Jaimee Lau presented key findings from her master thesis on public funding programs climate tech startups from academia at the research retreat of the TUM Mission Network Circular Economy (CirculaTUM). The annual gathering brings together a highly multi- and interdisciplinary group of researchers from 5 Schools (ED, CIT, LS, MGT/SOM, SOT) plus TUM Campus Straubing and the Munich School of Politics and Public Policy (Hochschule für Politik) at TUM. Members of the Circular Economy network develop new materials, production processes, software and hardware, as well as better management and accounting models for the circular economy, and they analyze how the economic, political and societal context fosters or impedes the transition to a more sustainable future through the increasing use of circularity, including reuse, repair, recycle.
Based on interviews with founders of climate tech startups, program officers from public funding agencies, and other experts, Jaimee Lau is developing an analytical framework to better understand the public funding of climate tech startups from academia. The study expands the existing literature on the climate impact assessments, which typically assume fully established production processes and supply chains. The field of climate tech, however, has been pushed forward by a large number of new startups, which rely to a significant extent on public funding, through which the public interest in minimizing and mitigating climate change and transitioning to more sustainable economic practices is supposed to be fostered.
Public funding agencies face several challenges when they seek to undertake climate impact assessments when a startup is applying for early-stage public funding. They must balance capacity constraints and highly dynamic technology developments in the climate tech sector with the risk of greenwashing in the absence of already established standards. Jaimee Lau's thesis shows that, as a consequence, the expected climate impact of a new startup's application for public funding support plays virtually no role yet in the funding decisions, neither for the main German federal startup funding program nor for the Bavarian state program. Building on this finding, she identifies opportunities and limitations of considering climate consequences in funding programs, as well as barriers that have so far prevented many climate tech startups from applying for government funding, even though such funding would be very helpful for company formation.
The thesis concludes with concrete recommendations for the public funding of climate tech startups from academia, highlighting the relevance of public funding for business development and growth, barriers to the use of public funding programs, as well as opportunities and risks that arise from integrating carbon metrics.
The presentation sparked extended, very fruitful discussions about the implications of Jaimee Lau's research for circular business models that emerge from academic environments and the supporting public policies and private measures that influence the chances of fostering climate tech startups through public funding programs.