Business ideas for a green future

Anne-Katrin Wehrmann, 28 May 14
While there are fewer company start-ups in Germany overall, the green economy is bucking the trend. Many of the newly developed products and services are based on the idea that everyone can play a part in the switch to renewables.

“Company start-up figures at a low – and no change in sight.” This was how German development bank KfW summed up the current situation on the cover of its latest start-up report. At the moment, Germans don’t seem to be particularly keen on setting up their own company. The authors of the report write that 2012 saw the lowest number of new companies founded since KfW started conducting the annual survey in 2000. And on the basis of the consultations provided locally to entrepreneurs, the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) concluded that interest in setting up a company had “nosedived” in 2012. However, the situation is completely different in the green economy. “The number of start-ups in the energy sector has more than doubled since 2008,” says Ralf Weiß, a start-up expert from the Borderstep Institute for Innovation and Sustainability, on the basis of what he has seen in past research projects.

However, he is unable to provide exact figures, as German statistics and surveys – which cover pretty much everything you can think of – did not include green economy start-ups until very recently. Current statistics on the environmental sector do not feature start-ups, while the various studies on the foundation of new companies have not yet looked at the specific role played by environmental technologies, climate change and sustainability. The Borderstep Institute aims to fill this gap. It recently published the first Green Economy Start-up Monitor. Of course, this study does not yet have reference values from previous years. For its pilot survey, the institute analysed 740 new companies in 30 German technology and start-up centres. A clear trend emerged: green products and services are an important sector for start-ups. In the start-up centres included in the survey, 13.6 percent of the companies worked in the green economy. Of these firms, almost two thirds are involved in the switch to renewables, while three quarters supply climate-protection solutions. These firms work on a broad spectrum of areas, ranging from manufacturing to information and communications technology (ICT) to scientific and technical services.

“We realised that people see entrepreneurship in a different way these days,” says Weiß, who manages the project. “Young company founders tend to be more tuned into topics such as sustainability and environmental protection, and many of them want to play an active role in this area.” In his opinion, it is extremely important that companies provide innovative solutions if the switch to renewables is to be a success. He says that start-ups should be seen as the driving force behind development, as they do not only launch new products, but also put pressure on established companies. “Green entrepreneurs make up a relevant and significant part of the start-up sector, but this has not been recognised or taken into account so far.” Among other suggestions, the authors of the study recommend promoting green economy start-ups, for example by setting concrete objectives and establishing special support schemes.

This is an abridged version of the article – the complete text is available in issue 5/2013 of new energy.

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