Workshop C2)
'Valley of Death' and Young Ventures in Sustainable Energy. Can it be Avoided?

Hosted by Marina van Geenhuizen and Victor Scholten (TU Delft)


Many young ventures (including university spin-offs) are not able - after successful product development and pilots - to attract sufficient financial capital to bring the sustainable energy invention to market. Causes are resistance in the market, making the time to market longer, while conventional investors (VC companies and banks) use models of short payback time. As a result, ventures turn to services and consultancy, thereby paying less attention to their innovative solution. Or, in worse cases, they go bankrupt or the knowledge (patents) is acquired by large firms from abroad.

Solutions could be the provision of adapted forms of venture capital, including larger pay-back times, collaboration between young ventures in sharing particular resources, and building strong supporting networks including potential users (large firms), policy actors, and various types of financial investors.

The special session highlights items such as:

  • Nature of the problems as experienced by young ventures ('self' case studies)
  • Nature of solutions as experienced by young ventures ('self' case studies)
  • Differences within sustainable energy sector, e.g. solar, wind, biomass, etc., derived from studies using larger databases
  • Differences between countries, derived from studies using larger databases
  • Character (pro's and con's) of financial solutions
  • Character of other solutions, like resources sharing among ventures or collaboration with large firms, and pro's and con's
  • Vision of the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs and RVO Netherland



The following speakers will contribute to the workshop:


University spin-off firms’ role in sustainable energy innovation: how can the ‘valley of death’ be avoided?

Razie Nejabat and Marina van Geenhuizen (TU Delft)

This study aims to clarify under which conditions university spin-of firms bring inventions in sustainable energy to the market and avoid the ‘valley of death’. The study draws on a selected sample of spin-offs (37) and five case-studies in Northwest Europe, and applies rough-set analysis to explore a set of influences affecting the time needed for market introduction. We observe that a combination of two conditions provides the highest chance for a positive development: being located in an ‘Innovation Leader’ country and being involved in multiple networks. The networks preferably combine different actors but also local and national/international ones. Overall, four ways of avoiding the ‘valley of death’ are identified.


Global nuclei and networks in photovoltaic and wind turbine technology creation: in search of determining factors

Pieter Stek (TU Delft)

With worldwide renewable energy investment having overtaken traditional energy investment in 2015, the transition to a sustainable energy system is now underway. Two of the most prominent renewable energy technologies, photovoltaics and wind turbines, are also the focus of major private and public R&D efforts. Like other high technology sectors, photovoltaics and wind turbine R&D is both geographically concentrated and globally distributed and connected. The present study identifies the worldwide locations where R&D is taking place and the networks connecting these R&D nuclei, and delves into the actors involved in local R&D and network linkages, as well as the factors that explain variations in the growth and innovation performance of the nuclei.

The study is based on bibliometric data from patents and scientific publications, and combines methodologies from the Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Social Network Analysis (SNA) and Econometrics (Structural Equation Modeling, SEM) literature. This makes it possible to provide both local detail and global scale, offering a unique insight into photovoltaics and wind turbine R&D, and the differences between them. The quantitative nature of the study also makes it possible to test important hypotheses about agglomeration, global knowledge networks and the role of scientific research in enhancing innovation performance.


Various kinds of entrepreneurs driving complex technological systems: two cases of the Dutch energy sector

Claudia Werker (TU Delft)

While public opinion suggests that entrepreneurs are stand-alone enterprises economic reality shows that networked communities of entrepreneurs stemming from different societal sectors often drive complex technological systems. In our paper, we investigate the diversity of entrepreneurs, the characteristics of their supporting network partners and the nature of the relationships with them.

In this paper we investigate how various entrepreneurs form communities and drive institutional and technological change. To theoretically build our socialized view of entrepreneurship we use the Triple Helix approach. The empirical investigations builds on two cases of the Dutch energy sector. Our results reveal that while both cases were initiated by the municipalities they differ considerably. In the case of Aardwarmte Den Haag the players use a top down approach for developing geothermal technology as sustainable energy solution for households. While the aim was that the private entrepreneur would eventually earn sufficient profits he eventually went bankrupt. In the case of the municipality of Lochem the players used a bottom up approach looking for the right technological solution to provide sustainable energy for households. This evolution is embedded in the local eco-system and driven by subsidies on a project to project basis. While the Lochem case still proves to be successful its future hinges on the availability of subsidies.

In our study we show that entrepreneurial initiators and followers from the private, public, and academic sector build networks in order to solve specific problems while collaborating with each other. If necessary the various entrepreneurs change roles in the course of time. Particularly, it depends on the actual situation who has the incentives and resources to be in charge and act and when to include additional players when it seems necessary. Our results provide a better understanding of how different stakeholders in the academic, public, private, and civic sector manage, support, and stimulate entrepreneurs in complex technological systems.