UNLEASH Innovation Lab 2017 - An event for the Sustainable Development Goals in Denmark


In August 2017, the inaugural UNLEASH event was held when talents from all over the world came to Denmark for nine days to create real, scalable solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals.


Copenhagen Kick-off

The SDG talents who arrivied on Saturday August 12th were accommodated in downtown Copenhagen and met up in the vibrant Meatpacking District for an organic street food dinner followed by drinks and music.

UNLEASH kicked off on Sunday August 13th at the Train Workshop, a raw, industrial space where participants enjoyed a day of inspirational speakers, team activities and initial work on SDG solutions. Talents took part in case challenges with innovative companies, experts and start-ups.

In Copenhagen, the talents explored a range of innovative companies around the city when they went on the SDG Roadmap, before meeting at City Hall where the Mayor sent the talents off to Folk High Schools.

See video from Copenhagen here.


SDG Innovation Lab facilitated by Deloitte

The talents went through a facilitated process of innovation, uniquely tailored by UNLEASH and Deloitte. They formed teams to explore real-life challenges within the 7 themes from multiple angles, before defining specific problems and coming up with preliminary solutions. These were tested with leading experts and company partners, then refined, and ultimately presented to peers and panels of judges and mentors.

The SDG Innovation Challenge took place at 10 Folk High Schools, unique learning institutions located in the Danish countryside. Folk High Schools focus on personal development, open collaboration, and hands-on learning, and these approaches informed the SDG problem-solving to unlock new perspectives.

At the end of this rapid-fire innovation process, each team of talents had a draft SDG solution, implementation plan, and presentation – making them ready for Aarhus!

See video from Folk High Schools here.


Culmination and UNLEASH Awards Show Presented by BESTSELLER

The culmination of the UNLEASH Innovation Lab took place across 3 days in Aarhus, the European Capital of Culture 2017. In Aarhus, all talents gathered before the final sprint on their SDG solutions.

All teams presented their solutions to peers within their theme. The twelve top solutions advanced to present their solutions to investors and experts. The top two solutions within each theme presented in a Dragons’ Den format, and a gold, silver and bronze winner was chosen.

On Monday August 21st, all talents and UNLEASH partners came together for the “UNLEASH Award Show – Presented by BESTSELLER” at Musikhuset, where innovators and thought leaders celebrated their work and launched the global UNLEASH movement.

See video from Aarhus here.

Who was at UNLEASH LAB 2017


Actor, philanthropist, entrepreneur, investor and producer

Kutcher has been named one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World,” as well as being honored by Vanity Fair ‘s New Establishment List, which identifies the top 50 of an innovative new breed of buccaneering visionaries, engineering prodigies and entrepreneurs.


Under Secretary General and Administrator of UNDP

Over nearly three decades, Achim Steiner has been a global leader on sustainable development, climate resilience and international cooperation.


Architect & Founder, Lendager Group

Anders Lendager is a qualified architect and founder of Lendager Group, an innovative company that works in the built environment, specialized in cost neutral sustainable buildings with special focus on circular economy.


Founder & CEO, BIG

Through a series of award-winning design projects and buildings, Ingels has developed a reputation for designing buildings that are as programmatically and technically innovative as they are cost and resource conscious.


Managing Director of Brands and Distribution, Esquel Group

Esqual Group is a global leading textile and apparel manufacturer with operations located worldwide.

HRH Crown

Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark

A passionate advocate for health, gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls. She is committed to creating awareness, respect and acceptance of women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to family planning and the reduction of maternal and child mortality.


Founder & managing director, AlliedCrowds.com

AlliedCrowds is the leading directory and aggregator of alternative capital into the world’s 132 lower and middle income countries.

Lars Løkke

Prime Minister of Denmark

Lars Løkke Rasmussen has
served as Prime Minister of
Denmark from 2009 to 2011
and again since June 2015. He
has been a member of the Danish
Parliament since 1994 and
Chairman of the Danish Liberal
Party (Venstre) since 2009.


Co-founder, BRCK Inc. & Ushahidi Inc.

Juliana is a consultant, technologist, strategic advisor, and, entrepreneur. Juliana serves as an advisor to the councils of BASF, Risk Cooperative, Africa Technology Ventures (ATV) and the Lemelson Foundation. She is also a trustee of Bankinter Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Spain, board member of Digital Impact Alliance and the Kenya Vision 2030 Delivery Board.


Artist, Studio Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson works in a wide range of media, including
installation, painting, sculpture, photography, and film.
Eliasson founded the social business Little Sun in 2012.

Salman “Sal”

Founder & CEO, Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a nonprofit with a mission of providing a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.
Khan Academy started as a passion project. Sal’s cousin was struggling with math. He tutored
her remotely and posted educational videos on YouTube. So many people watched the videos
that eventually Sal pursued Khan Academy full time. Nearly ten years later, 55 million
registered users access Khan Academy in dozens of languages across 190 countries.


SDG Young Leader & Founder, SheSays

SheSays, is a youth-led NGO that works on ending gender based discrimination and advancing women's rights. SheSays uniquely provides tools and resources for women, including access to legal, medical and psychological support.


Advisor, International Finance Corporation (IFC)

Jorge Wong-Valle is a development economist with over 20 years of experience in public, private and non-profit sector involving agriculture, small business development, microfinance and fundraising. Jorge will be a "Dragon" in "Dragons' Den"


CEO, Climate-KIC

Dr Kirsten Dunlop joined Climate-KIC in January 2017. She is responsible for expanding Climate-KIC’s work supporting climate innovation across Europe – growing Climate-KIC’s world-class network of partners, strengthening ties with academics, innovators, entrepreneurs and the public sector, to build a zero carbon economy and climate resilient society. Kirsten will be a "Dragon" in "Dragons' Den"


Entrepreneur & "Dragon"

Tommy Ahlers is a succesful Danish entrepreneur having started ZYB and Podio.
Currently Tommy is helping and investing in new start-ups and work for more focus on innovation in education through Young Entrepreneurs and as investor and judge on the Danish Dragons' Den.


President & CEO, Vestas


CEO, Microsoft Development

Peder Holk

President & CEO, Novozymes


CEO, Reshopper

Claus Stig

Head of Sustainability, Novozymes


Spokesperson Denmark, UNHCR Northern Europe


Mayor of Aarhus


Chargé D'Affaires, U.S. Embassy in Denmark


Pro-Rector, Copenhagen University


Minister of Development, Denmark

The themesof 2017

Each year UNLEASH works with different themes. In 2017 seven themes were chosen and under each theme there was be a number of insights for the SDG Talents to work on. Read more about the themes here.



WATER TREATMENT FACILITIES: Water and waste water treatment facilities use 2-4% of the total electricity used in the US. While electric utilities have been focusing efforts to improve efficiency and provide grid services, water and waste water treatment utilities have been disconnected from these efforts. Water utilities’ lack of a relationship with electric utilities, coupled with low financial incentives for providing grid services, has limited the effort to improve energy efficiency.

WATER ACCESS: More than 50% of the 663 million people worldwide who lack access to safe water live in Sub-Saharan Africa, predominantly in rural areas. This leads to poor health due to various water-related illnesses. However, access alone is not enough to guarantee better health. Insufficient hygienic practices can lead to the contamination of safe water after it leaves the water point, making it unsafe to drink.

Read all Water insights here



WASTE AND SPOILAGE: About 30% the food produced every year, or approximately 1.3 billion tones, is lost or wasted, with fruits and vegetables having the highest wastage rates.  In industrialized countries, consumers and retailers waste an estimated 222 million tons of food each year, while in developing countries the wastage often comes during production.

NUTRITION AND FUNCTIONAL FOODS: While most developing countries have the raw materials to produce functional foods both for domestic consumption and international exporting, they lack a clear regulatory framework for production, quality control, sales, and certification of these “hybrid” food products. Meanwhile, despite nutritional benefits, no generalizations about consumer choices regarding functional food consumption have been determined.

Read all Food insights here




RENEWABLE ENERGY: If all planned coal plants in six countries – China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Pakistan – are built, they would over their lifespan account for “almost all” of the global carbon budget that the world cannot exceed if it is to meet the 2°C goal. While the share of coal in China’s energy mix will decrease up to 2030, Vietnam’s will almost double.

FINANCING: Over 30,000 solar-powered irrigation units were installed in India 2015-2016, more than doubling the previously installed capacity. Diesel pumps for irrigation are still widely used and substituting 50% of the country’s diesel units with solar alternatives would require loans of approx. US$15 billion.

Read all Energy insights here

& Consumption

Sustainable Production & Consumption

RESPONSIBLE SUPPLY CHAIN: Corporations with global supply chains have the potential to generate growth, employment and skill development through their operations and sourcing. However, cross-country production, short lead times, and short-term buyer-supplier relationships can make supply chain visibility difficult, both for internal and external purposes. This reduced supply chain visibility creates challenges for corporations to meet their responsibilities within human rights, labour rights and the environment.

WATER-USE: For the fashion industry, access to water is essential for cotton cultivation, textile dyeing and finishing. Every kilogram of textiles requires on average 11,000 litres of water throughout the production cycle, and in a world of scarce resources, where textile production is often located in water scarce regions, this presents a growing issue that needs to be addressed.

Read all Sustainable Production & Consumption insights here


Education & ICT

ACCESS TO EDUCATION: Despite significant progress since 2000, an estimated 59 million children of primary school age and 65 million adolescents of lower secondary school age – of whom girls remain a majority – were still out of school in 2013. Poverty continues to be one of the most significant factors when it comes to access and inclusion and exacerbates gender gaps. The problem of access is even greater for learners with disabilities and for displaced communities.

LITERACY AND SKILLS: Many school children are not acquiring basic knowledge and skills. More than 50% of the 250 million primary-school-aged children who have spent at least four years in school, cannot read, write or count well enough to meet minimum learning standards. There is also a globally acknowledged skills gap for STEM related jobs.

Read all Education insights here


Urban Sustainability

URBAN PLANNING: By 2050, urban areas will account for 70-75% of the world’s population equaling 3 billion more people than today. 60% of the areas expected to be urban by 2030 have yet to be built. As existing cities sprawl, people move to the urban fringe without services, amenities and infrastructure are largely due to the absence of urban planning strategies and legislation at the national or sub-national level.

URBAN MOBILITY: Automobile sales are expected to increase from 70 million a year to 125 million by 2025 where more than half of them will be bought in cities. The result of following this trajectory can lead to a doubling of the current global fleet of 1.2 billion cars by 2030. Meanwhile, congestion is already close to unbearable in many cities and can cost as much as 2-4% of national GDP, by measures such as lost time, wasted fuel, and increased cost of doing business.

Read all Urban Sustainability insights here



MEDICAL SUPPLY CHAINS: An estimated US$2 billion worth of unexpired medications discarded at long-term care facilities in the US, while at the same time one in four adults can’t afford prescriptions.Meanwhile, an estimated 40% of the 1 million health centers in developing countries are stocked out of supplies or medications.

CONNECTIVITY: Remote patient monitoring, telehealth and electronic medical records constitute some of the largest market opportunities related to delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, in developing as well as developed countries. The spread of eHealth solutions intensifies the challenge of interoperability, across platforms, devices, apps and databases.

Read all Health insights here


Globalgoals seen through a local lens

Every year until the culmination of the 2030 Agenda UNLEASH will be held in a new country. The SDGs will be explored through the lens of the host country, using local ways of living, thinking and working to ignite discussion and unlock new perspectives.

In Denmark, the tradition of Folk High Schools was used to gain new ideas for learning, ideation, and development of business plans and new ways of working together.

Folk High Schools are learning institutions focusing on personal development, community and open collaboration. They offer immersive experiences to students of all ages based on values such as democratic debate, practical learning and a citizen-to-citizen approach. Ten Danish Folk High Schools, all situated in the countryside, hosted the talents in 2017 and provided the optimal setting for the participants to rethink existing approaches and produce breakthrough solutions.

Next year a new location and a new lens.