Social Enterprise Thesis Award

On Monday August 31st  2015 the Social Enterprise Thesis Event took place in Utrecht, where the winners of the Social Enterprise Thesis Award 2015 were announced. Tilburg student Joost Flikweert was one of the nominees, with his thesis entitled: “How are sustainable business opportunities formed? A qualitative analysis of sustainable opportunity identification in Dutch SME’s”.  A summary of this thesis is given below. Joost was unable to attend the awards ceremony, since he spent a semester in Lissabon (Portugal) to study Portugese as well as Entrepreneurship, Consulting and Project Management. Unfortunately, the thesis was not considered for a prize, as the organizers required the author to present in person. Instead, his supervisor Marjan Groen from TCE gave a presentation about the thesis. All theses of the nominees can be downloaded from the following site

It was an inspiring event to attend. Interesting work was presented along a range of topics, from motivation and growth of sustainable businesses to more policy related topics about initiatives to fight youth unemployment. Also, an energetic keynote was delivered by Michiel Dekkers, one of the founders of i-did-slow-fashion ( A small company that uses partnerships and networks to change the way we think about fashion, and to implement the circular economy in this industry.

Summary thesis

Joost Flikweert interviewed 13 sustainable entrepreneurs in the Netherlands. His goal was to shed light on the theoretical question of where opportunities for sustainable businesses come from: are they discovered or are they created?  He used the model of Alvarez and Barney (2007) to characterize the different elements of the opportunity identification process: leadership, decision making, human resource practices, strategy, finance, marketing, and competitive advantages.

The respondents were from very different businesses, in alphabetical order:

Company name

Business area


African Clean Energy

Producing cook stoves

Arctic Blue

Selling sustainable omega 3 fish oil



Leases moving boxes

Closing the Loop

Recycling and reusing cell phones in Africa and Asia



Builds edible rooftops and indoor vegetable gardens


Hemel Bed

Making environmentally and society friendly coffins



Making tables from wood scraps


Making meals from waste food

Moyee Coffee

Selling Fairchain coffee


Provides a platform which facilitates car sharing



Selling soup in a restaurant and B2B catering



Selling socks to large European retailers, using plastic from fishing nets




Re-designing second hand furniture



Joost concludes that the model he has chosen is difficult to use in practice. None of the businesses fitted clearly in the discovery or creation category; all had elements of both. The question of where the real origin of the opportunity lies, is also hard to answer when the business has been running for a few years.

Through the interviews with the inspiring entrepreneurs behind these businesses, some other patterns emerged, however. All entrepreneurs have a mission that guides their decision making, and this mission is to make a positive impact. In line with their ideal of creating a better world, they welcome competition, since it takes a lot of businesses to make real change for society. Money is never the main objective, but all agree that the business needs to be profitable. Their starting funds come from their own savings or other informal channels, and not from banks. On the whole, the entrepreneurs are determined to make their business a success, both for themselves and for society as a whole. Some entrepreneurs find it difficult to work in the existing business climate. For instance, those businesses that manufacture consumer products report that it is difficult to find retailers who can accept a lower markup on their products.