Our society generally shares the view that solving the world’s most pressing environmental problems means harming business at the same time. Counteracting climate change, environmental pollution, soil erosion, scarcity of water or the loss of biodiversity, industries all over the globe have to change the way they work and hence may suffer losses. However, a business can help to combat these issues and still be successful, argues Siddharth Vedula, Professor of Entrepreneurship at TUM School of Management. Prof. Siddharth Vedula specializes in the topics of sustainability and entrepreneurship, focusing on the geography of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship in environmentally beneficial industries. Recently having published two research papers, Vedula talked to us about his professional journey and explains his findings on how to start solving environmental issues as a sustainability/(sustainably) conscious entrepreneur.
Building successful green businesses
Founding a successful business is a demanding mission: most startups are not able to survive in the long term. “In most industries, the bigger companies often enter and drive out the startups,” explains Prof. Vedula. He researched how the role of culture in a place can influence the successful foundation of businesses. In the paper “Green to Gone? Regional Institutional Logics and Firm Survival in Moral Markets” he, along with researchers from the University of Colorado and Miami University, found that green entrepreneurs can leverage the culture of a location to their advantage and thereby, stand up to bigger companies: “In places that have both a strong market orientation and a strong environmental orientation – two different ways of thinking with a pro-environmental logic and a pro-market logic – the green entrepreneurs can compete more effectively with these competitors.”
In conclusion, when founding green businesses, entrepreneurs should not only pay attention to tangible factors, such as infrastructure and risk capital. “We usually teach our students to found a green start-up in places that are eco-friendly, but our finding was that they would do better in places with complex cultures,” says Prof. Vedula: “Not only the physical factors of a place matter but also the softer, cultural influences are important.”
Getting started in the green business world, Prof. Vedula recommends that founders begin where they live – a finding that arose from his most recent paper “ Entrepreneurship for the Public Good: A Review, Critique, and Path Forward for Social and Environmental Entrepreneurship Research.” In this paper, he and his colleagues from the Technical University of Munich, the University of Navarra, the University of Colorado, Indiana University Bloomington, University of Oregon and the Colorado State University College of Business summarized the literature over the past 25 years on social and environmental entrepreneurship to recognize connections and how these can help contribute to the common good. “Green entrepreneurs need to start solving the problems they are impacted by, with the skills they have, working with their own networks, resources and knowledge. Taking actions they are able to take within their communities,” says Vedula, in summation. They need to have “a global mindset, but focus on local solutions”.
Teaching entrepreneurship at TUM
Teaching the future business leaders in sustainable entrepreneurship at TUM School of Management, Prof. Vedula values the technical backgrounds of the students: “I have been impressed with the ideas students generate because of their technical skills. Once you give them the business understanding of how to move ideas from the lab to the marketplace, it creates a lot of good synergies.” Being driven and able to work independently, makes TUM School of Management students good problem-solvers. Furthermore, TUM provides all the ingredients and the environment to build a successful company, says Prof. Vedula. With its infrastructure, location, business corporations, and facilities like UnternehmerTUM and its Venture Labs, it provides a fantastic research environment. Advantages that highlight TUM in international comparison, as Prof. Vedula knows.
From physiology and mathematics to sustainable entrepreneurship
Being originally from India, Prof.Vedula has gained academic experience in many different countries – and professional fields. For his bachelor’s degree, he studied physiology and mathematics at the University of Toronto, Canada. Then he continued with his master’s in biomedical engineering at McGill University in Montréal. Starting his career as a software program engineer in a medical research lab, Prof.Vedula became interested in the business side of science and decided to do a Ph.D. in entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in the USA, where he also developed his interest in green tech and sustainable entrepreneurship. During that time, Prof. Vedula even co-founded a start-up in the remote sensing industry, which gave him first-hand business experience. Following his studies, Prof.Vedula taught at Babson College in Boston for five years. Prof. Vedula was attracted to TUM because it is a mixture of a technical university and a business school, and the university finally brought him to Munich two years ago.
How TUM School of Management students can start to become sustainably conscious entrepreneurs
From his experience, Prof. Vedula knows the beginnings in green business can seem difficult for students. “A lot of the environmental problems seem daunting and depressing, it seems hard to do something as an individual. But they don’t have to be”, says Prof. Vedula. Students should start in their own environment, use their knowledge, be curious and think outside of their classes. They can make a difference, starting with being activists and engaged citizens, proposes Prof. Vedula. “Be focused on the process. Failure is common, don’t take it personally, and learn from the experience. Focus on the process rather than the outcome, so be creative and have fun with this. In entrepreneurship, the old adage of enjoying the journey and not the destination really matters”.