Startups as the Green Innovators of the Pharmaceutical Industry: Exploring the Necessary Transformation to a Circular Economy

Sif Bregnballe & Laura Karppinen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The slow-moving pharmaceutical (pharma) industry is facing critical sustainability challenges that can be addressed through a circular economy (CE) approach with the help of startups. Embracing disruptive change is vital for the long-term growth and future success of the industry. This paper uses the CE framework developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Creativity Theory by Amabile (2006) to explore the circular innovations relevant to the pharma industry that startups have developed, and how they may contribute, with creativity, to transforming the industry to environmentally friendly. A horizon scanning was done by categorizing 238 circular startups, relevant to the pharma industry, into four different category groups, and by conducting ten interviews with startup representatives and three interviews with large pharma company representatives. The results from the study show that the challenges of moving to CE are evident, but the opportunities of CE are ambiguous as they differ between existing literature and practitioners. The startups have developed unique solutions, which some have been perceived impossible to create, along with trending raw material and waste management solutions. The startup representatives were identified as intrinsically motivated, which fosters creativity and thus, the creation of these novel, disruptive solutions. Hence, startups have a distinct role in redesigning circular options for the pharma industry. Further, the strengths and weaknesses of startups and large companies complement each other and thus, partnerships are encouraged. Overall, all stakeholders from businesses to governments and healthcare facilities need to establish successful collaborations in order to accelerate the transformation to a CE.

EducationsMSocSc in Organisational Innovation and Entrepreneurship , (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages110
SupervisorsPhilip Beske-Janssen