New Program Accelerates Sustainable Solutions through Ecopreneurship

The Stanford Ecopreneurship program offers a set of courses and opportunities that support students in addressing the global climate transition.

May 31, 2023

| by Danielle Torrent Tucker
A group of young people working with solar panels in an office. Credit: iStock/staticnak1983

The Stanford Ecopreneurship Program creates new opportunities for sustainability entrepreneurs that fill the gaps between research and climate action through hands-on project-based learning, mentorship, coaching, and grants. | iStock/staticnak1983

The Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability and Stanford Graduate School of Business are joining forces to launch the Stanford Ecopreneurship program, established through the Benioff Ecopreneur Fund. Inspired by the vision of Lynne and Marc Benioff, the new program aims to accelerate a global climate and sustainability transition by enabling students to build public, private, and nonprofit-sector organizations that can take sustainability solutions to scale.

The Stanford Ecopreneurship program is built upon Stanford GSB’s robust curriculum and entrepreneurship courses, the Precourt Institute for Energy’s Stanford Climate Ventures class, and the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy resources, including internships, graduate fellowships, and funding to move innovations beyond the university. It creates new opportunities for sustainability entrepreneurs that fill the gaps between research and climate action through hands-on project-based learning, mentorship, coaching, and grants.

“The Stanford Ecopreneurship program will support a new generation of sustainability leaders and problem solvers in launching new solutions to the climate crisis,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “The program creates opportunities for our students as they work to make a difference for the future of our planet and for people around the world. I am grateful to Marc and Lynne Benioff for their vision for this program and for supporting our students in achieving their goals.”

The program leverages Stanford’s proximity to Silicon Valley, a rich ecosystem that fosters innovation, and the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability’s deep understanding of the complexities around climate and sustainability challenges. Taken together, the Stanford Ecopreneurship program holds the promise of inspiring and enabling new generations of entrepreneurs to answer the urgent call of the climate crisis.

“Addressing climate change will require bringing new technologies to market. That’s why the approach we’re taking at Stanford is to bring together aspiring entrepreneurs with climate and engineering experts to accelerate innovation,” said Jonathan Levin, dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Arun Majumdar, dean of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, said the program will help more students have impact on issues that are important to them. “This is a unique opportunity to educate and empower students to be leaders in combating climate change and addressing sustainability of humanity and our planet,” Majumdar said. “As students take advantage of the full array of Stanford’s programs in sustainability and entrepreneurship, they take on central roles in building critical bridges from innovation to solutions and open the door for global impact.”

Marc Benioff is the chairman, chief executive officer, and founder of Salesforce. Lynne Benioff is a Distinguished Director of the Board of Overseers of the University of California San Francisco Foundation and serves on the board of directors of the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, along with several other organizations. In 2019, the Benioffs made the lead gift for the Stanford Microbiome Therapies Initiative, a major effort focused on developing and testing new disease therapies.

“Confronting our climate crisis, we hope to ignite the spark in a new wave of ecopreneurs,” Benioff said. “Through innovative entrepreneurship, we cease to merely dream of a sustainable future; we create it, delivered by the hands of these new-age ecopreneurs.”

A Framework for Growth

The Ecopreneurship program provides courses and opportunities to overcome challenges faced by students attempting to create sustainability ventures – which often require intensive upfront capital needs, complex and evolving regulatory environments, and longer roads to profitability – by bolstering current Stanford resources while adding programs to support the needs of ecopreneurs. Over time, the program will iterate on successes to address emerging challenges.

The initiative is launching with several co-curricular programs starting summer 2023: the Summer Ecopreneurial Immersion program, which supports students in developing their own ventures, or matching them with faculty who received 2022 Sustainability Accelerator grants to explore commercialization pathways of the faculty’s research; and the Ecopreneurial Summer Internship Program, which supplements graduate student internship salaries at an early-stage, sustainability-focused company.

The flagship offering, the Stanford Impact Founder in Ecopreneurship Fellowships and Prizes, offered in partnership with the GSB’s Center for Social Innovation, provides one year of funding and advising support to graduating students starting a high-impact for-profit or nonprofit venture that addresses a pressing environmental need.

“I see many technologies developed in faculty labs, but only a small percentage of those technologies are translated into the real world,” said Stanford Ecopreneurship program co-director Yi Cui, who is also director of the Sustainability Accelerator and the Precourt Institute for Energy. “It’s very exciting to be linking these technologies with the students who are interested in ecopreneurship.”

Support from the Ecopreneurship program will help double the capacity and programming of the Stanford Climate Ventures classes, which have proven to be an effective launch pad for innovative ventures focused on geothermal projects and natural hazard risk mitigation, among others. In addition, plans are being developed to create curricula focused on scaling, which requires deep understanding of the interplay between technology, policy, finance, markets, supply chains, manufacturing, equity, public acceptance, human behavior, and various other social issues.

“We want to help our students harness their creative, innovative potential in order to develop sustainable and viable ventures that will have a significant impact on climate-related issues,” said Stanford Ecopreneurship program co-director Stefanos Zenios, who also leads the GSB’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. “These programs define the intersection between entrepreneurship, sustainability, and innovation.”

This story was originally published on May 31, 2023, by the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

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