Daniella Russo
McCone Building
(831) 647-4155

Daniella Dimitrova Russo is the CEO and Founder of Think Beyond Plastictm, an innovation accelerator with focus on plastic pollution. Daniella Russo believes that intractable global challenges can be addressed by harnessing the forces of innovation and entrepreneurship, and the power of the markets to do good. Since 2009, she has led the development of an innovation eco-system to reduce the impact of plastic pollution on the environment and public health, with special focus on ocean plastic. Daniella Russo is a serial entrepreneur: Her experience includes executive management of businesses from start-up phase through an IPO, as well as within Fortune-500 companies such as Frame Technology, Infoseek, Sun Microsystems, and Xerox PARC. Daniella Russo is a member of the Founders Board of Advisors at StartX Standford Student Startup Accelerator: She is an Adjunct Professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies Graduate Program in International Policy and Management. Daniella Russo co-founded and led Plastic Pollution Coalition to become world’s largest NGO dedicated uniquely to ending plastic pollution. She serves on the Board of numerous NGOs and Businesses.

Courses Taught

Course Description

Achieving the UN sustainable Development goals requires massive technological changes in energy, mobility, construction, housing, and agriculture (to name a few). The World Economic Forum estimated that achieving the SDGs is likely to open up 60 market “hot spots” worth $12 trillion in market opportunities[1][1], in building new business models and developing and deploying disruptive technologies[1][2]. Simply put, achieving the SDGs is an exceptionally attractive economic opportunity and a well-validated target market. The race to tap into these opportunities is underway.

Innovation is essential in achieving the SDGs. It is the engine that enables the transition towards a circular economy; it supports the structural changes on the way towards sustainable development. A key driver of economic growth, innovation will fill the technology, design, and business model gaps in the current value chain of multiple industries, to accelerate a transition into a circular system and achieving the SDGs.

Meeting the innovation needs of sustainable development requires a thriving pipeline with hundreds, then thousands of innovators who compete, grow, and outperform each other, gradually increasing in quality and breadth. In fact, “Business as usual will not achieve this market transformation. Nor will disruptive innovation by a few sustainable pioneers be enough to drive the shift: the whole sector has to move.” Support for such innovations requires a portfolio management process to evaluate adequacy, opportunity, risks, and probability of success and to prioritize projects based on clear sustainability impact. It also requires access to capital that is aligned with the innovation stage, and global policy support to secure favorable economic conditions. Investment capital and interest are both available, but the innovation pipeline needs to grow and be supported. Given the slow pace of industry innovation, the engine for change will inevitably come from early-stage innovators and entrepreneurs.

A problem of this magnitude cannot be solved with a single linear policy or technological innovation. It needs a cohesive solutions eco-system supported by appropriate investment, economic policies creating an enabling environment and multi-governmental collaboration. The sustainable development innovation eco-system is a complex dynamic system that depends on the healthy interactions of its multiple components – demand creation, fulfilment, investment and financial support, policy portfolios, and global growth and scale-up of implementations. A business -friendly landscape and fruitful collaboration between the private sector and governments is key.

This workshop examines the structure and dynamics of the innovation eco-system as the necessary structure to support solutions to the SDGs, global challenges often referred to as “wicked” problems. These solutions can range from technology to business models, to policy to financing mechanisms or advocacy.


[1][1]Business & Sustainable Development Commission, 2017

[1][2]UN Global Compact, 2019

Terms Taught

Spring 2023 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop, Spring 2024 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop

View in Course Catalog

Areas of Interest

  • Marine plastics and pollution
  • Entrepreneurship for waste management solutions