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The Public Entrenpreneurship Network model describes dynamic and loosely bound organizations of public- and private-sector actors that work together to overcome obstacles to development through formal and informal interactions. Please choose from the following options to learn more about the PEN model and the cases that contributed to its development.



Characteristics of Public Entrepreneurship Networks



Public-Sector-Lead Cases

Sunline Transit
Mobility Carsharing Switzerland



Private-Sector-Lead Cases

Zipcar Carsharing
Compressed Natural Gas in Switzerland



Non-Profit-Sector-Lead Cases

Solaris Solar Energy Project
Greenfreeze Refrigeration


Characteristics of Public Entrepreneurship Networks

The Public Entrepreneurship Network (PEN) model captures the dynamics of change and the implications for action by government agencies and other actors interested in sustainable development. Five key features distinguish public entrepreneurship networks:

  • A pattern of inter-organizational cooperation that spans public, private, and civic spheres and develops through
  • Interaction in problem centered networks
  • Public regarding local initiative supported by a set of
  • Specific organizational roles related in an
  • Institutional ecology that facilitates development.

Public entrepreneurship networks combine local initiative that has a distinctively entrepreneurial character with a strong orientation to sustainability and other public goals. This combination arises in part from the variety of organizations that participate in these networks. Public entrepreneurships networks are characterized by both the pattern of development and the key facilitative roles that have to be played for development to thrive. They include:

  • Pioneers who recognize opportunity, seize initiative, and catalyze action by making commitments.
  • Public venture capitalists who understand and embrace risk and package financial, social, and human capital to meet project driven needs.
  • Superintendents who provide an environment in which innovation can flourish by fostering the development of relationships that are sustained through formal and informal networks.
  • Mediators who build consensus on goals and direction and bring directed problem-solving to bear on conflicts that threaten to stall or derail the development of ventures.
  • Stewards of the common good who focus attention on the common good, maintain standards for responsible behavior, and facilitate the coalescence of democratic community around programs of action.
Given what is at stake, it is neither practical nor desirable to rely on private and non-governmental actors to consistently fill these roles. Yet government action must not threaten the ecology of relationships that generates the attention and energy that make these networks effective. This sets a challenge for government agencies. Their participation is essential. Yet efforts to "legislate" change may disrupt the very patterns of development they seek to promote. Identifying public entrepreneurship networks and understanding how they work is only the first step.
SunLine Transit

The Development of an Alternative Fuel Program

The development of the alternative fuel program at SunLine Transit in the Coachella Valley in Southern California illustrates how technological development can emerge out of the interaction around concrete problems and how learning occurs as the organizations involved transform these problems and reshape the basis for interaction

The SunLine story begins with an aging fleet of diesel buses that had one of the worst service records in the U.S. SunLine’s Board authorized management to acquire a new fleet of buses and added, “While you’re at it, make them alternative fuel.”

This transformed the initial problem from poor service to selecting an alternative fuel technology and involved SunLine with a new set of actors.

After deciding on compressed natural gas, SunLine faced two new problems. They had committed to a technology that they did not know how to maintain and for which no infrastructure existed. These new problems shaped the horizon of organizational activity and pushed SunLine to extend the network of actors to include colleges, original equipment manufacturers, and the local gas company.

In solving the maintenance problem, SunLine acquired the habit of innovation and members of the organization began to treat the conversion to CNG as the first step and ask themselves, “What’s next?”

The leadership and staff of SunLine soon articulated a new problem, “How can we become a zero-emissions transit company?”
SunLine selected hydrogen as their initial answer to this question and have begun to organize and operate an experimental program in which they produce hydrogen fuel on-site, using solar energy from photovoltaic arrays, and operate a variety hydrogen powered vehicles including a fuel cell bus as part of their regular fleet.

View a poster detailing the Sunline Public Entrepreneurship Networks: (PDF | JPEG)


Mobility Carsharing Switzerland


Government Action Puts Private-Sector Resources To The Public Good

Based in Zurich, Mobility CarSharing provides its members with access to automobiles for local trips within most regions throughout Switzerland. Mobility CarSharing developed during the 1990s through the interaction of environmental entrepreneurs and public officials concerned with reducing energy usage throughout Switzerland. Government support for car sharing organizations developed in response to a 1990 public referendum that banned the planning of any additional nuclear power facilities until 2000 and the anticipated potential energy shortages, In response to this, the Swiss government initiated the Energy 2000 program, which provided limited resources to policies that would lead to voluntary reductions in energy use.

Rather than administer the Energy 2000 program directly from the Ministry of Transport and Energy, however, the program designated specific consultants from the private sector to disperse resources and manage the development programs. In order to identify what voluntary policies might reduce energy usage within the transportation sector, one of these consultants, Ernst Reinhardt, took on the role of superintendent and formed a forum of companies and public interest groups involved in transportation issues. In addition to the major automobile importing associations, the forum included two nascent car sharing organizations, ShareCom and ATG-AutoTeilet Schweiz based in Lucerne and Zurich, respectively. These companies had developed during the environmental movement that occurred throughout Switzerland (and Europe) in the mid-1980s.

Through the input of these companies, research into the benefits of car sharing became one of the forum's first major initiatives. In 1994, officials contracted the LINK institute to conduct a survey of former, existing, and potential car sharing users to evaluate future demand for the service, and investigate the influence of car sharing on mobility behavior and energy use and potential improvements to the service to increase use. The studies therefore not only provided the companies with important marketing information, but also helped to justify further governmental support of car sharing.

Between 1994 and 1997, the government continued to play a public venture capitalist role not only by providing small grants to the companies for specific development initiatives, but also continued to provide recommendations about how to increase the professionalism of the services. The government also sought to develop partnerships between the car sharing companies and existing transit service providers. Mobility CarSharing therefore developed out of the initiative to connect car sharing to the transit system. This case provides a successful example of how governmental actors can shepherd private-sector resources to serve the common good in a profitable manner.


Zipcar Carsharing


Building Commercial Carsharing in America

The Zipcar case is an example of a private-sector company attempting to develop new technology in order to implement an existing green technology concept. Zipcar is using sound business practice as a guide towards a success that they hope will be not only profitable, but beneficial to society as well. In 1999, Antje Danielson (an environmental science scholar at Harvard) introduced Robin Chase (an MIT Business School graduate) to the concept of carsharing. Chase had been eager to start her own business and was lamenting the need to buy a second car while living in the dense city of Cambridge, Massachusetts and immediately recognized this as exactly what she needed on both counts. The company was founded a few months later with the ambitious goal of "transforming urban transportation" by making carsharing a mainstream service in America. Their rationale was that the more cars they take off the road, the more good they will do. Feeling that only an economically viable service could achieve this, Zipcar established itself as a for-profit company with no public sector-investment.

This was a tall task for a concept that was relatively unknown, and almost completely unimplemented in the United States. To adapt the carsharing concept to the American marketplace, Zipcar faced the uphill battle of making fundamental improvements to existing carsharing models while simultaneously creating a market for a product that had never before been available. In this endeavor, Zipcar has developed unique on-line wireless vehicle reservation and tracking systems that make the carsharing transaction almost effortless. At the same time, they have marketed the concept using techniques similar to community outreach programs to reach individual consumers, institutions, and government agencies, from which Zipcar needs regulatory and material support.

Throughout Zipcar's history, their choices have been guided by the original decision to make Zipcar as large as possible. Obtaining funding and securing government support and regulatory accommodation have been key obstacles that Zipcar has overcome and is overcoming. Zipcar has repeatedly encountered public officials who are caught in the dilemma of "how to support the concept and not individual companies" At the same time, they have attracted floods of input and ideas for how to improve and expand their service from customers, investors, officials, and almost every other type of interested party imaginable. Zipcar has learned from its experience that, "The best innovation comes when someone comes to us and says, 'Wouldn't it be great if you did this!'"


Compressed Natural Gas in Switzerland


A Private Company Expands Alternative Fuel Use in a Public Agency

Efforts to encourage the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) as a transportation fuel in Switzerland, were spearheaded by the Compagnie Industrielle et Commerciale du Gaz (CICG), who promoted the introduction of CNG vehicles in two different projects. The first initiative involved the development of a generic CNG injector aimed at adapting private cars for CNG use, and the second involved the promotion of CNG as a fuel for public transportation buses and captive fleets. The CICG's first project led to a joint research and development effort with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, which produced a new patented injector system now being distributed by Landi Renzo. The second project led to the adoption of 15 CNG buses by Transport Lausannois (TL), the company responsible for public transportation in the city of Lausanne, Switzerland. In addition to these efforts, the CICG has been active in the development of CNG compression stations.

CICG played the critical role of pioneer in all these projects, at times sharing the role with local politicians in the city of Laussanne. These actors worked hard to overcome initial reluctance of TL, which was due to the extra cost involved in adopting CNG vehicles and perceptions of poor vehicle performance. Drivers and the fleet maintenance staff have now embraced the new technology and consider it both clean and comfortable. The implementation of CNG buses required training programs and new working procedures that were a unifying influence for the company. Bus riders also embraced the new buses because they were cleaner and carried a better image than the old diesel vehicles. The TL management is hoping that this new image will further promote the use of public transportation within the city.

Although CICG was able to achieve local success in Lausanne, they were not successful in influencing policy makers on the national scale, due to communication barriers and lack of sufficient drive at the national level, legislation that would have specifically addressed natural gas as a fuel for transportation ultimately did not pass. However, the natural gas injector developed in Switzerland will be distributed in Italy first due to a more favorable legislation.


Solaris Solar Energy Project


Building Capacity for Deployment of Sustainable Technology

In 1997, Greenpeace set out to prove a point. They felt that photovoltaic technology offered a much more immediate potential than was being realized. The way to break through the stalemate was to take direct action that would put solar panels on the roofs of homes and offices. By generating this "action vector" they would also contribute to making panels cheaper, more accessible, and more prominent in the minds of consumers.

Greenpeace set the ambitious goal of 20,000 solar panels on Dutch roofs within two years and commenced building a program to have the panels manufactured and make them commercially available to consumers. Much of this is well outside the scope of Greenpeace's competency; however, strategic alliances with consulting firms Ecofys and Stork, the Dutch bank Rabobank, the financial services company De Lage Landen, and the Netherlands Agency for Energy and the Environment. These relationships were used to help overcome financial, technical, and bureaucratic challenges that threatened to derail the project.

Greenpeace was not able to reach their original goal of 20,000 solar panels. However, the benefits of this project persist beyond its end may turn out to be more significant than the panels themselves. Greenpeace showed that action can push technologies forward. Action to introduce the technology brought together a network of actors, connected ideas, resources, and expertise, and contributed to the development of "social capital." The working relationships that were formed between previously unrelated actors remain. Additionally, many lessons were learned about how solar panels can be successfully marketed and sold that will aid future endeavors, including the SOL*id project, being conducted by Ecostream to bring solar hot water systems into broader use.


Greenfreeze Refrigeration

Private Individuals Changing an Industry

The development of Greenfreeze refrigerators would not have occurred without the pioneering initiative of two doctors working in the Dortmund Institute of Hygiene in Germany. Motivated by a failure to find an environmentally-friendly cold storage unit free of HFCs and HCFCs for their institute, the two doctors began researching hydrocarbon refrigeration. The potential of hydrocarbon refrigeration had been ignored by manufacturers because successful results of such research could not be patented, and would therefore not be as profitable. The doctors succeeded in producing a viable hydrocarbon refrigeration model in the early 1990s.

However, their success was just an idea, and the road from that to worldwide refrigerator sales can be very long. In the path stood a refrigeration manufacturing industry with heavy investments in HFC technology and ties to the West German chemical industry. Greenpeace stepped in to help them along this road, connecting the doctors with an East German refrigerator manufacturer that was in dire financial straits and especially receptive to new ideas. Greenpeace then supplied public venture capital to fund the development of prototype refrigerators. Safety concerns were surmounted with the help of the German safety and standards institution Technischer Ueberwachungsverein, which certified the technology as "safe and tested".

Due to these efforts, Greenfreeze technology has come into mainstream use with 40 million units sold worldwide in over 100 models by 2000. This case demonstrates that non-governmental actors can have a vision or understanding that enables them to better serve as a steward of the common good than the government. Neither governmental, nor large industry actors were supportive of the expansion of this technology until later stages. The doctors pioneering vision was the crucial catalyst for the Greenfreeze project, and non-governmental actors may need to offer such vision in similar cases in the future.