Professor and entrepreneur, René Bohnsack, partner in research within the research group Platform Economy at The Hague University, developed a tool to test innovative ideas with regenerative AI. How does it work and what are the benefits and risks? During a lecture at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, Bohnsack will tell all about how entrepreneurs and teachers can use AI to develop sustainable business models. 

"Although we have been talking about sustainable business models for almost 20 years, in practice little comes of it. It's time to change that," says professor and entrepreneur René Bohnsack. During a lecture at the The Hague University of Applied Sciences, he talks about how generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI) can help.  

Entrepreneurship is hard work, AI can help 

Bohnsack is an expert on business models, digital transformation and sustainable innovation. Besides being an academic, he is an entrepreneur and has now founded 10 innovative companies. Some startups became a success, others failed. To pre-test and improve innovative business plans, he developed an AI-based tool: Venturely. 

"Artificial intelligence can help entrepreneurs and researchers in many ways," says Bohnsack. "Setting up a company takes a lot of time and energy, and as a start-up you have limited knowledge and resources. For example, AI can help you write marketing or sales plans, summarise meetings or improve job ads." 

Faster and better 

That it is worth it to get started with AI is also shown by a Boston Consulting Group study. That study found that consultants who use ChatGPT complete as many as 12% more tasks, are 25% faster and deliver 40% more quality. During his presentation, Bohnsack gave some tips on how to do a good job (see image). 

5 Rules of Effective Prompting 

1 - = Be specific, e.g. by using adjectives and comparisons 

2 - = Tell who you are, e.g. world-class marketing expert 

3 - = Give an example, template or specifically explain the desired format, e.g. conversional, table, list, etc. 

4 - =Give the model time to think, i.e. break down tasks into manageable sub-prompts. “Chain of thought prompting” 

5 - = Iterate, high-performing prompts take min. 3-5 iterations 

Bohnsack: "You have to educate and retrain an algorithm. In my experience, you need about three to five attempts to arrive at a good description." 

There is also a danger in this learning process. "That knowledge also becomes available to others. So be careful with personal data or company data."  

Doing business responsibly in a linear economy 

Besides support, AI can help you improve your business plan and make it more sustainable. Bohnsack has been developing sustainable business models since his time as a student in Amsterdam. Why exactly is responsible business so difficult? "Most entrepreneurs focus on growth and profit," Bohnsack explains. "That makes sustainable innovation difficult, because in doing so, it is precisely important to invest in steady scaling up." 

Our current economy is linear, he explains. "We consume raw materials to make products, which we then consume and throw away. We waste so many raw materials. More than 50% of all companies operate this way and it is only getting worse. In the long run, this is disastrous for the earth."  

For example, he cites retail platform Shein, which uses ads to test whether products catch on even before they are made. If someone buys such an item, Shein produces it very cheaply in small quantities. "This focus on profit is very bad for the environment. In the process, these disposable products are losing more and more value, because buying and throwing away are becoming easier and easier." 

Sustainable business models 

He suggests integrating reuse into business models. "Entrepreneurs should take responsibility for their products, even after the sale," he believes. "Make sure what you sell lasts as long as possible and is reusable. There are all kinds of ways to do that and still make a profit." 

In his presentation, he mentions three sustainable business models: 

  • Circular design: a product that can be reused at a high level for as long as possible, without the need for additional raw materials; 
  • Product-as-a-service: consumers pay for use rather than possession, so fewer products are needed. For example, shared cars; 
  • Waste-to-product: reuse and sale of products or raw materials. Also consider vintage or second-hand products. 

A sustainable business model balances profit, growth and consideration for people and the environment. Bohnsack thinks this is the time to succeed. "Previously, sustainability had a dull image, but now environmentally friendly products are in vogue." 

Gen AI as consultant 

How do you arrive at a sustainable business model? "In the past, you would rely on tried-and-tested patterns of business models," says the professor. "With that, you start experimenting and if you can afford it, you get help from a consultant. Gene AI can save you a lot of time and money by helping you make the right combination of patterns and give advice on your specific plan." 

That is exactly what Bohnsack's tool does. Venturely is an AI-based platform that can help put together and improve business plans. The tool is full of information about business models, target groups and market conditions. You enter data based on which Venturely comes up with areas for improvement and focus. You create the plan yourself; the platform is your advisor, helping you identify problems and find solutions. 

You can also use it to conduct customer research. The AI can pretend to be your customer based on your business plan and a detailed description of your target group. Then you can discover pain points, problems and needs even before you have an initial prototype. Bohnsack: "The platform helps you get from idea to strategy and execution. It is an innovation tool that I hope will help sustainable startups in particular." 

Concerns and comments 

Platform expert and researcher within the research group Platform Economy, Martijn Arets, finds the professor's insights and solution very interesting. "The possibilities to collaborate and innovate with AI are endless," Arets says. At the same time, he worries about the ethical risks of this kind of innovation platform. 

"Artificial intelligence learns based on what we put into it. For instance, at the moment AI is mainly used by the Western world, which gives a certain vision, customs and views the upper hand," he explains. "Furthermore, I am concerned that Venturely uses personas but has no strategy to prevent unconscious bias and its consequences. Bohnsack promises to address this later, but in my opinion, ethics are precisely part of the foundation of your business." 

A simple warning accompanying AI advice ("This AI is not perfect, bias may occur") can already help, Arets thinks. "In short, AI offers valuable insights from various business models, as long as you consider the limitations and ethical implications. Moreover, don't adopt outcomes blindly, but use them as valuable input in a larger development process. After all, your considerations in arriving at the outcome are just as valuable as the result."