New Technology Based Firms (NTBFs) may help to address climate change. This project investigates opportunities and threats for NTBFs and develops a tool to identify relevant socio-ethical factors.
The project investigates start-ups that are developing climate change innovations in the agri-food, water and energy sector. The preliminary results support the core assumption of the NWO-MVI approach that socio-ethical factors need to be taken into account early on in the innovation process.Institutional boundary conditions, in particular resulting from funding agencies, sometimes seem to constrain the ability of the techno-entrepreneurs to be responsive.
Only effective early in the process
A provisional result is that in those cases where socio-ethical factors were taken into account by NTFBs (= de facto responsible innovation), this was only effective at an early stage in the innovation and entrepreneurship process (for example at the ideas inception phase). These factors appeared not to be relevant throughout the whole process. This has implications for policies seeking to enhance or seed responsible innovation into sustainable entrepreneurship.
The project distinguished four dimensions to the way in which sustainable entrepreneurs manage socio-ethical factors. The preliminary results on these dimensions are as follows:
- Anticipation: This includes activities such as life-cycle assessment or thinking of future social impacts. This mostly occurs at the inception and development phase.
- Inclusivity / deliberation: There appears to be little societal engagement, with inclusion being limited to supporting actors (such as incubators, start-up investors, ‘business angels’ or fellow entrepreneurs). There is some evidence of co-creation/co-design with customers.
- Reflexivity: This is not widely recognised as necessary by the sustainable entrepreneurs, but some is occurring, encouraged by peers (i.e. fellow entrepreneurs at conferences/events).
- Responsiveness: Sustainable entrepreneurs report that they are agile and responsive to demands from / changes in the business environment. Institutional boundary conditions play a role: entrepreneurs are actually not that free, but sometimes constrained by for example funding agencies.
Climate change requires new green technologies and transitions in socio-technical systems. A key leverage point for this transition is found in sustainable NTBFs. On the one hand, responsible innovation can be seen as an opportunity for sustainable entrepreneurs; it can create new innovation spaces, increase stakeholder engagement and lead to a better embedding of innovations in society. On the other hand, it is expected that the initial investments needed for responsible innovation will be a challenge for NTBFs, because they often have limited financial resources during the start-up phase, when processes consistent with responsible innovation use precious resources. This means that in this phase there could be tensions between the potential opportunities and the challenge to be profitable; the (financial) benefits of responsible innovation often occur later on in the business process.
This research project focuses on the opportunities for responsible innovation in the private sector in general, and NTBFs and academic spin-offs in particular. It aims to understand:
- how sustainable entrepreneurs currently manage socio-ethical factors and deal with potential trade-offs;
- the extent to which responsible innovation frameworks can be applied in the private sector to enhance the management of socio-ethical factors;
- the role of investors in this process;
- the influence of the wider innovation system.
This involves also reflection on normative questions regarding the role and responsibility of sustainable entrepreneurs and investors for societal change. One deliverable will be a training module and handbook to facilitate dissemination of the ‘Product Impact Tool’ which the project is helping to develop. The tool will help sustainable entrepreneurs to identify and explore socio-ethical factors.
techno-entrepreneurs, New Technology Based Firms, climate change, agri-food sector, agri-food sector, energy sector, water sector, sustainability, investors, social entrepreneurship, green technologyOfficial project title: