Years ago I asked Vincent Stanley, Patagonia’s director of philosophy and coauthor of The Responsible Company, what the most significant piece of advice he gave startups and entrepreneurs who came looking for Patagonia’s secret sauce. His answer boiled down to this: The earlier you can build your values—whether around sustainability, responsible supply chains, or social issues—the better. So do it from the beginning. Many businesses try to retrofit for these things after they’ve hit certain metrics or growth scale, and it never gets easier. Be the company you want to be from Day One.
Now, London-based, award-winning ad agency Uncommon Creative Studio is kicking off the first official cohort of a new accelerator for purpose-led businesses called Unrest, backed by B Corporation and European equity crowdfunding platform Seedrs. The goal of Unrest, echoing Stanley’s advice, is to build and grow companies with their brand purpose baked in from the start. The new accelerator has already had success with its pilot program last year, launching Béa Fertility, which was listed as one of Wired UK’s Top 25 startups of 2021.
The accelerator is led by Orr Vinegold, a vet of working with startups as well as big brands like L’Oreal, who says Unrest’s goal is to help contribute to a broader movement. “We’ve got to this point in the world where if we don’t do something pretty urgently, pretty quickly, and pretty boldly we’re going to see habitats destroyed that won’t return, we’ll see mental illness at a level we’ve never seen, social and environmental challenges we’re not equipped to deal with, so we need to do more about it now,” says Vinegold. “Our top-line mission is we need to shift the culture of business to think beyond just making money for shareholders, but take into account the community, employees, and the environment we live in.”
Unrest is based in Uncommon’s London offices, and the first official cohort for the 16-week program will consist of 11 early-stage companies across industries like retail, health and wellness, and food and beverages. More than 90% of the cohort’s startups are made up of mixed or all-female teams. Vinegold says each company is aligned to at least on the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals, including Black-founded Agnes Health, an AI-powered multilingual midwife platform, on a mission to transform maternal and neonatal health.
Vinegold says Unrest is focusing on building consumer brands because of a greater ability to make a bigger impact. That’s where Uncommon comes in. The agency, founded in 2017 by WPP-owned Grey London vets Lucy Jameson, Nils Leonard, and Natalie Graeme, has created award-winning work for brands big and small, from UK brewer Brewdog, to broadcaster ITV, as well as work for PepsiCo, H&M, Allbirds, and Bumble. Leonard says the agency’s interest in Unrest lay in a desire to establish who each brand is as early as possible. “There are a lot of people and accelerators that start businesses, but very few start brands,” says Leonard. “A brand should have a point of view, and an impact, and a blast radius for far more than its product. That struck us as really appealing.”
Of course, brand purpose has become a bit of a loaded term in a world where The Business Roundtable talks a big game about stakeholders and the climate crisis, while on the other lobbies against President Biden’s infrastructure bill. As Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert succinctly put it to Fast Company recently, “The [corporate] sector has historically been full of shit, and the sector is still full of shit.”
Leonard says there is only one antidote to convince people that any given brand isn’t full of it.
“Action is the accreditation of a purpose,” Leonard says. “The benchmarks of a purpose are choice. When shit hits the fan, you either do something or you don’t. Who are you for and who are you not for? What will you do, and what will you not do? The point of purpose to me is to remove any fog from the ability of your business to do something or not. What are you about? Fuck the word ‘purpose,’ why are you here?”