Networks of entrepreneurs driving the Triple Helix: two cases of the Dutch energy system

in Triple Helix

Entrepreneurs are often envisioned as small private start-up firms operating against all odds. Here, we investigate how in the context of the Triple Helix various entrepreneurs form communities and drive institutional and technological change. To theoretically shape a socialized view of entrepreneurship, we use the Triple Helix approach. Our empirical basis is a highly regulated sector driven by various agents, i. e. the Dutch energy system. As it depends very much on natural gas and relies less on renewables compared to similar countries, we analyse two cases where entrepreneurs drove the uptake of renewable energy sources.

In our paper, we investigate how entrepreneurs from the private, public and academic sectors drive the evolution of the Triple Helix. From our results, two general features of entrepreneurship in the Triple Helix emerge. First of all, private stand-alone enterprises do not mirror entrepreneurs at large. Second, networks of various entrepreneurs are much more common and much more complex than usually anticipated. More specifically, we find that there are rather divergent developments in Dutch energy systems. Whereas in the case of Aardwarmte Den Haag, a number of key players collaborated in order to realize one specific technology, in the LochemEnergie case, we see a project-to-project approach supported by subsidies. In both cases, a variety of entrepreneurs from the private, public and academic sectors with different roles, goals, incentives, resources, knowledge and policy levers drive the development of their energy system. It depends on the actual situation on who has the incentives and resources to be in charge and act and to include others when it seems necessary.

Entrepreneurs in such a set-up require particular skills including the ability to engage with their (knowledge) network, identify gaps, attract new participants and motivate the new and existing participants. Entrepreneurs managing these networks handle a whole range of semi-unpredictable actors and environmental factors that also influence each other; therefore, they can be defined as truly complex sociotechnological systems. As the development of local energy initiatives unfold along the way, entrepreneurs have to be flexible and open to organizational change. While large organizations such as municipalities or large multinational companies are usually less flexible, they might create space for smaller entrepreneurial activities by supporting individuals, start-ups or academics in finding novel solutions. At the same time, a major role for public entrepreneurs lies in stimulating and subsidizing entrepreneurs and their networks.

The analytical framework provided here can be used to study the principles of the Triple Helix concept in a dynamic environment in which technological innovation requires the expertise and capabilities of multiple types of actors. Its function is not only to identify roles and types of entrepreneurs and their incentives, but to also assess which resources (knowledge, skills, subsidies) they can contribute to the initiative.

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