Recap: Developing Responsible and Sustainable Innovations in Entrepreneurship Education

As entrepreneurship scholars and educators, we typically use project seminars to teach students about entrepreneurship. During those project seminars we let the students choose what exactly they want to work on. Projects they work on range from apps that want to enable consumers to save time when grocery shopping or be able to follow a healthy vegan diet, to concepts such as cafés to share skills or strengthen community-building. This shows that the concepts that the students develop often incorporate thoughts on sustainability. Nonetheless, these concepts often lack an overall and thorough reflection of the possible negative and positive sustainable outcomes. So how could we get these students to develop holistic sustainable ideas and critically assess the impact of their innovations?

For the latest Professional Development Workshop, hosted by ECSB, I teamed up with two sustainability scholars, Flavio Pinheiro Martins and Yasmin Azim Zadeh, to tackle this challenge. The idea to this workshop was born at a conference about responsible innovation, that took place last year. For me, as an entrepreneurship scholar who had mainly attended entrepreneurship conferences, this was a new community and an unknown discourse – but one which I felt greatly inspired by. As someone facilitating innovation processes, I was constantly wondering how to support the development of sustainable ideas. Responsible innovation seems to be one promising answer to this. Since this conference, Flavio and I have been working on the idea of bringing together sustainability and entrepreneurship, especially in education.

In the sandbox, virtual representation and haptic experience are thought together to combine perspectives ©Leuphana/Patrizia Jäger

At this point, Yasmin and I would like to share our experiences working in a project called ‘Sandbox Innovation Process’ at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, which aims to foster open innovation to tackle regional challenges. This project builds innovation communities within a framework of an open innovation process. We leverage this process by creating a basis of trust through various team building activities and repeated feedback sessions. The main chance and the main challenge in this process is the heterogeneity of its participants: students, pensioners, entrepreneurs, citizens – all from the same region, but with different outlooks and perspectives. This inclusion of perspectives is one of the key points in a process of responsible innovation.

When we look at entrepreneurial projects from a lens of responsible innovation, we can teach our students not only about entrepreneurship, but also about sustainability. In our Professional Development Workshop, we aimed to work explicitly with a concept of sustainability. For this, the sustainable development goals (SDGs) presented a good framework to get started. As educators, we appreciate the great material that is freely available and the easy access for our participants to this concept. While the SDGs are one way to engage with sustainability, we felt that by asking participants how their ideas related to the SDGs (in negative and positive ways) was indeed a good starting point for reflection. This reflexivity is again a key point towards responsible innovation, which strives towards making a positive impact in society.

Of course, we learned a lot from our participants as well. One question was of particular interest and intensely discussed: how can we be part of the solution if we are also part of the problem? The educator who brought this up felt that she was part of the generation which is responsible for the current mess that is our planet. While many of us could well relate to this feeling, a key point from the other participants was that this should not stop us. Especially if we are part of the problem, it is our responsibility to become part of the solution. As educators, we can have a great influence by supporting our students in making a difference. Strengthening responsible innovation in entrepreneurship education means increasing our positive impact in society. This workshop, hopefully, provided a small starting point into this direction – and we would love to discuss further, so join us for a discussion on ResearchGate!

Further information:

  • The project Sandbox Innovation Process is funded by the European Fund for Regional Development (EFRE) and the federal state of Lower Saxony and situated at the Leuphana University’s Cooperation Service with Prof. Markus Reihlen as the scientific project leader. More information: www.leuphana.de/sandbox-projekt (in German)
  • SDGs and Entrepreneurship: Horne, J., Recker, M., Michelfelder, I., Jay, J., & Kratzer, J. (2020). Exploring entrepreneurship related to the sustainable development. Journal of Cleaner Production, 242, 118052.
  • Responsible Innovation: Stilgoe, J., Owen, R., & Macnaghten, P. (2013). Developing a framework for responsible innovation. Research policy42(9), 1568-1580.

Author: Verena Meyer, Leuphana University of Lüneburg with Flavio Pinheiro Martins, University of Sao Paulo, and Yasmin Azim Zadeh, Leuphana University of Lüneburg

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