1 Introduction

As entrepreneurship scholars and educators ourselves, we use project seminars to teach students about entrepreneurship. Students typically choose what they want to work on during the seminar. They work on apps to save time when grocery shopping or be able to follow a healthy vegan diet, and they work on concepts such as cafés to share skills or strengthen their local community. Many of these concepts already incorporate elements of sustainability, but lack an overall reflection of the possible negative and positive sustainable outcomes. They suffer from a lack of diverse perspectives. With this workshop we have developed a short but creative and interactive format that can inspire other educators and their approaches toward teaching. Within this format, participants develop ideas to foster sustainable innovation in our classrooms through a multitude of perspectives.

One key concept to achieve a multitude of perspectives is open innovation. When Henry Chesbrough introduced the concept of open innovation, it was aimed at breaking the barriers of closed innovation processes (Chesbrough, 2003). In recent years, the concept of open innovation received increasing attention from a multitude of theoretical perspectives (Chesbrough & Bogers, 2014; Gassmann et al., 2010; Podmetina et al., 2018; West et al., 2014)—but such perspectives are often missing in actual open innovation processes as open innovation is mostly understood as a firm-centric concept. The engagement of various stakeholders is a key factor to develop responsible and sustainable innovations. To account for the multitude of perspectives in open innovation processes, the concept of innovation communities (Bogers et al., 2017; Fichter, 2009; West & Lakhani, 2008) is a promising direction.

In our “Sandbox Innovation Process” at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, we developed a concept that brings together the structured approach of innovation processes while building an innovation community. Thus, we bring together a variety of stakeholders who jointly work on regional challenges and aim to develop comprehensive solutions. The term “Sandbox” describes the idea that constraints can be purposefully used to develop high-quality and low-cost solutions (Prahalad, 2006). This approach is particularly suited for regions with a lack of infrastructure or resources. Therefore, the participants of each “Sandbox” form a transdisciplinary innovation community. This community develops ideas which tackle the challenges within a particular region while taking the constraints of this region into account. During a structured process of several weeks, the “Sandbox” becomes a space for experimentation, while equipping the participants with innovation tools and creative methods, such as design thinking, rapid prototyping, and business model development.

2 Learning Objectives

The “Sandbox Innovation Process” is of scholarly and practical relevance. For scholars, it presents an opportunity to extend the open innovation concept and examine the chances and challenges of innovation communities. Additionally, it presents a new approach in which we as scholars can take an active role to engage a multitude of stakeholders in a joint process to best support the development of responsible and sustainable innovation. For this teaching handbook, we introduce a particular short format of the “Sandbox Innovation Process.” It incorporates the main ideas of the sandbox innovation process while giving educators a chance to reflect upon how their teaching approaches can foster sustainable innovation. Thus, this workshop concept is not directly addressed to students, but rather to fellow educators aiming to contribute to a sustainability perspective in entrepreneurship education. Therefore, the key message of this workshop is that researchers and educators can play an active role in addressing global challenges while still being locally responsive. With the “Sandbox” we provide a free space in which participants can tackle the global challenges which influence their everyday lives and solve them on a local scale. Through this process, participants will learn the key elements of the “Sandbox Innovation Process” as well as:

  • Experience the efficiency of structured open innovation processes and learn how innovation communities function by accounting for a multitude of perspectives.

  • Reflect challenges that hinder innovativeness in everyday work and develop first ideas and more comprehensive solutions for these challenges.

  • Discuss ideas to combine open innovation processes with innovation communities and reflect on one’s own role within these processes/communities.

  • Reflect on their own roles as researchers and educators to foster responsible and sustainable innovation.

  • Discuss the transfer of this learning experience to other contexts in which sustainable innovations within certain constraints are crucial.

3 Target Groups and Workshop Style

The short workshop format, which we outline in the following figure, was originally developed as a starting format for potential participants of the multi-week/3-month “Sandbox Innovation Process.” Due to the increased interest from the scholarly community, we further developed this into a workshop concept for entrepreneurship educators. The concept is highly flexible and can thus be easily adopted to fit a variety of contexts. This short sandbox format typically brings together people to work on common challenges and enables them to develop the first solution as a prototype. Thus, the participants constitute a short-term innovation community that provides a starting point for further active networking. For now, the addressed participants are educators and scholars, but this concept also works well in a classroom of students to get them started with idea development.

The workshop can be held virtually and non-virtually. The interaction between the participants and the joint experience within smaller teams are the building blocks for this creative workshop style. For the virtual version, a video conferencing tool and an online tool for collaboration are essential. In the virtual workshop, interaction will be enabled using breakout sessions and providing the teams with a virtual environment for collaboration, preferably a shared whiteboard (such as Mural, Miro, or Concept board). The main difference in these versions is the prototyping: in a non-virtual setting, rapid prototyping is fostered through a variety of materials such as building blocks, modelling clay, craft materials, and other materials that participants can use to create prototypes. In the virtual version, the prototyping can be done using preselected icons, photos, or pictures (for instance, by providing them on a whiteboard with a selection of visual material, preferably creative commons). In this case, participants are asked to develop a short story using visual aids to explain their concept and therefore develop a visual prototype.

Overall, this workshop concept presents a short format of the “Sandbox” process in which the different stages of the process can be experienced and reflected in two hours. Therefore, the participants will form an innovation community for this time frame, as well as hopefully beyond, and develop comprehensive ideas for their challenges. This is followed by a reflection phase and a concluding plenary, in which a critical discussion of the learning experience and the possibilities of transfer are actively encouraged. This last part is particularly relevant to ensure the possibility of transfer of the key learnings to each of the participants’ own contexts of work and teaching. This format is designed for a range from 10 to 25 participants, working in groups of preferably 4–5 persons. In our experience, this format works best with two moderators (or a moderator and an assistant), especially if more than 15 persons are participating. This ensures that the schedule is kept and the various teams are getting the necessary support. In the following, we present an outline of a typical sandbox short-format workshop including suggested time frames for a two-hour version.





Welcome and Introduction—Introduction to the “Sandbox Innovation Process” and insight into our experiences so far, presentation of agenda and learning objectives for this workshop

Getting started


Matching—Participants who, preferably, do not know each other form a heterogenous team of 3–6 people; assignment is explained and team members introduce themselves

Fostering a social mix


Individual Challenges—Each team member writes down their challenges individually regarding the relevant question, e.g., What are the challenges in getting my students to tackle global challenges and develop sustainable ideas?

Individual reflection


Divide in Breakout Sessions—Exchange—Each team member presents their challenges with an online whiteboard for collaboration and others can ask questions for a better understanding

Revealing challenges


Idea Production—Each team member rapidly collects ideas on post-its for the challenges of the others and “pins” these on the virtual whiteboard

Developing first ideas


Idea Combination and Development—The teams discuss, which challenges can be combined by using the collected ideas as a basis for the further concept and afterward develop a solution that addresses at least three challenges that were collected within the group

Developing comprehensive solutions


Rapid Prototyping—The teams jointly develop prototypes that represent their developed solution, based on a customized template on the whiteboard and using pre-selected photos/material via a shared folder

Joint team experience


Exchange and Feedback—Each team pitches their prototype and other teams can (briefly) ask questions and give feedback

Exchange in plenum


Open Discussion in Plenary—Answering questions w.r.t. to the process and reflecting on the learning experience

Transfer of learning experience


Individual Reflection—Each person reflects on their role as entrepreneurship educators and researchers in fostering responsible and sustainable innovation and writes down their key learnings

Individual transfer


Sharing Reflections—In new groups of 2–3 people, people get together, share their key learnings and discuss possibilities for transfer of the learnings into their specific contexts

Collegial sharing


Concluding Plenary—Discussing together: What can be our roles as entrepreneurship researchers and educators to foster sustainable innovation? How can we be drivers or initiators for open innovation communities? Should we?

Critical reflection

4 Learnings and Experiences

This short-format workshop has so far worked in a variety of contexts, either with fellow researchers and educators, but also with students, citizens, or entrepreneurs. In the “Sandbox Innovation Process,” this typically presents a starting point for a longer innovation process. From this, we would like to share some learning experiences. Our first pilot was a 14-week process, which meant that participants who came from a similar regional setting, but otherwise differed greatly in age, experiences, and professional backgrounds, worked together over this time. They went through a process of understanding challenges, developing first ideas, and creating solutions toward prototypes, used for getting feedback early on, to business models. We provided them with one workshop each week and therefore an intense format for collaboration. After the 14-week process, the mindset of the participants was more open toward innovation and better able to address global challenges while still being locally responsive. Mainly, this process contributed to developing the participants’ own competencies and the understanding of heterogeneous perspectives, which in itself contributes to more responsible innovation.

As the demands regarding time were a challenge for many participants, our second “Sandbox Innovation Process” was restructured into several modules. The key elements in this phase were five workshops, with additional one-on-one sessions, and a series of shorter online sessions on specific topics that were particularly relevant for entrepreneurial endeavors (such as finances, taxes, and funding programs). Additionally, this process was held completely virtually due to COVID19 crisis, which posed several new challenges such as the differences in the familiarity with virtual tools and the struggle to develop a strong team spirit in this setting. Still, the idea development worked well in this virtual setting and the overall modular structure proved to be similarly effective as the 14-week process. As physical and virtual formats were similarly effective, it is also worth considering how each setting influences how sustainable the format itself is, for instance, regarding emissions.

5 Development Toward Responsible Innovation

Originally, the “Sandbox Innovation Process” was created to tackle regional challenges. Thus, local responsibility has always played a key role in this context. However, the idea to combine this more explicitly with the topic of sustainability and responsibility was born at a conference in 2019 about responsible innovation and leadership in rising economies: the “Academy of Management Specialized Conference” in Bled, Slovenia. Therefore, this presents a further evolution of the “Sandbox Approach” and enriched the innovation process. When looking at entrepreneurial projects from a lens of responsible innovation, we can teach participants and, in particular, students not only about entrepreneurship but also about sustainability. Consequently, we aimed to work explicitly with a concept of sustainability. For this, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presented a good framework to get started (Horne et al., 2020). As educators, we appreciate the great material that is freely available and the easy access for our participants to this concept. While the SDGs are one way to engage with sustainability, we felt that by asking participants how their ideas related to the SDGs (in negative and positive ways) was indeed a good starting point for reflection. In the short format, we typically provided a brief introduction to sustainability and the SDGs and adjusted the challenge question to this context. In the longer sandbox format, we also included specific workshops in which we offered participants the space to reflect on the SDGs and how these relate to their projects.

This reflexivity is again a key driver for responsible innovation (Stilgoe et al., 2013), which strives toward making a positive impact on society. Reflexivity also meant that we actively engaged with the feedback of our participants and constantly tried to improve our own concepts. In general, we learned a lot from our participants as well. One question that came up several times and was intensely discussed: how can we be part of the solution if we are also part of the problem? The participant, in this case an educator, who brought this up felt that she was part of the generation which is responsible for the current mess that is our planet. While many of us could well relate to this feeling, other participants emphasized that this should not stop us. Especially if we are part of the problem, it is our responsibility to become part of the solution. As educators, we can have a great influence by supporting our students in making a difference. Strengthening responsible innovation in entrepreneurship education means increasing our positive impact on society. A short-format “Sandbox” workshop, hopefully, provides a starting point in this direction.