Transformational Entrepreneurship Days

2021-09-13 How can entrepreneurship have a positive impact on society? At the Transformational Entrepreneurship Days from Sept. 21 to 23, scientists, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship supporters are invited to exchange ideas and develop concepts for the economy of tomorrow in workshops as part of an interactive event. In this interview, the initiator and chair, Verena Meyer, describes the background of the event and gives an insight into her research on transformational perspectives in entrepreneurship.

initiator and chair, Verena Meyer ©Verena Meyer
initiator and chair, Verena Meyer
What does the "transformational" in "transformational entrepreneurship" mean?
Behind this is the idea that entrepreneurship is part of a social system. And the claim that entrepreneurship can shape society and contribute to desirable social change. We often use transformational entrepreneurship as an umbrella term. There are many different variants of entrepreneurship, such as social, sustainable or cultural entrepreneurship. All of them focus on social, sustainable or ecological issues - and thus share the aspiration to shape society and make a positive, sustainable contribution. This aspiration to consciously shape and transform a system and, at the same time, the aspiration to sustainability, in which social, ecological and economic dimensions are brought together - these are the two aspects that best sum up "transformational".
Aren't sustainability and entrepreneurship at odds with each other?
It's often portrayed that way, but the question is: does it have to be that way? We live in a world in which the issue of sustainability cannot and should not be ignored. After all, if we destroy our living space due to the climate crisis, then there is no room left for business or entrepreneurship. The "either it's economic or it's sustainable" is a misleading duality. It could well be both - even if it is always a challenge how to actually make this happen. But this can only be done if we understand entrepreneurship as part of a social and political system. And thus understand it more broadly than just as the founding of companies.
What do you mean by that?
The English term "entrepreneurship" refers more generally to activities that promote innovation and are about creating opportunities. And this is always accompanied by a commitment to actively shaping society and assuming responsibility, an action orientation that also appears in Leuphana's mission statement. So this means much more than the classic start-up. When we speak of entrepreneurship in German, we often think of young founders pitching in the Dragons’ Den, with great ideas, who heroically assert themselves against others and have just received a chunk of money for their new idea. And that is the image that is so often conveyed of entrepreneurship, but it’s very one-dimensional. But entrepreneurship can also be a much more general attitude that creates opportunities.
So what's the problem with this image of heroic young men?
It's problematic in that many people who could actually be entrepreneurs don't feel addressed by entrepreneurship at all. So they don't ask: What opportunities do I have? Can this also be a path for me? Instead, they select themselves out from the start because they say: I don't look like that, I don't talk like that, I don't fit in. So the option to do that hardly exists because of this stereotype. And it's amazing how influential these stereotypes still are, which my own research also shows. I recently published an article with two colleagues on how to better research and understand diversity in entrepreneurship. Namely, through an intersectional approach, taking into account different categories, such as gender, age, sexual orientation, and how they interact. Only then do we understand the realities of life for many people and entrepreneurs. And this understanding is the most important basis for change, i.e. for a transformational approach. And this is important, otherwise we as researchers also contribute to the perpetuation of structures that often only lead to the same role models becoming visible. If we fail to do this, the system perpetuates itself and the structures are often discriminatory - especially when you look at how exactly money for start-up funding is allocated or investment decisions are made.
Speaking of "money": In order to do anything at all, you need money. No money - no possibility to improve anything. That's why entrepreneurship should focus on maximum profits, right?
Does it have to be like that? Is there no other way to think about it? One of the basic assumptions of transformational entrepreneurship is that economic growth and social added value are not mutually exclusive. And that financial profit and profit maximization do not have to be the sole focus. But perhaps also the social profit of an enterprise. Companies can also take on a social responsibility in which they make a profit and preserve jobs at the same time, and still deliver added value. In other words, jobs that people can actually make a good living from. But this requires the right political framework.
Can you give an example of this?
Corona in particular has shown this very well. For example, when my favorite café had to close during lockdown, they started delivering really good breakfast boxes instead. After all, that's the essence of entrepreneurship: creating opportunities from difficult the circumstances and trying to make the best of them. It was a very creative way to create revenue and keep the café and employees going. At the same time, the pandemic has also shown that entrepreneurial action is a good step, but it is often not enough, and a political framework is also needed. For example for restaurants or for cultural and creative workers, where the basis of their livelihoods has largely disappeared. What is needed here is more than just the creative ideas of individuals, but also concrete support. In other words, an interplay between entrepreneurial action and political framework conditions. And, in turn, also increased social responsibility on the part of companies and entrepreneurs.
That sounds pretty far away from a neoliberal or capitalist idea of entrepreneurship.
It most definitely should be, from my perspective. We are seeing the limits of the current economic system everywhere and need new approaches. And the more research I do, the more I question the current understanding of entrepreneurship, the more I come to the conclusion that there has to be another way. A better way. Better for society, better for the environment, better for all of us. This is also what drove me to create the Leuphana Transformational Entrepreneurship Days: the aspiration to change something and to bring people together who share this vision in the context of entrepreneurship. Leuphana is the perfect place for this: Action orientation, humanism and the freedom to self-determination, but also sustainability, are part of the mission statement and we have been awarded several times for our start-up friendliness. If we combine these aspects and make that our claim, in research, teaching or transfer, then we have a transformational approach to entrepreneurship. And then entrepreneurship can actually have a positive impact on society.
Thank you very much!


The Transformational Entrepreneurship Days will take place online from September 21 to September 23 (9 am to 12:30 pm each day). The event is organized by Leuphana together with the European Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ECSB), with the support of the scientific committee consisting of Prof. Dr. Silke Tegtmeier as well as Prof. Dr. Paul Drews and Prof. Dr. Markus Reihlen, and is funded by the European Fund for Regional Development and the State of Lower Saxony as part of the MultiScout project. The event is organized in the cooperation service in joint responsibility of Verena Meyer and Annette Schöneck, head of the Entrepreneurship Hub. Participation is free of charge, registration is requested by September 20.