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Transformative business models for decarbonization: the case of Web Summit award-winning start-ups

Evaldo Costa, Nuno Bento,
Margarida Fontes

Proceedings of the 18th European Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship | Vol. 1

The social demand for decarbonization has placed increasing pressure on businesses to climate mitigation. The development of new business models capable of transforming conventional systems of production and consumption and replacing them with more sustainable alternatives is one critical step towards this goal. This study combines several streams of literature including sustainability transitions and business model narratives to investigate the key-elements of the business models that have the potential to transform the supply of goods and services in a way that enables the transition to a low-carbon society. We investigate the organizational arrangements in the business activities of start-ups and relate to the extent to which they avoid, shift, or improve the production and consumption of goods and services in a way that significantly reduces carbon emissions. To do this, we analyzed start-ups that received innovation awards and were on the list of finalist’s candidates of the Web of Summit between 2014-2020.

The results suggest that start-ups may be in the process of transforming their business models (BM), since a growing trend of transformative projects that adopt integrated business models was identified, e.g., business-to-business-to-commerce (B2B2C), instead of the familiar business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) models. The findings also highlighted the role of Industry 4.0, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), together with other sustainable elements, as crucial to shortening the gap between design and consumption, leveraging innovative solutions, and transforming the model of business, from start-up. This research emphasizes the importance of transformative business models in the context of decarbonization and contributes to filling a gap in the literature on the elements that drive this transformation. The research is also relevant for policymakers aiming to promote a low-carbon economy by highlighting the levers that can be used to promote transformative pathways through business models.

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