Daily Planet

Turn failed sustainability startups into fertile soil (humus) for new ones

By thinking in terms of circular economy, artist and economist Lars Zimmermann here proposes a solution for the loss of knowledge and progress when a sustainability startup fails—or even closes a particular project.

I’ve had this idea in my head for a while now, and with my first interaction with the sustainability startup accelerator Climate-KIC in Milan yesterday, I decided to use the time on the train on my way home to Berlin to finally share it: How to make quicker progress with sustainability using open source in the world of startup support?

9 out of 10 startups fail in their first three years. This can happen for many different reasons: not the right time, not the right place, not the right team, not the right idea/solution, not the right context, and more…

The lack of quality of the solution is the main reason only in a few cases. The solution might be good but the startup fails anyway for one of the others reasons. But when it has failed, often, the fully developed solution (a working prototype or even complete product) gets buried in some hard drives, and is lost completely when those hard drives are buried. The entrepreneurs are busy with other things.

This is sad for sustainability reasons. Because a lot of time, money, and energy have already gone into the development of the solution. Many technical problems were solved, many questions were answered. But this knowledge and the possibilities attached to it get lost in these buried hard drives. The progress that was made for sustainability is gone again.

Maybe the reason for the fail really was just bad timing and the same idea would work beautifully one year later or in another context. But the new team has to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel. And a lot of energy is already used up when they get to the point where the others have failed. This dynamic is really bad for sustainability, where we need to be quicker and smarter. This is—as I’ve said—unsustainable itself.

So here’s a simple idea: How about a fund where startups that have just failed, or are about to fail, can apply to and be granted some final funding. They receive something between €5,000 to €10,000, and this money is used to document the solution extensively, and put it online under an open license. In short, they OPEN SOURCE it! By doing so, they make it possible for others to study, build upon, distribute, and make and sell the solution. To bring it to life after all.

The fund or institution behind it supports that process. It makes sure everything is done well, helps with the licensing questions, and ensures that the data is well spread (on several platforms) and promoted.

This could be fantastic! The solutions of dead sustainability startups become humus for new ones:

(1) Some solutions really might get picked up by a new team with a fresh perspective.

(2) More likely just parts get reused by other startups, for example, the choice of materials or collected data.

(3) Maybe large companies pick up some solutions and end up becoming more sustainable.

(4) Even completely new ideas can be formulated and made possible, for example, when different solutions are combined with each other.

(5) And maybe even the entrepreneurs themselves finally find a way to make their idea work with the opportunities of open source!

This ‘graveyard’ of open sourced sustainability startups and solutions could be fertile ground for a lot of new flourishing and fruitful activities for sustainability.

For an institution or accelerator with the goal of supporting sustainability through startups, this could be a very smart way—and an opportunity—to make more and more lasting impact. Sustainability is about opportunities for complex ecosystems!

How this would work in every detail is not for me to flesh out here. Whoever picks this up will have their own ideas anyway. But it’s for sure an interesting path to explore!

A real sustainable circular economy will only work with open source solutions and here we have a great angle to start this from. Instead of throwing things away (dead startups), make sure they can be reused using open source.

And I just want to add that my colleagues and I from the OSCEdays  and Opent It Agency are here to help with the ‘proper open source’ part, from Berlin to—literally—the other side of the globe, New Zealand.

This post originally appeared on Lars Zimmermann’s blog.

Image credits:

Title: Pexels.com, public domain

1 – by Shantimarie, CC-BY-SA

2 – by Andrew Dunn, CC-BY-SA

3 a – by SuSanA Secretariat, CC-BY

4 – by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, CC-BY-SA (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mi%C3%B1oca066eue.jpg)

5 – by S Molteno, public domain