“Have you heard of critical materials?” With this question, Professor David Peck began our first day of the Circular Economy MBA Bootcamp. He urged the whole class to raise our cell phones in the air and broke down how many critical raw materials and conflict minerals are contained in our mobile phones and computers. This start to the lesson got us thinking about the many materials that compose our belongings, our businesses’ products, our lives.

Prior to Day 1, we had been asked to complete a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) led by TU Delft and co-created by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which taught us the fundamentals of the circular economy, its origins and various schools of thought. Arriving to class with the knowledge of the fundamentals allowed us to dive straight into ‘circular’ business model cases and start thinking from an entrepreneurial perspective on how we could innovate the current Take-Make-Waste linear economy to close material loops, turning today’s waste into tomorrow’s resource.

While the circular economy is considered more of a theoretical ideal to many, Professor Peck continuously reinforced throughout the weeklong bootcamp the importance of applying every aspect of our MBA to our circular economy work. In that way, he explained, we can articulate business cases that demonstrate how ‘going circular’ can create competitive advantage and build resiliency.

Pier Luigi Franceschini and Floriana La Marca of EIT Raw Materials came to class to guest lecture and to share opportunities for our involvement in circular initiatives and competitions, with the chance to receive significant funding for innovative proposals. We were also visited by Bibiana Ferrari, Managing Director of ReLight, who described the circularity of her business as well as challenges, opportunities and best practices. These visits by professionals working in the field of circular economy were particularly interesting and helpful to see the real-world application of classroom theory and integrate takeaways into our own experimentation.

Between group work sessions on Thursday, instead of a lecture we learned through a bit of gamification, using the board game RISK & RACE (RISK-taking & Resource Allocation in a Circular Economy). Throughout the game, each team ‘ran’ its own business and saw in real time the consequences of our various business decisions on the environment, employees, communities and business financials. Everyone got really invested in the game to the point that we played straight through our coffee break! The game was an excellent tool to reinforce the theories we had been learning in class and gain deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities of the circular economy through a scenario-based approach.

When it came time on the final day of class to present the group assignments we had been working on throughout the week, I was impressed by my classmates’ innovative and diverse applications of circular economy concepts to the business models of companies ranging from electronics manufacturers to furniture to children’s toys. It was clear to me upon completing the bootcamp that we had not only innovated the business model we delivered to Prof. Peck, but that we had innovated our own ways of thinking about business and the economy.