PhD Defence: Helen Toxopeus

In her dissertation ‘Financing Sustainable Innovation: From a principal-agent to a collective action perspective’ Helen Toxopeus explores how to enable finance for sustainable innovation, with a focus on banks and crowdfunding platforms.

Helen Toxopeus defended her dissertation in the Senate Hall at Erasmus University Rotterdam on Thursday, 10 January 2019 at 15:30. Her supervisors were Prof. Harry Commandeur (ESE) and Dr. Karen Maas (ESAA). Other members of the Doctoral Committee are Prof. Erik Stam (Utrecht University), Dr. Ronald Huisman (Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Prof. dr. Robert Lensink (University of Groningen). 

About Helen Toxopeus

Helen Toxopeus (1980) holds a Master degree in International Economics and Business from the University of Groningen (cum laude) and a propedeuse (first-year diploma) in Sociology. After completing her studies in 2006 she worked at ABN AMRO bank, first as an M&A and strategy analyst and later as innovation manager. At ABN AMRO she initiated a crowdfunding platform for sustainable enterprises. She left the bank in 2011 and wrote two books based on interviews with grass root innovators in the financial system: “Een verkenning van ons geldsysteem” capturing the ideas in  the network Economy Transformers and “Een @nder soort geld” based on interviews with the director of the NGO Social Trade Organization, Henk van Arkel, describing their ideas, projects and technology for local currencies.  
Helen wrote her PHD between 2013 and 2018 as a researcher within the Impact Centre Erasmus at Erasmus University Rotterdam. In parallel she co-authored the management book “Route Circulair: een roadmap voor circulaire bedrijfsmodellen” which was longlisted for Management Book of the Year 2017 and has been translated to English.
Her PHD focuses on how to finance sustainable innovation through banks and crowdfunding. Currently she is a post-doctoral researcher at the Sustainable Finance Lab at the Utrecht School of Economics where she studies finance and business models for nature-based innovation in cities (as part of the European research project NATURVATION). She teaches in the courses Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Qualitative Research Methods.
Helen was born in Cairo (Egypt) and grew up in various countries. She obtained her International Baccalaureate at Vienna International School (Austria). She lives in Utrecht with her husband and two children.

Thesis Abstract

The importance of transitioning to a sustainable economy - one which safeguards ecological life-support systems and provides equity within and between generations - has become increasingly urgent. A crucial ingredient of such a transition is sustainable innovation by new or existing enterprises, to develop business activities that realize both societal and financial value. However, obtaining finance for sustainable innovation is often a challenge due to both principal-agent and (double) externality problems. While society benefits from investments into sustainable innovation, the – financial and societal - return for individual financiers is highly insecure.
This dissertation explores how to enable finance for sustainable innovation, with a focus on banks and crowdfunding platforms. It makes use of two theoretical lenses. First, it studies how to overcome principal-agent problems through different lending technologies. Second, and more novel, it takes a collective action perspective to address the double externality problem embodied in sustainable innovation finance. This research fills a gap because there exist empirically well-defined mechanisms for solving collective action problems that have not yet been applied to the finance domain. Furthermore, the dynamics of collective action appear particularly relevant in the emergence of technologically driven, decentralized financial instruments like crowdfunding.
This dissertation draws conclusions regarding the role of relationships, cash flows and assets as enablers of sustainable innovation finance, as well as regarding motivations of crowdfunders to undertake such investments. It highlights the challenge of enabling sustainable innovation finance while guarding the quality of the investment decisions in line with the motivation of the financier.

Photos: Chris Gorzeman / Capital Images