Entrepreneurs Driving the Circular Economy – Opportunities and Challenges

Organizer: Janine Elliott, Sr. Program Officer, VentureWell, Hadley, MA, USA

The GC&E community often demonstrates a more applied mindset than other sciences; after all, a concern for environmental systems led most us to the field of green chemistry because we understand the resources used in production and toxins released at disposal. However, this level of systems thinking has not necessarily been applied to the other systems involved in translating an innovation out of the lab and into the market.

This symposium sits at the nexus of translating chemistry research to product development, entrepreneurship/intrapreneurship, and circular economy: root challenges are many, and solutions abound. Topics will span the innovation pipeline, from the classroom to commercialization. For example:

  • What curricula are available that leverage Design and/or Systems Thinking for the chemical sciences? What can be learned from the co-working and maker movement to be applied to “molecular makerspaces”?
  • How might innovators think more strategically in early stages about industry analysis, and design with an eager end-customer in mind? How might they redesign the value chain instead of optimizing for a single part?
  • Where have Lean Startup principles or other business methodologies succeeded, failed, or adapted as it applies to chemical innovations?
  • What additional market or economic analysis is required for commercialization of an invention for the circular economy?
  • Multi-billion dollar companies may be in a stronger position to embrace circular operations, so what are the opportunities and pitfalls for resource-strapped startups eager to utilize circular economy principles?
  • What are the implications for their business models? Who is funding the “small fish,” and why?

Though only some of the GC&E attendees may ever decide to form a venture, the opportunities to see the “big picture” will inform more actionable research and empower students and faculty to think more strategically about the impact they would like to have on getting green chemistry out into the world.