Corporate Responsibility award entry


Unreasonable Impact is an innovative multi-year partnership between Barclays and Unreasonable Group to launch the world’s first international network of accelerators focused on scaling up entrepreneurial businesses solving some of our most pressing societal challenges – businesses that will also help to employ thousands worldwide.

The inaugural year of the partnership (launched in 2016) engaged 35 ventures and included three intensive two-week accelerators in the UK, the US and Asia Pacific. In 2017, the second year of the partnership launched in the UK and US, with 22 new companies welcomed into the growing global network.

Connecting ideas and individuals with collaborative support to drive sustainable growth, after just one year, the programme is already having a positive impact – creating a greener economy and making a difference to millions of lives worldwide.


According to the International Energy Agency, the full implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change will require $13.5 trillion of investment in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies. To facilitate this investment in a green economy, the capital markets – including Barclays – will play a vital role.

Furthermore, by 2020, it is estimated that the global economy will need 212m new jobs to accommodate current unemployment1, supplement projected job loss resulting from automated industries (up to 33% of work activities could be displaced by 20302), and provide opportunities for the next generation. Meanwhile, it is estimated that 66% of new job creation in developed economies will come from entrepreneurs3.

It is within this context that Barclays and Unreasonable Group created Unreasonable Impact, to support high-impact business models addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges and facilitate access to financing, while addressing the global employability challenge.

Barclays and Unreasonable Group share the belief that high-growth entrepreneurs are well-placed to tackle the global problem of unemployment. Furthermore, they believe that entrepreneurial solutions are best primed for scale when supported by a major corporation that is able to accelerate their growth: “At Barclays we help businesses scale and grow. Through Unreasonable Impact we’re harnessing this knowledge to support ground-breaking ventures with the potential to address some of society’s most pressing challenges. With our resources and mentorship, we’re helping to grow the green economy and create the jobs of tomorrow,” explains Joe McGrath, Barclays’ Global Head of Banking.

The programme

The programme is carefully designed to support growth-stage ventures with advice and guidance from experts across Barclays and a global community of world-class mentors and industry specialists, including: Jeff Hoffman, serial entrepreneur and founder of multiple successful companies such as; and, Tom Chi, Founder of Prototype Thinking, Lab Director of the Planet and former lead at Google X.

The daily structure of a two-week Unreasonable Impact programme is designed to help each of the participating entrepreneurs achieve breakthrough realisations faster by creating a close community bound by a remote sense of place, and dedication to supporting entrepreneurs in overcoming any obstacles to scale: “We use the island effect, which isolates these entrepreneurs for two weeks and takes them away from their day jobs so they can really immerse themselves in the experience,” says Debbie Goldfarb, Global Head of Barclays International Citizenship. “Daily life is centred around a belief that business is fundamentally about people, partnerships, and relationships.”

Given the selected ventures are at a high-growth rather than early-stage in their company’s development, their needs are often precise and specific to their team and business model. Barclays and Unreasonable Group identify their specific needs and connect them with world-class mentors, leaders, and specialists who have been specifically brought into the programme based on the aspirations of the participating entrepreneurs. In doing so, the programmes create the conditions for attending CEOs from all over the world to solve their key challenges in real time among a community of world-renowned leaders.

Unreasonable Impact works with companies at the forefront of innovation, such as those that are building the future of transportation with 100% emission free vehicles and urban farmers who are changing the way we feed our cities. They’re solving some of the world’s most pressing issues and addressing a variety of Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Aerofarms have developed the world’s largest indoor vertical farm – enabling local, environmentally responsible farming at commercial scale all-year round, while using 95% less water than field farmed-food. (SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 12).
  • Growing Underground utilises LED lighting and hydroponic growing systems to sustainably grow fresh herbs/salads 33 metres under London’s streets (SDG 12)
  • Lithium Urban Technologies is India’s first zero emission transport service, with their fleet of Electric Vehicles (SDG 11)
  • Off Grid Electric’s distributed solar model is working to provide electricity to every household in the off-grid world (SDG 7)
  • Riversimple – a Welsh sustainable car company – seeks to eliminate the environmental impact of personal transport. Currently developing hydrogen fuel-cell cars, Riversimple’s car is three times as efficient as any other (SDG 11)
  • Thread is on a mission to end poverty by creating dignified jobs and responsible, high-quality fabrics. They transform plastic bottles from the streets and canals of Haiti and Honduras into the most responsible fabrics on the planet (SDG 8 and 12).

Read more about the ventures’ impactful stories here:

By supporting these businesses to grow, the programme seeks to encourage progress towards meeting the SDGs. Meanwhile, scaling up these businesses is facilitating the creation of new jobs and access to employment – addressing SDG number 8: ‘Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services.’

Impact scaled

Since joining the programme, the 57 Unreasonable Impact ventures have already collectively created over 6,700 new jobs, while supporting 260m+ customers in over 180 countries around the world. They’ve also supported 100 million individuals to access affordable, reliable, and modern energy services as a result of their products or services and have diverted over 8 million kilograms of waste by prevention, reduction, recycling, and/or reuse

The support provided to each individual entrepreneur is invaluable when considering their capacity to tackle multiple SDGs, and they’re increasingly being recognised as pioneers in their industries:

  • AeroFarms and Semtive – were both honoured by Fast Company as Most Innovative Companies 2018.
  • Banyan Nation – building one of India’s first vertically integrated, formal recycling businesses – was recognised at Davos in 2018 with the WEF Circular Economy People’s Choice Award
  • Desolenator – a company using only solar power to purify water – was crowned the winner at the Duke of York’s Pitch@Palace in 2017
  • Re:3d and Andiamo – received 1st and 2nd prize, respectively, at WeWork’s Creator Awards (from over 6,000 applicants)

Unreasonable Impact World Forum

In September 2017, Barclays and Unreasonable Group brought the programme’s entrepreneurs together with 400+ Barclays’ clients, employees and key stakeholders to share their insights at the Unreasonable Impact World Forum – an event live-streamed on CBS and through social media to a global audience. The event brought together world-renowned thought leaders to discuss the:

  • The future of manufacturing and supply chains
  • The future of food and agriculture
  • The future of sustainable living
  • The future of energy

Daniel Epstein, CEO of Unreasonable Group, commented: “Never before had such a compelling portfolio of impactful entrepreneurs united on one stage. This event not only brought together some of the most cutting-edge companies in the world that are shaping a sustainable future, but it also underscored the support and commitment that both Barclays and Unreasonable intend to show these entrepreneurs over the long-term. The impact that can come out of this unlikely partnership and convening power is truly inspiring.” Twitter conversations at #UnreasonableImpact reached #2 on trending hashtags, while the event registered 10m+ media impressions.


Media links: Bloomberg; CBS; Wired hub; Business Insider; Forbes; 3BL Media – exemplary CSR and sustainability case study.

The programme’s objectives

Unreasonable Impact supports companies positioned to create at least 500+ jobs each over the next five years. Barclays and Unreasonable Group track this across participating companies and emerging industries that result from the industries they build and the inventions they introduce.

They also monitor participating companies’ scale and growth in revenue, profits, customer/user reach, financing, team size, and geographic expansion – to see that a CEO’s involvement has radically accelerated growth.

Lastly, as the programme strives to support the most effective entrepreneurial-led companies solving key social and environmental challenges, Barclays and Unreasonable Group determine participating companies’ success by tracking their impact on the problems they set out to address.

Societal and environmental impact of the programme

Tracking the metrics above, collectively, the 57 Unreasonable Impact companies have:

  • Created over 6,700 new jobs since joining the programme;
  • Reached over 260 million customers in 180 countries around the world;
  • Supported 100 million individuals to access affordable, reliable, and modern energy services;
  • Diverted over 8 million kilograms of waste by prevention, reduction, recycling, and/or reuse;
  • Generated a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of more than 4 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent.

Across all three regions, the entrepreneurs are undertaking impactful work to drive sustainable growth – as outlined in the following examples.

Americas – LanzaTech

Capturing and transforming carbon into new products, replacing petroleum products and reducing GHG emissions

Americas-based LanzaTech is just one of the companies participating in Unreasonable Impact. The company’s patented technology reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by over 60%. It does this by capturing carbonrich emissions before they escape from flumes of steel mills, oil refineries, and chemical plants. The company’s patented anaerobic microbes (or ‘bugs’) then convert this waste into fuels like ethanol and chemicals to make new products like plastics and rubber. As well as waste industrial gases, LanzaTech can also repurpose agriculture residues and municipal solid waste, taking advantage of numerous regionally sustainable, low-cost, and widely available feedstocks. The company has partnered with Virgin Atlantic to produce the world’s first jet fuel derived from waste industrial gases.

AsiaPacific – Sundar

Building the world’s largest discovery and sourcing platform in the apparel supply chain

Sundar is transforming the trillion-dollar apparel supply chain by creating transparency, efficiency, and information tools to disrupt global sourcing and discovery. The company’s aim is to promote and develop faster and safer ways for fashion products to be made by highly-skilled and fairly-paid workers. It does so by connecting brands with manufacturers and suppliers of textiles, trims, components and specialist services. Building the world’s largest discovery and sourcing platform, Sundar enables in minutes what used to take weeks and months to accomplish. The company was incubated at MIT and Techstars, the world’s leading software accelerator. It is institutionally backed by the largest venture fund in the world, as well as eminent Bay Area, New York and Hong Kong based investors.

UK – Desolenator

Using only solar power to purify water from any source, including sea water

Desolenator uses patented solar technology to purify any water into drinking water. Unlike existing desalination technologies, which are inefficient and run on fossil fuels, Desolenator’s 100% solar-driven product has a long lifespan, is off-grid, stand-alone and filter-free. It is also affordable; a pay-per-use model makes it available to people at the base of the pyramid. Recently, Desolenator was crowned the winner at the Duke of York’s Pitch@Palace competition. The company is completing the development of three products and bringing them to market next year

Unreasonable Impact provides each entrepreneur with the support they need to scale their business. It does this by providing them with the opportunity to take a step back, seek the advice of industry experts/specialists, and build a network that will support them both in the immediate and long-term. As one entrepreneur commented: “As a CEO, I often feel somewhat overwhelmed by the vast range of issues to deal with, and I used to think I was alone in this. Meeting other entrepreneurs, then finding they all feel in the same position and face the same problems, has meant I now have a fantastic support network for the future.”

Across Barclays, the team have been able to make strategic introductions to Barclays’ clients and vendors, while the programme has also facilitated potentially hugely impactful partnerships between the entrepreneurs themselves. These connections are enabling the entrepreneurs to raise more capital, explore new markets and, again, scale their impact.

Business benefits

Ultimately, addressing unemployment improves individuals’ social and economic prospects, creates opportunities for growth and increased resilience for communities and society. This, in turn, helps build demand for banking services.

Beyond this, with the opportunity to work closely with entrepreneurs at these high-growth companies, the partnership has helped to inform innovation within Barclays’ business, products and services.

The programme has been covered in key publications resulting in positive brand recognition for Barclays and Unreasonable Group. And it provides Barclays with a great platform from which to engage key stakeholders – including the millennial population: 60% of the audience streaming the Unreasonable Impact World Forum online were aged 18-24 – a powerful reminder of the interest this programme garners across a demographic that represents Barclays’ future generation of colleagues and clients.

Internally, Unreasonable Impact is capturing the imagination of Barclays staff which has a positive impact on employee engagement. One volunteer commented: “I was thankful for having the opportunity to lend my communications expertise…I came away with positivity, confidence, inspiration and a great network of fascinating individuals and entrepreneurs I will definitely stay connected with.”

Given the scale of environmental, social and economic challenges facing the planet, Barclays and Unreasonable recognise that the best chance of promoting sustainable causes is to hedge our bets on the most resourceful, creative and disruptive class amongst us: entrepreneurs. And by supporting the innovators that are building new business models to tackle environmental and social challenges, they can deliver impact that is both scalable and sustainable.

It’s a partnership with capacity for huge impact. Unreasonable Group aim to break down barriers for entrepreneurs solving key global issues. While, Barclays is committed to supporting entrepreneurs and their businesses at every key stage of their development – from start-up, to scale-up, to IPO.

It’s also mutually beneficial. At Barclays, the program has:

  • Deepened employees’ understanding of some of the latest thinking, technology and innovations set to disrupt the sectors of their own client base.
  • Enabled the company to bring back many of the tools and lessons taught during the program, such as rapid ideation techniques, into Barclays.
  • Provided employees with access to entrepreneurs and insight into their business needs, which in turn helps inform Barclays own product development.

Establishing a strong partnership

Unreasonable Impact is a genuine partnership between Barclays and Unreasonable Group with every aspect of the programme co-designed to ensure it drives maximum value for the entrepreneurs and leverages the full capabilities and global reach of Barclays.

Both teams worked together to determine everything from the programme’s length, curriculum and alumni support model to employee engagement activities, and maintain a regular dialogue to ensure they leverage the engagement of key stakeholders, facilitate/track new connections with the entrepreneurs, monitor progress of the companies and feed back to colleagues.

Embedding the programme in Barclays’ core business

That said, Barclays and Unreasonable Group recognise the real opportunity for impact is by connecting participating ventures to Barclays’ core business. The programme taps into the expertise across Barclays, in everything from entrepreneur selection to directly coaching/mentoring the entrepreneurs: Each company is assigned a senior leader mentor from Barclays who continue to foster close relationships across the company and support their future growth.

Driving engagement through senior leader advocacy

Unreasonable Impact has captured employees’ imaginations but relies on senior leader support to continue to drive that engagement: Barclay’s Global Head of Banking sponsors the programme, in addition to senior management in each region.

Gathering feedback

Barclays and Unreasonable Group are continually evolving the programme based on learnings from each cohort of entrepreneurs (formally gathered via a survey conducted after each 2-week Accelerator) – for example: enhancing colleague engagement opportunities based on a better understanding of the needs of the entrepreneurs.