Anne Rainville about her experiences during the Climate-KIC PhD added value programme – aiming at developing the next generation of climate innovators

In July 2014, I moved with my cat from Canada to Germany to begin my PhD studies under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Knut Blind at the Chair of Innovation Economics, Technical University Berlin. I’d applied for the associated Research Fellow position in the Spring, and after a brief interview period was offered the position. I would be working on the Climate-KIC funded project “Standardization as a Driving Force for Climate Innovation.” The project lined up perfectly with my Master’s interests in Energy and Environmental Systems as well as my prior work experience with the Government of Canada’s Innovation and Energy Technology Sector. The Climate-KIC PhD Label came as an added benefit to my in-depth research project. For this label, I received comprehensive experience and training, including through a research mobility period, entrepreneurship (“the Journey”) summer school, and thematic (“PhD”) summer school.

Scientific contribution – Open innovation to accelerate sustainable transitions

Of course, the major output of my PhD was my dissertation. It began with the premise that climate innovation and sustainability transitions can be accelerated by modifying government purchasing practices. To better understand how, I examined open innovation for knowledge sourcing and revealing by public agencies, focusing on tools of standards and standardization, collaboration, and intermediation. Its four papers contribute to the field of innovation procurement by delving deeply into these open innovation processes. Together, I concluded that mechanisms of standards, collaboration, and intermediation that can be leveraged to promote European growth through innovation procurement are inherently processes of consensus. This dynamic process is shaped by the motives, knowledge, and skillsets of participants, shared through interactions and structured by organizations and institutions.

Hands-on experience – Internship and research visits

One of these papers was made possible through my Climate-KIC mobility period. Together with researchers from the University of Utrecht, I led a project investigating a case study of a public procurement pilot project of the Dutch Ministry of Defense. The purpose of the pilot was to stimulate a more circular economy through the purchase of textiles with post-consumer recycled content – to understand how much the market could be pushed and what the response would be to a particular tender design, multiple government intermediaries worked together over the course of the project toward the development of a final tender. I spoke with these actors, as well as others across government, industry, and an NGO involved in the project, to identify the unique and complementary roles of intermediaries in paradigm shifts.

Inspiration – 2 summer schools with multidisciplinary input

While I also attended multiple conferences and PhD workshops during my time as a PhD student, the Climate-KIC training provided unique inspiration for my research. In total, I spent seven weeks during the Journey and the PhD summer school. In more structured form, we received lectures from top climate researchers and practitioners, and went on exciting field visits to learn about cutting-edge initiatives to help reduce climate emissions and build up communities. New locations played a key part in this too – in the Journey, we traveled from London to Copenhagen and Wroclaw, while in the PhD school we focused in on the city of Frankfurt. These schools were a perfect introduction for me to many of the institutions and beliefs about climate-related research around Europe.

New ideas – Climate entrepreneurship

Next, I used this inspiration to shape new ideas: as part of an international team during each of these schools, I developed an in-depth project. In the Journey, our team – “U Create It” – developed an idea for an innovative clip that could be used to build furniture out of readily-available materials such as plastic beverage containers and pallets, saving them from becoming waste. In the PhD school, we were tasked with providing innovative solutions to help the city of Frankfurt simultaneously meet its economic and sustainability goals. My group received both Judge’s Choice and Audience Award for our group’s ‚Shape, Share, Learn‘ platform developed to stimulate open innovation in Frankfurt’s Industrial Park Höchst. Focusing on the park’s infrastructure provider as an agent of change, we proposed empowering people, fostering social change and meaningful networks between stakeholders in the industrial park, underpinned by a managed data management platform.

New connections – building up a valuable network and my own business

Even more valuable to me were the connections made – with fellow students, coaches, and guest lecturers, many of whom I built lifelong friendships with. I have never met such an ambitious and talented group of students in my life! Everyone had a deep passion for learning and knowledge, and sharing this undoubtedly furthered success in our studies and research. The entrepreneurial drive of the other students, coaches, and atmosphere of the summer school was contagious. When I returned home from the Journey, I found myself for the first time equipped with the knowledge, skills, network, and support to be able to start my own business. With this – and once through multiple bureaucratic hurdles – I opened the sole-proprietorship catering company neglude offering gluten free and often vegan baked goods to customers and cafes in Berlin. This was something I had always wanted to do. The products I make have climate benefits through replacing animal products, and many alternatives to wheat that I use – such as rice, soy, and, tapioca – are also more resistant to temperature increases from global warming. Replacing wheat flour with these alternatives in my products supports crop diversity and, dependent on sourcing, can support socio-economic benefits in developing nations.

Taken together, my PhD experience with the Climate-KIC label was unique and unforgettable, and has set me up on the path to greater accomplishments in my academic and professional career. I would highly recommend it to students who are passionate about sustainability, with an entrepreneurial spirit, or an inquisitive mind.