Advancing economic justice is rapidly becoming a business imperative. Not only will a more just economy support diverse communities—including those that have been traditionally exploited in the global economy—it will also make the economy as a whole more robust, innovative, resilient and creative. These are qualities badly needed in the market to help tackle global issues, like poverty and climate change. Achieving this level of structural change to allow for a just economic system will require infusing principles of diversity, equity and inclusion across various facets of our economy and a wide range of stakeholders.
Unreasonable Group, intrinsically in the work it does, involves many stakeholder networks. The company connects entrepreneurs with investors, operates programs for the entrepreneurs, and runs a multimedia platform. This broad scope of work allows Unreasonable Group to collaborate with and support multiple stakeholders through its business and drive positive impact effectively.
“We started conceptually as a place bridging capitalism and the humanities,” said Whitney Heaps, Director of People Operations at Unreasonable Group. “How do you use the forces of market systems, the focus of capitalism, but for the purposes of good?”
To learn about the company’s work to expand principles of diversity, equity and inclusion, I spoke with Heaps as part of my research on purpose-driven business. Heaps shared more about the company’s business model and how it enables them to support positive impact within its organization and beyond.
Christopher Marquis: Tell me more about Unreasonable Group’s unique business model. What founding principles drove the decision to structure your business this way?
Whitney Heaps: We started conceptually as a place bridging capitalism and the humanities. How do you use the forces of market systems, the focus of capitalism, for the purposes of good? We started primarily as an accelerator, but always with the intention of being a global community that brings together a variety of stakeholders: investors, mentors, business experts in support of the most impactful, industry-changing entrepreneurs of our time. The purpose is to wrap entrepreneurs with the resources, mentorship, and access to capital they need to succeed. One of our biggest distinguishing factors is that we work with scale stage ventures, so they’re later stage than most accelerators work with. This is by design: we focus on scaling what works – our belief is that this is the shortest path to greatest impact.
Up until very recently, we were not providing investments of our own. We’ve always considered ourselves a liaison and connector, so we have a network of investors and financial institutions in our community that we’re familiar with and work with. We also have a team of Relationship Managers whose sole focus is to work with the entrepreneurs to understand their investment needs and connect them to the right individuals in our network that can help support those needs. But in December, we launched Unreasonable Collective, a co-investment club for accredited investors to support our ventures with their capital needs. It is the first time we [Unreasonable and individual investors] have been able to invest alongside institutional investors, and it’s a brilliant new model for us. We launched the Unreasonable Collective with a simple belief and a simple mission: To create a passionate community where diverse investors can back high impact ventures run by diverse founders and to democratize access to investment opportunities in high growth, high impact technology.
Marquis: You mentioned diversity a couple of times. What do you mean by diversity and how do you ensure that you are supporting diverse investors and businesses in your community?
Heaps: We are thinking about diversity in many ways and quite broadly – from personal identity, to lived experience and professional expertise. In this context, particularly with the investment club, we want to ensure that we are opening up opportunities for people who traditionally do not have access to the investment space and who traditionally wouldn’t have the ability to invest their capital in these ways. So the Unreasonable Collective is an opportunity for accredited investors to invest alongside institutional investors in a way that they typically wouldn’t have access to because of the size of these investment rounds. From the onset we also set an objective that at least 50% of Collective Members will identify as women, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+.
And then, from an entrepreneur’s perspective, we are very focused on ensuring that we have a cohort that matches the globe as we operate and run programs all over the world. I’d say that’s kind of our metric most broadly across our entire community. We want to ensure that we have a global portfolio of fellows with operations all over the world and that their founders and CEOs represent that global landscape. In turn, we want to ensure that we curate a community of supporters, mentors and investors, that match that global landscape and that our team mirrors the global community we support.
Marquis: As a B Corporation, you participated in B Lab’s Inclusive Economy Challenge. What did you learn from that challenge and how did it help strengthen the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusivity?
Heaps: We took part in the challenge from 2018 to 2019, and because of our work, we were recognized as Best For The World: Changemakers by B Lab in 2020. It’s interesting that we were recognized for doing well in the challenge at that time because it felt like, in participating back then, we were just getting started. We addressed things that we cared about but were relatively easy to implement and that were already baked into the company ethos but maybe unsaid prior. The Challenge, and really the B Corp Certification process more broadly, helped us identify and highlight company norms and document them as policies, operational goals, and employee benefits to hold ourselves accountable. For example, we were always interested in having a gender diverse leadership team, but in participating in the challenge, it was the first time we began talking about it openly and setting metrics around maintaining gender representation. Given our size, our leadership team is small, so having a 50/50 split was achievable.
We had a gender-diverse leadership team before the challenge started, but from a board perspective, the Inclusive Economy Challenge definitely highlighted that we needed more females on our board. So we actively recruited women to join our Board of Directors and made sure that we grew our board representation. Now 100% of independent Board members identify as either women or people of color).
We also worked on designing more intentional hiring practices (using a company called Applied built to remove unconscious bias by design, conducting blind application screening focused on skills based hiring practices, and partnering with Elivade to broaden our recruitment pool). We expanded our benefits and policies to be more inclusive and accessible to all teammates (implementing a distributed work policy, increasing company health care coverage to ensure equal support for families as well as single employees, etc.). We also added our value of Global Identity to our Manifesto.
These are all concrete steps, but in many ways barely begin to realize the DEI efforts we aim to achieve. You can see a public statement from our CEO shared last Juneteenth about our efforts to said date. To hold ourselves accountable to his commitments, we have baked these commitments and more into our company and team level OKRs (objectives and key results) for 2021, ensuring that DEI efforts are not just supplementary but rather woven directly into the operations of every team across the business.
Marquis: How is Unreasonable Group working to support diversity, equity and inclusion in the programs it operates?
Heaps: One of the things that we’ve implemented is a commitment to always having a standing diversity and inclusion session in all of our programming. This has come up organically, and we’ve talked about it in a number of programs sort of ad hoc with our fellows. But we’ve set a commitment to have it as a standing programmatic element. I think it is really powerful.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are baked into every business unit and every team and function across the organization. Everyone is thinking about diversity, equity, inclusion as core to the overall success of the business. Whether that’s our programs logistics, our portfolio management, our communications team — every single team is thinking about diversity and inclusion in the delivery of their work. We still have much to improve upon but I am proud we’ve made these commitments central to our purpose as a business and as a team.