Sustainable Development Goals: Many Challenges But Big Opportunities For Startups

Jean-Michel Ludwig, director of business development of Luxinnovation (Photo © Marion Dessard)

As one of Luxembourg’s main drivers of technological progress, Luxinnovation is in a unique position to shape the future of our country. Jean-Michel Ludwig, director of business development, tells us about the state of Cleantech in Luxembourg, the importance of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and why he remains optimistic about the future.

How does Luxinnovation hope to trigger more Cleantech innovation within the startup ecosystem?

Currently, there is a lack of communication between corporates and startups. There is no marketplace where all the corporates can expose their innovation challenges or startups can propose their solutions. Thanks to continuous interaction and dialogue with companies from different sectors and our deep and exhaustive knowledge about the startups active in Luxembourg, Luxinnovation wants to change this and make this environment less exclusive.

In Luxinnovation’s 2022-2025 Strategy Plan, you state that your mission was reframed to align with the national and international strategy of ‘developing a competitively sustainable and digital economy’. What role do you think startups can play in achieving these goals?

They can play an important role in this for many reasons. First of all, many entrepreneurs have seized the opportunity to develop new technologies or services directly addressing the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Secondly, since many startups have already successfully experimented with sustainable business models, they are important sources of inspiration for companies that operate in more ‘traditional businesses’.

One of Luxinnovation’s 7 goals is ‘attracting and supporting innovative companies and startups’. What concrete plans do you have for attracting more Cleantech startups to Luxembourg?

Attracting startups from abroad first requires them to be aware of Luxembourg as a fertile breeding ground for startups. This is why Luxinnovation has elaborated a clear “narrative” presenting the key advantages to setting up operations in Luxembourg for all of us who engage with companies and start-ups abroad, in particular our network of Luxembourg Trade and Investment offices and our Embassies, who can position Luxembourg as an attractive place for startups to enter the European market. Our political stability, geographical location, and multinational and multicultural workforce are some of the key arguments that render Luxembourg attractive as a location in Europe to scale-up businesses from the US, Israel and Asia in particular.

Luxembourg is firmly committed to supporting an economy that is both competitive and long-term sustainable. The country is investing in the means and infrastructure needed to become a leading circular economy hub, and this is creating an interesting value proposition for international entrepreneurs in the CleanTech field. As an example, we could mention “smart mobility” where we have positioned ourselves as an ideal testbed for technological innovation addressing mobility issues. Smart building is another great example where Luxembourg could also be considered an ideal testbed for new solutions.

“Since most young people are already climate-conscious, I think it will only be a matter of time before Cleantech establishes itself as a sector to be reckoned with.”

Jean-Michel Ludwig, Director of business development at Luxinnovation

Studies suggest that 50% of our emissions reductions will have to come from technological innovations. Is this something Luxembourg can contribute to or are we too small?

Luxembourg has already been very innovative by being one of the first countries in the world to offer free public transport. It demonstrates that Luxembourg is able to take amazing decisions for achieving its ambitious goals.

Concerning technological innovation, the government has invested massively in research and innovation, for example in the public research organisations (e.g. the University of Luxembourg and LIST), and these investments have already generated great innovation in many fields including environmental technologies. The size of the country does not allow us to explore all areas, but in some niches, Luxembourg can definitely play a role.

How hard do you think it will be to nudge startups in that direction?

Looking at the new generation, I am very optimistic. They care less about making a lot of money, they want to work on something that makes sense. And most people working in the startup community are the same.

Since most young people are already climate-conscious, I think it will only be a matter of time before Cleantech establishes itself as a sector to be reckoned with.

Luxinnovation is only one player in the ecosystem. Who else needs to step up to the plate to accelerate the energy transition? Why should they?

Private investors definitely have a key role to play and we have already seen a shift concerning their investment priorities. There are more and more funds flowing into sustainable innovations/businesses.

Green Finance is no longer a niche – it is a megatrend. Aside from all the funds that have been specializing in green or sustainable finance, VC funds have also introduced clear due diligence on SDG goals and performance.

To conclude, I would like to advise startups, especially those that think they may fall outside the definition of green business, to challenge themselves and their products, services and business models, and to explore how they could highlight more SDG topics. This can give them access to new market opportunities and many additional sources of funding.

This article was first published in the Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Read the full digital version of the magazine on our website, here. You can also choose to receive a hard copy at the office or at home. Subscribe now.

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