Consumer awareness is increasing around important issues (such as climate change, racial prejudice and gender inequality) – and this trend isn’t going unnoticed by investors. ESG investing is on the rise, especially for start-ups interlinking tech solutions with social impact. In the UK alone, tech impact start-ups fundraised a cool £2 billion in 2021, and impact investment is up 127% in the UK since 2018.
The newest generation of entrepreneurs is more committed than ever to creating social change. But linking a consumer business model with a social impact mission can be challenging – especially if you need that business to be profitable and attract investment.
The first in its space, Unrest is an accelerator enhancing the disruptive power of mission-driven start-ups. Its co-founders, Pan Demetriou and Orr Vinegold, are empowering entrepreneurs to change the world through impactful and global businesses.
Addition are proud to partner with Unrest. We asked Pan and Claudia (Unrest’s Programme Manager) to talk about how Unrest is helping social impact start-ups to build profitable businesses.
What was the inspiration for launching Unrest?
Pan: It was really the brainchild of my co-founder, Orr Vinegold. With a background in marketing and branding for industry giants like L’Oreal, Orr identified that new consumer brands aren’t receiving the same level of support as tech start-ups. While working in marketing and branding with giants like L’Oreal, he found himself rooting for the underdogs, and new, disruptive brands. He realised he was probably on the wrong side of the table. Orr shifted into start-ups, where he realised that no one was really supporting impact businesses that are focused on consumers. And thus, Unrest was born.
Prior to unrest, I ran the global and finance and fund operations for Entrepreneur First. I did that for four years until I heard about what Orr was doing with Unrest, and absolutely loved his vision for it. For me, the passion is about helping founders who are changing the world by setting the right processes and foundations to gear them up for success. That’s what drew me in.
Claudia: I studied politics at university because I thought that’s how you changed the world. After three years of study, I realised that wouldn’t work. So right after graduating, I joined the charity sector, thinking that that is how you actually change the world. And after a year in the doing that, I realised that, while charities are unfortunately very necessary, my opinion is that what they do is try to address a market failure which originates within the way we do business, and the private sector as a whole.
I wanted to get involved with ethical and sustainable businesses, because I feel they push for the systemic change that we need in order to bring about change. I’m now Programme Manager at Unrest, where I built the educational programme for all of our cohorts, as well as manage some of the partnerships that we have (for example, with Addition).
How is Unrest helping social impact start-ups to be successful?
Pan: The world has been changing around us to enable an opportunity for profitable impact. Up till now, it’s been particularly tricky for companies that have impact at their core to drive profit for their shareholders. However, what we’re seeing now is this shift, where consumer appetite for ethical driven brands is through the roof. In today’s digital era, everyone is so much more attuned to social issues in the wider world.
This undercurrent of change means that founders who want to change the world, but also want to create a profitable business, now have the audience to do this. Yes, for a while it may be harder to make the right choice, and perhaps your product won’t be as profitable right from the beginning. But we’re seeing consumers now willing to make that change, and that is hugely encouraging and the first step in getting there. The next step is actually empowering social impact companies to do that.
Claudia: We not only work with impact businesses, but also those that are exclusively brand-led and consumer facing. As Pan said, people are becoming a lot more aware of the things that need to change and are starting to vote with their money more than they have done in the past. In our experience, brand-led companies and startups have greater opportunity to implement a new type of business model than B2B companies would have.
So how do we do this? Our programme is what I like to call a mini MBA. We have all the regular modules – tech, legal and so forth. But we specifically focus on impact, whereby our founders learn how to implement impact within their business model and crucially, how to measure it and communicate these metrics to their customers and shareholders.
We also focus on brand and storytelling. Branding costs can go up to almost £100,000, which is completely inaccessible for startups. Even if the capital was there, you just wouldn’t spend so much money on building a brand – especially when you still have to build the product. Companies with a positive mission usually also have a really great story to tell, and at Unrest, we help them build attractive brands to match their mission.
Because we believe in founder resilience, we run a number of workshops on topics such as meditation and nutrition, as well as pairing each with an executive coach. The coach helps them work through executive issues such as building a team, thinking strategically about the growth of your company and so forth. Founders shouldn’t have to throw themselves into the fire and wear themselves out, as this wouldn’t actually lead to building healthy cultures. It would be very disappointing if all these amazing companies doing so much good in the world end up being horrible places to work at.
What are some challenges you encountered along the way?
Pan: We are the first accelerator in this space, which comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. From a VC perspective and an accelerator perspective, consumer business is something that many investors wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. If you look at most of the big deals that happen in the UK, most of the investment, it’s all around tech and software. So the challenge really is twofold. Consumer business is hard enough as it is without trying to persuade people that the new paradigm is actually profitable.
We’re also really humbled by the applications that we get for our programme. One of the hardest things is turning down founders who are doing wonderful things. Sometimes it’s just not the right moment for them to join the programme and we have to say no. Nevertheless, it’s amazing to see what people are being motivated to build, and how they’re going about solving existing problems in another way. The world is full of incredible people, and we hope to support more of them as we grow.
Can you tell us about a ‘wow’ moment in your business?
Claudia: After every session and workshop we have, we send out a feedback form. Seeing that what we do for the founders is actually really helpful for them, and that they feel they can use it to grow their business is a weekly win. That always puts a smile on my face.
As Pan said earlier, we’re the first movers in this space so it can be quite difficult – especially a year ago when we didn’t even have a programme – to get people and partners on board with our vision. Now, the more time we spend on our programme and the more people get to know about us, the more interest we get from people who want to join our mission.
What’s next for Unrest?
Pan: We’ve opened applications for our next cohort which starts on the third of May. They shut on the 30th of March, so we’re inviting as many like-minded founders to apply as we can. (Follow the link for more information on applying to Unrest’s Spring ’22 cohort).
While we’re very excited for this milestone, it will be strange saying goodbye to our current cohort as we’ve grown quite attached to them – but are looking forward to what comes next.
We’re also fundraising for Unrest itself. This is really the first accelerator of its kind, and we’re looking for value-aligned investors to join us on this journey.
Claudia: We also had our first Demo Day last week, and it was incredible to see our founders pitch their industry changing businesses to over 120 people in person and online.
Pan Demetriou and Claudia Radu are Addition partners and Co-Founder/Programme Manager at Unrest.