Centre for International Environmental Studies
01 February 2022

Crowdfunding cleantech - Capstone project

Interview with MINT Capstone students who worked with CIES to research about crowdfunding's potential to finance cleantech startups

In 2021, CIES welcomed a group of MINT students, Khaliun Purevsuren, Florian Duriaux, Ryota Taniguchi, and Sarayu Krishnan, to work on a capstone project led by Prof. Joëlle Noailly. Their research formed a subproject within the “Financing Cleantech” project undertaken by CIES and EPFL, which is one of the projects under the framework of the NRP73, the Swiss National Research Programme 73 aimed at expanding existing knowledge on Sustainable Economy. 

The capstone group’s presentation of research was voted best of the cohort, and CIES is proud to demonstrate their achievements. 

Can you tell us about the context of your research? 

Crowdfunding is a type of financing where the capital required for a new project is raised from a group of people, mostly through online platforms. It can be donation-based, reward-based or can even come in the form of loans or equity investing. What distinguishes crowdfunding from traditional investing is that it allows average citizens, like us, to purchase equity i.e. shares of new businesses just like accredited investors. Recently, crowdfunding has been gaining popularity, especially among startups to finance their projects.

Our capstone project ”Crowdfunding Cleantech” aims to find out whether crowdfunding is a good solution to finance cleantech startups.

What are the biggest benefits of crowdfunding? Is it a useful tool to finance cleantech?

We have found several benefits to crowdfunding cleantech, such as:
- creating a community of highly engaged investors around the business;
- testing out the market for products;
- allowing the general public to benefit financially from green transition projects.

The most interesting finding was that crowdfunding has the advantage to introduce non-financial motivations to investors. Traditionally, investors base investment decisions on pure financial calculations and decision-making processes. Crowdfunding makes investments into cleantech more likely since cleantech offers non-financial returns in the form of environmental impacts. 

However, the limitation to crowdfunding as of now is its limited potential to sustain massive investments into cleantech startups due to reasons, such as legal constraints. Thus, we concluded that crowdfunding has a promising future as a complimentary financing tool rather than altogether a substitute financing mechanism for cleantech startups.

How did the project help develop your research skills?

Conducting interviews improved our interviewing skills and qualitative research skills significantly. It was one of the most important steps for our project as we spent a lot of time conducting deep-dive research into each of the related industries: financial, cleantech and startup, and into vetting our interviewees. So, not only was the learning curve throughout the research steep as we all come from non-financial backgrounds, but the trial and error process of preparing questionnaires and conducting interviews made us experts in qualitative research methods by the end of our project. We learnt to conduct research and draw insights from it in a more systematized way and learnt to work better as a team throughout the project.

Why was this project important to you? 

As students that specialise in Environment, Resources and Sustainability, we hope this research sheds light on the importance of financing Clean Technologies, as they are crucial in minimizing harmful environmental impacts, and that our project contributes to broadening the opportunities for financing this industry. The research processes of the project were very valuable to us. We met many experts who are at the forefront of the cleantech, sustainable investments and startup venture industries. Interviewing them was a very fulfilling  experience for us and inspired us to ponder what we would like to achieve in the future and how we would contribute to sustainability.

The main takeaway from the project is that crowdfunding could be a very inclusive way of investing in green transition, and that more understanding about clean technologies and its impacts are needed not only for the investors but the general public. We hope the students will continue to research this innovative field in the future. 


This interview was conducted with master’s students Khaliun Purevsuren, Florian Duriaux, Ryota Taniguchi, and Sarayu Krishnan.

Capstone Project Research Report

Crowdfunding Cleantech