Small Business Economics

, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 153–170 | Cite as

A social capital approach to the development of sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems: an explorative study

  • Christina TheodorakiEmail author
  • Karim Messeghem
  • Mark P. Rice


The entrepreneurial ecosystem, an emerging and developing theoretical stream, has the potential to expand our understanding of entrepreneurship. In previous research, this concept has been studied from the university perspective, but it has not yet been introduced in the field of entrepreneurial support. Additionally, the growing number of university business incubators has led to increasing research interest in the entrepreneurial support field. This research project seeks to develop a more robust understanding of sustainable university-based entrepreneurial ecosystems through an in-depth analysis of an essential entrepreneurial support element: the university business incubator. Our exploratory research study draws on 48 face-to-face interviews with key members of university-based entrepreneurial ecosystems to explore the operation of three cases through the lens of social capital theory. Our analysis suggests that all three social capital dimensions are relevant to the effective functioning of the university-based entrepreneurial ecosystem and contribute to its sustainability: applying the structural dimension of social capital enhances access to resources; addressing the cognitive dimension strengthens relationships among ecosystem members; and investing in the relational dimension enhances complementarity and trust while the ecosystem evolves. Thus, the interaction of these dimensions may further contribute to the sustainability of the university-based entrepreneurial ecosystem. Enhancing the development and application of the three social capital dimensions as an aspect of proactive management of the entrepreneurship ecosystem has the potential to improve outcomes for ecosystem members.


Ecosystem Entrepreneurial support University business incubators Social capital approach Sustainability 

JEL classifications

L26 L22 L29 



We are grateful to participants and reviewers of the EURAM Conference in Warsaw on June 17–20, 2015, the special SMS Conference on the Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Rome-IT on June 5–7, 2016, and the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Symposium in Adelaide-AU on June 14–15, 2016, for their inspiring feedback. We appreciated suggestions from Professors Zoltan Acs, David Audretsch, Bart Clarysse, Allan O’Connor and Erik Stam. Special thanks to David Audretsch, Adam Lederer and the anonymous reviewers for their help and efforts in improving our work.


We are also grateful to LabEx Entreprendre for funding this study. LabEx Entreprendre received government funding through the Agence Nationale de la Recherche under the “Investissements d’Avenir” program; reference: ANR-10-LABX-11-01.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MontpellierMontpellier Management InstituteMontpellier Cedex 2France
  2. 2.Foisie Business School, Worcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcesterUSA

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