The virtuous startup

Investigating the responsibility of startups in a rapidly changing world

How do tech startups define, prioritize and act upon their values? How do they navigate ethical dilemmas in fast-paced and highly competitive markets? How do they cope with possible unintended consequences of their products? What does digital responsibility mean for startups? How do startup founders, leaders, and investors influence the ethical culture of their companies?
With the rapid growth an increasing influence of the startup industry, this study explores how these companies handle ethical dilemmas and make decisions that concern values such as fairness, transparency, and technology-related responsibility. The goal is to identify best practices for promoting ethical foresight and virtuous behavior within this sector.
Are you a strategy, product or tech leader in a startup, or an investor? Then, we would love your input!

Study Background and Procedure

Fast growing tech startups often operate in fields that have the potential to significantly impact society and the environment. These companies work on the forefront of innovation and are developing new technologies that have the potential to revolutionize industries, disrupt traditional business models, and may significantly contribute to the solution of the most pressing issues of our time. At the same time, startups are often caught between conflicting demands of investors, ambitious growth targets and high external expectations to build a functioning company. 

Given their enormous potential to shape our common future, it is crucial to understand how startup companies approach ethical decision-making and consider the potential consequences of their actions. Especially the development and deployment of new technologies might come with unintended consequences – both for the company as well as for society. By studying the ethical foresight and behavior of tech startups, this study aims to gain insights into how these companies are navigating the ethical challenges posed by their innovative technologies and identify best practices for promoting ethical behavior within this sector.

This study project covers the following topic clusters and exemplary questions.

  • Ethical Foresight
    • How do startups consider the ethical implications of their products and services during the development process?
    • How do startups balance the potential benefits and risks of their technologies from an ethical perspective?
    • How do startups engage with external stakeholders to address ethical concerns about their products and services?
    • How do startups anticipate and plan for potential ethical challenges in the future?
    • How do startups measure and evaluate their ethical foresight and decision-making processes?
  • Corporate Digital Responsibility
    • How do startups define and implement their digital responsibility?
    • How do tech startups build and maintain trust with their customers and other stakeholders?
  • Virtuous startup culture and moral conduct
    • How do startup leaders establish an ethical culture in their company?
    • How do the ethical values of startups evolve as they grow and mature?
    • How do startups empower their stakeholders for ethical decision making?
    • How do startups address ethical issues related to diversity and inclusion within their organizations?
    • How do startups deal with internal incidents of unethical behavior? 

This is an exploratory study project and there are several ways to participate:

  • Expert interview
    • Dedicate 30 to 60 minute of your time to engage in a 1:1 interview to share your experiences and insights on one or more of the given topics.
    • Target group: Founder and executives of tech startups; Those responsible for the development of technologies and technology-based products and services Startup investors and advisors.
  • Focus group with your team
    • Invite key people from your team to a 1-2 hrs focus group under the guidance of our researchers to discuss ethical challenges in your company.
    • Target group: Those teams in your startup that are responsible for strategy and the development of technology-based products and services.
  • Survey
    • Soon, there will also be a possibility to share your insights via a survey. Stay tuned!

Of course, all of your information will be collected and kept strictly confidential – unless we specifically discuss otherwise.

We are particularly interested in startups that

  • work with/on  emerging technologies (such as artificial intelligence, robotics,  natural language processing, biometrics, blockchain/ Web3 etc.);
  • operate a platform-based business model; 
  • operate in culturally or ethically sensitive areas (e.g., health care, child care; information);
  • operate in other value-laden industries with disruptive potential (e.g., new space, mobility, cyber security). 

Of course, if you do not fall under any of the mentioned categories, but still would like to share your insights, feel free to approach us!

What happens with the results?

The results of the study will be scientifically evaluated and published. Beyond that the goal of the project is to derive best practices for ethical foresight and virtuous behaviour for startups. The results may be published in different ways (e.g., a book, blog posts, videos).

What's in it for you?

As a startup leader, you have the opportunity to not only build a successful business, but also to make a positive impact on the world. Participating in this study is a chance for you to contribute to the greater good and to be a leader in promoting responsible business practices.

Not only will your participation help to advance our understanding of how to create and maintain virtuous startups, it will also provide valuable insights that you can use to further improve your own business. By taking the time to share your experiences and perspective, you can help to shape the future of the startup industry and inspire others to do the same.

However, if this is not enough motivation, we have are some other ideas how to make your time worthwhile which we are happy to discuss with you. 

Who is behind this project?

This is a research project by the Bavarian Foresight-Institute and coordinated by Prof. Dr. Laura Bechthold. 

Laura Bechthold is Professor of Technology Assessment & Cultural Management at the Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt. Her academic background spans economics, political sciences, cultural management, and sustainability science from Zeppelin University, Maastricht University, LMU Munich and UC Berkeley in California. Between 2013 and 2018, she was part of the management team of the Munich Center for Digital Technology and Management (CDTM) and completed a PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition. In the past years, she has worked both as researcher as well as a strategy consultant. Her field-experimental research on the impact of female role models received multiple international awards.

Laura Bechthold ist Professorin für Technology Assessment & Cultural Management  an der Technischen Hochschule Ingolstadt. Sie hat Wirtschafts-,  Kultur- und Nachhaltigkeitswissenschaften an der Zeppelin Universität, der Universität Maastricht, der LMU München und der UC Berkeley in Kalifornien studiert. Zwischen 2013 und 2018 war sie am Münchner Center for Digital Technology and Management (CDTM) tätig und hat parallel am Max-Planck-Institut für Innovation und Wettbewerb promoviert.

Interested in Participation?

If you are interested in supporting the study, just fill in the following form and we will contact you as soon as possible.