Calling All ‘Ecopreneurs’: The Inside Story Of Stanford’s Big Move To Help Fight Climate Change

Stanford Ecopreneurs Program

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Doerr School of Sustainability have partnered to launch the Stanford Ecopreneurship program. The program seeks to accelerate the global transition toward climate and sustainability through student-led ventures that can effectively scale solutions.

Less than a year after Stanford University launched a new school focused on sustainability, the Stanford Graduate School of Business announced a major move in the space in May: The unveiling of the Stanford Ecopreneurship Program.

The program, established through the Benioff Ecopreneur Fund, seeks to accelerate the global transition toward climate and sustainability through student-led ventures that can effectively scale solutions.

Marc Benioff, photo by Christie Hemm Klok

“Confronting our climate crisis, we hope to ignite the spark in a new wave of ecopreneurs,” says Marc Benioff, who created the Benioff Ecopreneur Fund along with his wife, Lynne. He is also the founder and CEO of Salesforce. “Through innovative entrepreneurship, we cease to merely dream of a sustainable future; we create it, delivered by the hands of these new-age ecopreneurs.”


The Ecopreneurship program is the GSB’s latest collaboration with the new Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, the university’s first new school in 70 years. The Doerr school launched in September 2022 with a $1.1 billion gift from John and Ann Doerr, the largest in Stanford history.

As the word implies, “ecopreneurship” applies the principles of entrepreneurship to ventures that solve environmental problems. Those might be for-profit businesses or non-profit impact organizations.

The new program combines GSB’s already robust entrepreneurship courses with Stanford’s University’s deep ties to Silicon Valley and its extensive sustainability resources and initiatives. These include the Precourt Institute for Energy’s Stanford Climate Ventures class and resources of the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy such as internships, graduate fellowships, and venture funding.

The Ecopreneurship program’s flagship offering will be the Stanford Impact Founder in Ecopreneurship Fellowships and Prizes. The fellowship will provide one year of funding and advising support to graduating students starting high-impact environmental ventures, offered in partnership with GSB’s Center for Social Innovation.

“I see many technologies developed in faculty labs, but only a small percentage of those technologies are translated into the real world,” said Stanford Ecopreneurship program co-director Yi Cui, who is also director of the Sustainability Accelerator and the Precourt Institute for Energy. “It’s very exciting to be linking these technologies with the students who are interested in ecopreneurship.”

This summer, the new program will launch its Summer Ecopreneurial Immersion program supporting students in developing their own ventures or matching them with faculty who received 2022 Sustainability Accelerator grants. It will also launch a Summer Internship Program to supplement graduate student internship salaries at an early-stage, sustainability-focused company.

Entrepreneurship professor Stefanos Zenios, director for GSB’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, will co-direct the Ecopreneurship program along with Cui.


The program is just the latest example of the business school’s commitment to address the pressing climate change problem since the launch of the Doerr school. Together, the two schools created the Stanford Initiative on Business and Environmental Sustainability (SIBES) which has, over the past year, launched an ambitious faculty research conference series, a sustainability-focused visitors program, and several sustainability working groups around the world.

Stanford GSB has already added several new courses examining the financial, policy, and human behavioral aspects of climate change. These include Climate Tech for Rapid Decarbonization; Climate Change, Economics, Technology; Public Policy for Climate Innovation; and Energy Markets and Policy.

Further, its Executive Education program is launching Sustainability Strategies for professionals, and its Joint Master of Science (MS) degree in Environment and Resources is one of the GSB’s most popular joint degrees with 70 current MBA students.

It all adds to the already rich sustainable and entrepreneurial ecosystems available to Stanford students. This includes the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies’ Startup Garage and the annual GSB Climate, Business & Innovation Summit, one of the largest student-led events at the school co-hosted by the GSB Energy and Business & Environment clubs. Last year, three Stanford MBA’s launched The Gigaton, a Substack newsletter that seeks to quantify the real impact emerging solutions have on the climate. The newsletter has since spread to MBAs at other major business schools looking for careers in the climate space.


Stanford GSB has also launched a research fund dedicated to faculty research at the intersection of business, government, and society. The first round of grants has already provided funding for 12 projects covering topics varying from food waste to the energy efficiency of semiconductors to the impact of corporate social responsibility disclosures on customers.

Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Jonathan Levin

Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Jonathan Levin

GSB faculty are already leading the charge as the school continues to increase its focus on sustainability. For example, Erica Plambeck, The Charles A. Holloway Professor of Operations, Information & Technology, has worked extensively on sustainable supply chains and environmental innovation and responsibility. Stefan Reichelstein, The William R. Timken Professor of Accounting, Emeritus, is a leading expert on measuring the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy, and more broadly on energy transition.

“Stanford GSB has always been a place where bold ideas are born,” says Jonathan Levin, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “We are inspired by the opportunity and responsibility to keep generating those bold ideas and solutions in the sustainability space.

“Addressing climate change will require bringing new technologies to market. That’s why the approach we’re taking at Stanford is to bring together aspiring entrepreneurs with climate and engineering experts to accelerate innovation.”


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