrepreneurs about the support available for scaling up. Even if we don’t know the answers, we’ll know someone who does. A bank’s job is to take risk, but a risk that ensures that in the huge majority of cases we get the money back, so we can lend it again.” It’s important to plan for growth from the very beginning, said Jeff Hoffman. “A lot of companies find they struggle to scale because they weren’t designed for scale,” he said. “There are underlying principles that you have to get in place on day one so that you can scale. Look to streamline and refine to gain operational excellence.”

4. Make friends with the funders – but be picky

“Don’t ever wait until the moment you need [capital],” said Irene Graham, CEO, ScaleUp Institute. “You need to be networking and getting out and meeting the venture capitalists, the banks, the angel investors and getting connected into those networks as soon as you can.” But, she said, that doesn’t mean accepting investment from anyone. “You need smart money. You’ll find potentially many players wanting to give you the finance but what else are they giving you? Are they giving you access to connections to large corporates that you might have an interest in selling to? Do they have international opportunities that you might be able to work with? What’s that extra layer that they are bringing?”

5. Profit is not evil

“As John Kay, one of our leading economists in this country, said: ‘Profit is no more the purpose of business than breathing is the purpose of life’,” Oonagh Harpur, Advisory Panel on Sustainability, Boots Walgreens Alliance, told attendees. “We need profit, but for me it’s the change we create going forward in looking after our customers, our people, our suppliers and society and the environment is what’s going to create the profit.” Simon Devonshire, Entrepreneur in Residence, UK Government, recognised the investment mind-set. “The biggest obstacle to investment in social ventures is the occasional inclination to think of profit as an evil to be avoided,” he said. “Investors do generally tend to be quite allergic to that as an investment philosophy. That’s one of the reasons I’m more passionate about impact and purposefulness than general social venturing.”

6. In basic terms, impact businesses are no different from any other business

The companies in Unreasonable Impact were all selected with the hope that they could profitably scale to a 500+ workforce. Tim Farazmand noted that, however good their ideas, this can only happen if their fundamentals are sound. “In terms of the lens we have when we look at impact businesses, I don’t see it as any different [to other businesses],” he said. “For me it always comes down to the three Ps: the people, the product and the projections. You start with that. If you don’t have a good team, I don’t care what you’re doing, I don’t care how profitable or impactful you’re going to be, that doesn’t work. So the risk profile is the same.” Tim said that when it comes to impact investing, we are at a tipping point. “There have been one or two false dawns, but I’m 100% sure we have momentum. There is a lot of capital now pouring in to the impact sector and there is a lot more to come, I believe.”

The second US programme will run from this week as an intensive two-week accelerator, with the second UK programme launching at the end of November. The Unreasonable Impact World Forum, held last month, brought together 27 companies that have been through one of the programme’s accelerators.