Circular Venture Building

Anieke Wierenga

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The start of a new field?

Circular ventures are essential to thrive in harmony with the earth’s boundaries. Our earlier work (Wierenga, 2023) concluded that many circular initiatives fail, because we try to fit them into standard linear startup and business building methodologies. The Circular  Economy is fundamentally different from the current ‘linear’ society and its learned behavior.  In this project we combine emerging insights from different fields to shed a new light on ‘Circular Venture Building’. 
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The success of circular startups is directly related to the reciprocity, viability and longevity of their circular partner network or ‘ecosystem’. How can one build a successful venture that is based on collaborative principles, without being swallowed by complexity from the start? Is it possible to define emerging fundamentals of a circular economy? That was the question we asked ten renowned experts from handpicked business -related academic fields.

That question generated ten deeply engaging conversations with three types of tangible output. Most concretely, we identified existing frameworks which can be applied in circular venture support today. Next to that, we hypothesized how existing business school concepts can be adapted to support circular venture building. And at a deeper level, the interviews touched upon some fundamental challenges for policymakers and financial institutions to solve for a thriving circular economy.

An academic roundtable with seven of the interviewees allowed us to integrate the different perspectives into a kaleidoscope view. That view portrays the circular transition as an organic process, which is not directed by anyone. Circular economy practices start in small transformative arenas, or minimal viable ecosystems, and spread through all kinds of (human) connections.  There are two key challenges for circular initiatives. The first threat is our own ambition and sense of urgency. Bringing too many people to the table, scaling too early, or trying too many pilots at once are the pitfalls that will kill the transformative impact of the arenas. The other trap is our addiction to extractive profits. Viable circular ecosystems exist by the merits of shared value creation and reciprocity. As soon as one single party extracts more than their fair share, the magic is gone. 

With the experts, we feel the ambition to take these emerging fundamentals further – to apply them to specific sectors, develop new venture building or entrepreneurship programs and initiate research projects to validate our hypotheses. That means that this project is not the end, but rather a starting point for further work and an invitation to join this emerging field of ‘circular venture building’.

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Intro tekst

It is my honor to announce the launch of the Circular Venture Building Report of 2024. It was created in collaboration with Invest NL and Het Groene Brein, and ten experts from various fields of the circular industry. Together, we analyzed and debated the emerging fundamentals of what it would take for a new economy - one that is circular, sustainable, regenerative - to truly work. We asked what needs to be dismantled, and what is missing for circular entrepreneurship to succeed.
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