Motivations and identities of “grassroots” circular entrepreneurs: An initial exploration

Marvin Henry*, Thijs Hoogenstrijd, Julian Kirchherr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The circular economy (CE) is now widely seen as a key concept to drive sustainability transformations. Existing research on circular business models has tentatively indicated that circular entrepreneurship may be able to play a pivotal role in the transition process. However, grassroots activity in CE has not yet received substantive scholarly attention, nor have the founders of circular ventures. This study attempts to start closing this gap by presenting the first empirical analysis of circular founders' motivations and identities. Our work is based on interviews with 57 founders of circular start-ups in Europe and Australia. The analysis reveals distinct characteristics for these entrepreneurs. We find that noneconomic motives are dominant drivers of grassroots circular entrepreneurs while they include a triple bottom line orientation (i.e., economic, social, and environmental value) in principle. Yet, circular start-up founders barely formalize socio-political dimensions in their activities despite being motivated by social altruism. Furthermore, circular founders have an inventive mindset when starting their entrepreneurial journey, possibly driven by their limited market-oriented positioning, limited entrepreneurial experience, and managerial education. However, their scaling ambitions grow significantly over time, as opposed to social and sustainable entrepreneurs. Overall, our findings suggest adding grassroots circular entrepreneurs or circular founders as a distinct group of sustainability entrepreneurs to the scientific discourse on sustainability-motivated entrepreneurship and circular innovation studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1122-1141
Number of pages20
JournalBusiness Strategy and the Environment
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • Business model innovation
  • Economy
  • Green
  • Orientation
  • Sme performance
  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Start-ups
  • Strategic niche management
  • Sustainability
  • Transitions


Dive into the research topics of 'Motivations and identities of “grassroots” circular entrepreneurs: An initial exploration'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this