The role of small and medium sized enterprises

Involving small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Earth and environmental research can benefit science, it can benefit society, and it can also benefit SMEs in the green economy that are innovating.

1. Innovation + Participation

= More Effective Acceleration

2. Participation + Alliances (with the science community)

= Novel Revenue Streams

(to support further innovation)

First the bad news. Research on the green economy suggests that many environmental innovations do not make it through the commercialization process because of a failure to communicate product benefits from the perspective of the customer, preventing financing. Green and social entrepreneurs too often do not properly engage their target audience or clients during project/product/ service development process, and thus fail to capture the true value proposition of what they have to offer.

Lonsdale J. 2005. Capacity of companies in the environmental industries sector to obtain finance for commercialisation of environmental technologies. Environmental Innovations Advisory Group (EIAG), UK Gov.

Now the good news! There are alternatives to traditional approaches to product development which are fast, iterative and incremental. They are client-driven (rather than product- or idea-driven) which increases relevancy and helps capture the full value proposition necessary to communicate to financiers.

A good example has become well-known in recent years: Lean Startup. Lean startup (first proposed in 2008 by Eric Ries) endeavors to shorten product development cycles by adopting a combination of rapid business-hypothesis-driven experimentation , iterative product releases, and what Ries calls validated learning. Lean Startup combines customer development with agile product development.


Steve Blank is recognized for developing the Customer Development methodology, which launched the Lean Startup movement. Many of the tools in "Search" are drawn from the participatory research literature.

  • This means that environmental SMEs stand to gain from having a better understanding of participatory research and stakeholder engagement methods, as these methods are used to help SMEs accelerate more effectively by ensuring their products/services match with client/stakeholder needs
  • In many research programs there is an incentive (and sometimes even a requirement) for Earth and environmental scientists writing research proposals to involve SMEs.
  • SMEs that embrace participatory approaches can provide invaluable support to research consortia efforts to integrate new knowledge, enhance innovation capacity and strengthen competitiveness.
  • Thus environmental SMEs are in the position to not only contribute to the research and development, but also help the research team engage stakeholders and help ensure the broader impact of the science.
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