The basic intent of this project is for you analyze an existing sustainable venture using the subject matter taught in this course, and to create a set of recommendations for that venture.
What do I mean by a venture
By venture, I mean anything falling within the bounds of entrepreneurship used in this course, such as an existing startup, an existing small business, or an existing high-growth venture. This purposefully excludes you pursuing your own sustainable startup ideas, as there are other courses better dedicated to that, such as Startup Experience; this course is about understanding sustainable entrepreneurship broadly, not about developing your own ideas. Additionally, this excludes medium or large businesses, intrapreneurship, corporate entrepreneurship, or entrepreneurial teams within organizations; though potentially interesting as a subject of the project, we will not have focused on these in class and thus the class material will be of little help.
To give some examples of potential ventures on which you could focus:
- A startup creating sustainable textiles
- A business working to offer employment opportunities to refugees
- A small business in Kallio selling a suite of sustainable clothing and food
- Mental health focused Apps, such as Headspace
- Green & Gold (the makers of Pulled Oats…though they seem to change their name ever year or so)
One additional caveat: you cannot focus on a venture we do any cases on in class; e.g. Tony's Chocolonely. If, we just briefly speak about a venture though (e.g. Oatly in session 2), then this is fine.
You are highly encouraged to consult Patrick about the appropriateness of a given venture. Additionally, the first interim report is an opportunity to receive feedback on your choice of venture.
You are not required to conduct any primary data collection, but if you do want to do your project on a venture whose owners/employees you can interview, that will be excellent for producing a high-quality project. For instance, if you wanted to use a 'Green' local business as the subject of your project, you are most welcome to do so, since speaking with the owner can help improve your learning.
Focus of project
Overall, the project will consist of four main components.
1. Explain the company's business model, especially how they (intend to) make money and which SDGs they (intend to) address.
Note: the 'intend to" language is in there because after our analysis you may find they do not actually do much.
Tell me about the basics of the company's business model, especially its value proposition. What does it sell? How does it produce this? What is its target market? What are social and environmental costs and benefits of its product/service? Does it operate in the business to consumer, or business to business market?
Importantly, do not spend too much of your project space on this section. As you can see from the grading scheme, I care much more about your analysis and recommendations than just on background information. So, make sure this part of the report is concise, but nonetheless provides a good overview of the business model.
2. Assess if the business model allows the company to effectively address any of the SDGs, and if they are effectively contributing to systems change.
Here, let me know if you think the company is actually addressing the SDGs it portends to address; if it says it is lowering carbon intensity in food systems, is it actually doing this? You needn't comment on all SDGs, just the ones the company is attempting to address.
Interwoven with this, comment on whether you think this is effectively contributing to systems change. Recalling the MLP, note that effectively contributing to systems change does not mean that a company has to be doing something at the landscape level, but rather could mean something at a niche level. For instance, a vegan food store with one employee could not hope to create a regime change itself, but its actions at the niche level may create the opportunity for others to do so. If the company is a very big one and is only doing very niche things, there is probably a meaningful disconnect.
You may also choose to comment on whether you think the SDG(s) on which the venture focus(es) are actually proper for an entrepreneur to address. For instance, it might be very difficult for an entrepreneur to address SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. SDG 10 (Reducing Inequalities) may also be difficult. In contrast, SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and SDG 3 (Good Health and well-being) are examples of SDGs that may be better addressed by entrepreneurs. So, comment on if you think corporations, government, or NGOs may be better placed to address a particular SDG. Of course, no SDG is the domain of a single actor, and overall systems change will require concerted effort from all actors.
Overall, be critical in your appraisal, but not too critical. If you think the company is doing very little do meet an SDG (at least relative to its size) then say so, but also don't fall into the trap of arguing that a venture has to be 'perfect.' So, make sure you compare to let's say the 'average' company in an industry; is your focal venture doing more for an SDG than the average clothing, food, of car company?
3. Analyze the business model to identify the tensions, trade-offs, and complexity that are at play. Do you think the business effectively manages these?
Be very clear about where you think the key points of tension, trade-offs, and complexity are. Focus on one point per group member; e.g. if you have three group members, pick what you think are the three most important points of tension, trade-offs, and complexity. It is perfectly fine if you focus more heavily on e.g., trade-offs than complexity. Just pick what you think is most important.
As with point 2, be critical in your appraisal, but not too critical. In particular, do not underweight the realities of the need to make money. A venture can ALWAYS be more sustainable, but they also need to make money. So, make sure you compare to let's say the 'average' company in an industry; is your focal venture doing more for an SDG than the average clothing, food, of car company?
4. Considering all of the above analysis, create 2-3 core recommendations for the business.
In creating these recommendations, your overarching consideration should be pragmatism; give me recommendations that accurately consider the financial, consumer, and market realities facing the business. I want something that can work given the way the world is currently structured (or is trending towards), and not instead something that depends on unreasonable assumptions. Assuming a 200% growth rate in FairTrade markets, assuming that the government will mandate a circular economic approach, or assuming that consumers will be willing to pay a 50% premium on a commodity are all unrealistic assumptions. Similarly, do not make recommendations that assume we will move away from consumption-based capitalism in ten years.
What this means is not that I personally think we shouldn't work to change the socioeconomic system - on the contrary, teaching you about doing just this is kind of the point of the course - but rather that if we want to create this change, we need to be realistic about where things currently are. Indeed, many of us can probably agree that current rates of consumption are far too high, but just because we agree on that does not mean that somehow the rest of society - a society that most of us are more sustainability progressive than - agrees to this and is willing to act on it.
So, create recommendations that take the current state of the world as it is, but that can help push us towards what you view as a more sustainable socioeconomic system. In many ways, you will find doing this much harder than simply arguing that people should be more sustainable or that the world is unsustainable. There is no shortage of things to critique, but there is a shortage of good ideas about how to overcome those critiques.
Ensure that the recommendations are significant, rather than simply being small tweaks. Remember, the recommendations can be about fixing the existing business model, or about growing its impact, so if you think the current model is effective, than focus on growth.
Additionally, ensure that the recommendations are separate from each other. Basically, ensure that you are not simply splitting what is really one recommendation into two.
You may also choose to include a brief appendix detailing the other recommendations you considered, but chose not to focus on. Again though, the core focus is 2-3 recommendations that can increase the impact of the company, and its contribution to systems change.