Utrecht University: Substantial grants for research into societal impact of mission-driven innovation systems

The NWO KIC call aims to gain more knowledge and understanding of how mission-driven innovation systems work and can be scaled up and accelerated. The research offers insights into the intermediate steps needed to move from innovation to societal impact and earning capacity.

What is a mission-driven innovation system?
Climate change, cyber security, aging of the population: our society faces major challenges. Since 2020, the Dutch government has therefore embarked on a mission-driven top sector and innovation policy. Mission-driven innovation changes the way we look at the context and the systems within which innovation takes place. A mission-driven innovation system can be implemented in many ways.

For example: an initiative to tackle food waste on a local scale with local landowners, farmers, food processors, businesses and consumers, by making soups and sauces from vegetable surpluses and sell these at a local supermarket. This is where societal challenges around sustainability and access to healthy food come together with earning capacity to realise social earning capacity. Questions that arise in the context of the NWO KIC call include: what aspects play a crucial role in the successful acceleration of this innovation? When scaling up, how do you keep in touch with the various parties involved (landowners, farmers, food processors, businesses and consumers)? Working out these issues requires a combination of perspectives and changes at different levels and areas: technology, policy and behaviour.

Two consortia led by U.S.E.

Two of the three projects awarded funding are submitted by consortia led by researchers from the Utrecht University School of Economics (U.S.E.): ‘Boosting Social and Community-driven Entrepreneurship for the Transition to an Inclusive and Sustainable Society’ and ‘Enabling Societal Missions through Entrepreneurial Ecosystems’.

Tackling major challenges of the energy and food transition in an innovative way
Enabling Societal Missions through Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (ESMEE)

Achieving societal missions requires radical innovations by entrepreneurs. The ESMEE project is gaining insight into regional ecosystems for sustainable entrepreneurship. With a data-and-dialogue driven ecosystem approach, this research project improves mission-driven innovation systems. The project does this through scientific analysis of the mechanisms of ecosystem development, and the relationships between sustainable entrepreneurship and societal missions. Together with the Regional Development Agencies, we design and develop a scientifically validated diagnosis and evaluation of ecosystem development.

Consortium leader of this research project is prof. dr. Erik Stam.

With this research, we will develop even better regional and national conditions for sustainable entrepreneurship, so that the enormous challenges of the energy and food transition can be tackled in an innovative way, according to Erik Stam.

The consortium consists of researchers from: The Hague University of Applied Sciences, Rathenau Instituut, Utrecht University, BOM, OostNL, InnovationQuarter, LIOF, ROM Utrecht Region, NOM, Horizon, Impuls Zeeland, InWest.

Boosting Social and Community-driven Entrepreneurship for the Transition to an Inclusive and Sustainable Society (SCENTISS)

Social and community-driven entrepreneurs (SCEs) come up with innovative solutions for local societal problems. However, scaling up the impact of SCEs is hampered by complexity, conflicting interests and opposition from existing, larger players. In this project, researchers from various disciplines work together with SCEs and key stakeholders. Through joint learning processes and new tools, the project arrives at new insights to strengthen and increase impact. It focuses specifically on energy transition and local healthcare. New insights are translated into concrete actions for SCEs and stakeholders and within the project, a learning course is developed for and with them.

Consortium leader of this research project is prof. dr. Niels Bosma.

The consortium consists of researchers from: Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, Hogeschool Windesheim, Hogeschool van Amsterdam, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, Hogeschool Utrecht, Universiteit Utrecht, Hanzehogeschool Groningen, DRK Foundation, Provincie Utrecht, Provincie Groningen, Social Enterprise NL, Impact Noord, Impact 030, KplusV, Gemeente Amsterdam, Gemeente Utrecht, Starters4Communities, NLZE – Nederland Zorgt voor Elkaar, Wongema, Platform31, City Deal Impact Ondernemen, Provincie Noord Brabant, KSON – Dutch Knowledge Network for Social Entrepreneurship, Social Finance Matters.

The research project is in line with the research of the Institutions for Open Societies platform ‘Bottom-up Initiatives for Societal Change’ of Utrecht University. In addition, a large proportion of the consortium members are affiliated with the City Deal Impact Ondernemen external link.

To better embed innovative initiatives of social and community-driven entrepreneurs in society
Personally, I am glad that we are seeing more and more confirmation, among governments, knowledge institutions and the business community, that the principles of SCE are no longer just ‘interesting’ but also the realisation that SCE initiatives actually offer opportunities to contribute to societal challenges, says Niels Bosma. All the more so because we see that the impact of these entrepreneurs often goes beyond their own initiative. We hope that this research will be a good step towards identifying and addressing the systemic changes needed for this type of entrepreneurship to flourish, so that the intended impact can actually be achieved.

About the KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Covenant)

The NWO research programme KIC stands for pioneering innovative solutions with societal and economic impact. Companies, knowledge institutions and governments jointly invest in the commercial application of knowledge to tackle major societal challenges with smart technologies. This is how we secure jobs and income in the future. This is laid down in the Knowledge and Innovation Covenant (KIC) 2020-2023, which is in line with the mission-driven top sectors and innovation policy of the national government. NWO brings companies and knowledge institutions together and funds groundbreaking research based on their innovative, high-impact research proposals.