What is the main goal of your current research?
Our unit of analysis is mainly cleantech startups working on clean energy and transportation applications. We are trying to better understand the factors that help make them more innovative and also more likely to survive in the market, succeed, and attract investments. With startups, the likelihood of dying is already much higher than that of surviving. And the question is: how can you make sure that this does not happen?
I try to bridge the three fields of environmental entrepreneurship, environment innovation, and public policy. And as the focus of the research is environmental innovation and technology management, there is no way around also focusing on policy and how it affects cleantech startups.
So far, I have primarily focused on the United States because many of my current research projects emerged during my postdoc at the Harvard Kennedy School, but my current plan is to transfer this knowledge to the EU.
What do you aim for students to learn in your classes?
So far, I am primarily involved in the introductory and mandatory courses in the bachelor program. There are two courses that I would like to emphasize: one is entrepreneurship, and the other is policy and innovation.
In entrepreneurship, I want the students to learn how to think and act entrepreneurially to solve important problems; and to view issues not only as problems but also as opportunities; and to solve them in a sustainable way, to really not only think about the economic outcomes but also environmental and social consequences.
And in the other course, policy and innovation, I put emphasis on how public policy and innovation within firms are related. Here they learn about the variety of tools, measures, and mechanisms that policymakers have at hand to stimulate innovation and how firms can contribute.
And these courses bring together the tools available to both firms and policymakers, which resonates with my research.
How can working across disciplines contribute to your work?
I’m still benefitting from the transdisciplinary focus that I experienced during my PostDoc as part of the Energy Technology Innovation Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, which is something that we also have in Straubing. It is about bringing people from different disciplinary backgrounds together and then working on questions around sustainability and innovation.
I have had many co-authors from that time, and one of my main co-authors has a Ph.D. in physics. It is great to work with her on innovation and entrepreneurship because she has the technical knowledge to really understand what the innovation is about as described in patents etc. I do too, but of course not to the same extent. I truly believe that diversity in backgrounds, countries, and training enables new inputs that spur research and make it more fruitful and exciting.
What do you see as the social relevance of your research?
To address the challenge of climate change, a lot more energy innovation is needed. And we know that startups play an important role given their agility, flexibility, and their fast response to market opportunities. And in this context, it is relevant for policymakers to know the impact of their policy measures at the level of rims, and whether their actions pay off.
At the same time, there is a growing global energy demand, especially in developing countries. And more energy demand comes with economic growth, and so we need to meet this demand without ruining the environment. So, our contribution is the knowledge we generate on cleantech startups. On the one hand, it is supporting innovation that would contribute to addressing climate change; and on the other hand, this could encourage countries to avoid making our mistakes by directly jumping into clean energy and transportation technologies.
It is also important that the research is impactful in real life. So not only that it is published in highly ranked journals, but also that it is helpful for startups and can lay the ground for recommendations to policymakers.
How do you see your work contributing to responsible innovation and research?
A question that we’re discussing in the author team is: is clean innovation per se responsible? And that this is our implicit assumption when we are framing projects. So, we are saying that whenever a startup engages in clean transportation technology, there is an assumption that this is good and responsible. And if I use this as an underlying assumption to this question, then yes, it is primarily dedicated to responsible innovation because the main goal is addressing the global climate challenge.
But frankly speaking, we need to do more to look at the outcomes not only from the environmental side but also to include more focus on social implications of some of the environmental innovations. This is an angle that I want to emphasize more in future projects.