Aalborg University and Inno-Quarter: Researching festival labs for sustainable and entrepreneurial innovation

16 April 2019 - Published by Brigitte Feenstra

Inno-Quarter is in the process of developing support programmes for innovators within a partnership of five North Sea regions: North and Central Denmark; Halland, Sweden; Bremen, Germany; Friesland, the Netherlands; and West Flanders, Belgium. The support programmes aim to help entrepreneurs to gather feedback on the functionality and/or market fit of their sustainable innovation quickly by facilitating product-market tests at existing festivals. This way, sustainable innovations can be presented to the public in a communal setting while entrepreneurs gain situated input regarding the feasibility of their innovation.

Festivals have since long been investigated for their communal functions as a site for exchanging new ideas and negotiating visions for the future. As such, they are assumed fertile context for developing, introducing and testing innovative concepts and products for a more sustainable society. As a trend, festivals are expanding their role in society in this regard. Inno-Quarter aims to facilitate this development and to share knowledge internationally and across the afore-mentioned regions. This development process of the Inno-Quarter programs is flanked by a PhD research project at Aalborg University (Denmark) that investigates the affordance of festival labs for entrepreneurial and sustainable innovation through action-based research.  


Aalborg University’s research team

The PhD project is based at Aalborg University in the Sustainability, Innovation and Policy (SIP) research group [link to https://www.en.plan.aau.dk/research+groups/SIP]. SIP is an interdisciplinary research team that focuses on innovative and applied research in the field of sustainable innovation. The research in SIP covers a wide array of sustainability issues and is a pioneer in the area of circular business modelling, user-driven innovation and technology assessment/development.

The Inno-Quarter research is conducted by PhD Fellow Sybrith Tiekstra, who has been working in the field with the concept of festival labs for sustainable innovation since 2015. Sybrith has been developing her research focus on the socio-cultural function of festivals since starting her MA Arts, Culture and Media in 2012 at the University of Groningen (the Netherlands), later developing the specific focus on entrepreneurship and sustainable innovation during her work at the Province of Drenthe (the Netherlands) and in the field as a freelancer.



Sybrith Tiekstra   PhD Fellow Sybrith Tiekstra

The research on the Inno-Quarter concept is done in collaboration with supervisors Associate Professor Carla Smink and Professor Han Brezet. Carla specializes in environmental regulations and networks (public-private partnerships). Han has a wealth of experience in eco-design and circular business modelling. The Inno-Quarter research team works in close collaboration with Inno-Quarters’ other research partners from Bremen University (Germany).

 Carla SminkAss. prof. Carla Smink

Prof. Han Brezet  Prof. Han Brezet

Research aims

The point of departure of the Inno-Quarter research project is the idea that introducing and testing entrepreneurial innovations to and with a large amount of people in a festival-context improves entrepreneurial decision-making and creates new - or strengthens existing - network ties within a regional entrepreneurial ecosystem. The research focuses specifically on the added value of the festival lab, as perceived by the entrepreneurs and related actors. The framework of this study draws both from festival and performance studies as well as the fields of entrepreneurial innovation and sustainable business modelling.

The core assumption is that the proximity of actors of all spheres of the quadruple helix, with specific focus on the public, makes the festival an especially fertile platform for renegotiating a community’s norms and values. Sustainable transition requires, among other factors, for communities to shift their current value frameworks and to discover new paths for the future. Studying the trend of presenting new innovative solutions at festivals is a promising area of study for understanding and developing strategies that incorporate the socio-cultural dynamics related to developing sustainable innovations.

Expected Results

During the first year of the project an exploratory study was conducted at the Welcome to the Village festival (Leeuwarden, the Netherlands) and Hallifornia (Varberg, Sweden). This descriptive case study serves to understand the type of festivals, type of participants and the support programs that were offered. Based on this initial exploration, a follow-up study for the next festival season will be conducted at all participating festivals, in collaboration with research partner Bremen University.

The results of the research project will be communicated through an internal status quo report that will be updated as the project develops. Furthermore, knowledge generated through this project will be disseminated through scientific articles and conference participation. At the end of the project a joint report from all the partners will be shared, which summarizes the project’s most important findings, specifically aimed at developing practical implications for regional actors.


If you are interested in the Inno-Quarter research, feel free to send an email to Sybrith Tiekstra.