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Conference: Growing Sustainable Businesses - April 17, 2015, Tilburg University

There can be little doubt that sustainability is of increasing importance to society, to the future of the planet and to continued business and economic growth. This year’s conference on Growing Sustainable Businesses, hosted jointly by the Tilburg Center or Entrepreneurship (TCE) and the Tilburg Sustainability Center (TSC), created an opportunity for academics and professional to interact. The goal of the conference was to disseminate and review recent and ongoing research at the overlap between entrepreneurship and sustainability. Nearly 70 people from academia and business participated. One of the participants commented:

“The personal scale of the event allowed for good networking opportunities and exchange of thoughts.”

After the opening speech by Geert Duysters (Vice Dean of Research, Tilburg University) the keynote speaker, Asceline Groot, from the ASN Bank, and Radboud University provided an excellent introduction to how sustainability is changing the business landscape and creating new opportunities and business models.

The plenary session in the morning saw papers from a several perspectives, using a variety of data collection and analytical methods. Johan Graafland (Tilburg University), presented findings on the relationship between “extrinsic and intrinsic motivations of environmental performance, Enno Masurel (VU University Amsterdam), discussed the relationship between “social and ecological engagement and economic firm performance” and Rodrigo Lozano (Utrecht University) provided insights into how planning organisational changes relates to the implementation of Corporate Sustainability programs.

While reflecting on the plenary session James Small (TCE, Tilburg University), linked these research activities to the key role that a well defined “Purpose” has in relation to motivation and strategy formulation. “Purpose” is seen as influencing the success of sustainability efforts both at the level of the individual and the firm. It guides decision making and strategy choices and motivates business leaders and employees to achieve sustainability goals; the profit motivation is seen as being replaced by a more multi dimensional form. Thus we could consider People, Planet and Purpose (rather than simply Profit) as bringing a more balanced and multidimensional view to steer, inform (and understand) business decisions.

After lunch, the remainder of the day was organized around three core themes: Entrepreneurial growth, Systems and Sustainable Entrepreneurs, and Motivation and Sustainable Entrepreneurs. Some 12 papers were presented. Organized as parallels sessions, this allowed for more in-depth 2 discussion on specific topics. Presenters commented that they welcomed the opportunity to receive feedback from a diverse range of perspectives.

The closing plenary lecture was given by Daan van Soest (TSC, Tilburg University), who raised the question of which factors impact the success of fundraising efforts for sustainable new ventures. Daan identified that networking is often seen as a key skill in obtaining resources for new ventures. Consequently, he proposed a novel experiment to measure the effectiveness of providing entrepreneurs with network training in relation to their success in obtaining resources.

Overall, the goals for the conference, the valorisation of research and the bridge between academic and business were achieved and a new network has been formed. Given the positive feedback received regarding the approach, content and organization of the conference, we are looking into the possibility of organizing the second conference on Growing Sustainable Businesses in 2016.

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