VSJF’s model is premised on developing the “architecture of a market” that supports sustainably produced goods and services. Rather than an “invisible hand” guiding markets, VSJF believes that consumers, governments, businesses, nonprofits, farmers and others continuously make and shape markets. We strategically deploy our grants and technical assistance to develop a wide range of market needs along the supply chains—from feedstock production, feedstock logistics, and production or conversion of that feedstock, to distribution and end uses of that product—of biofuels, forest and agricultural products.
We start by asking:
- What practices are undermining the sustainability of Vermont and its economy? How do these problems impact Vermont’s businesses, communities, and ecology?
We develop a problem statement that accounts for the social, environmental, and economic consequences of a particular activity (e.g., fossil fuel dependency, the globalization of the forest products industry, industrial agriculture).
We then ask:
- What are the emerging trends or opportunities for addressing these problems? Where is the market for this opportunity at in its development trajectory?
The opportunities explored by VSJF help Vermont meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Many of these opportunities are being explored at a national and international level (e.g., green building and sustainable agriculture), but our task is to accelerate their development at the Vermont scale.
The business assistance continuum—developed by the Vermont Small Business Development Center—is a simple way to visualize the market development stage of an emerging trend or opportunity. Markets, just like businesses, require different types of technical assistance and capital at different stages of development.
For example, there was no established market for biofuels when the VSJF began its work in this sector in 2005, and thus our grants and technical assistance have been weighted toward research and equipment/infrastructure necessary to achieve ‘proof of concept’. By contrast, our sustainable forest product activities are aimed at revitalizing an industry that has been around for generations. Consequently, our grants and technical assistance have emphasized sales / distribution / marketing and education / outreach activities.
- The pre-venture stage refers to a non-existent or nascent product or service. Opportunities are identified, but the supply chain is unclear and ‘proof of concept’ is not established.
- The early stage is characterized by the emergence of early adopters or innovators, pilot or demonstration projects, market feasibility studies, and efforts to organize and promote the visibility of the market.
- The growth phase reflects an expansion in the number of businesses and organizations selling products or providing services (e.g., an increase in the number of organic farmers). The supply chain is clearer, competition is evident as more entrepreneurs emerge, and efforts at optimization are made.
- During the mature stage of market development, “incumbent firms” throughout the supply chain are established, and rules and norms governing activities are in effect.
- Finally, the revitalization phase comes into play when external and/or internal unsustainable activities force mature market sectors and incumbent firms to a tipping point. A downward trend may ensue, or innovative “challenger firms” may introduce new ideas, products, and services to revive the sector.
Based on the development stage of a particular market, we ‘map out’ its supply chain and identify and analyze needs of the supply chain against a set of market development needs. We have identified 9 essential market development needs:
- What are the research needs?
- What are the technology and infrastructure needs?
- What are the financing needs?
- What are the technical assistance needs?
- What are the network development needs? Does a viable trade association (or business network) exist?
- What are the education and outreach needs?
- Are there additional workforce development needs that will further advance the sector?
- What are the sales, distribution, and marketing needs?
- What regulatory and public policy issues need to be addressed in order to advance the sector?
When cross-tabulated, the 5 elements of a supply chain and 9 market development needs yield a 45-cell matrix. Each cell in the matrix poses a question (or multiple questions) and raises the possibility of strategic interventions, including new projects, partnerships, education campaigns, or new public policy.
To download a copy of the 45 market development questions to apply to an industry of your choice, click here.