Skip to main content


Log in

The digital entrepreneurial ecosystem

  • Published:
Small Business Economics Aims and scope Submit manuscript


A significant gap exists in the conceptualization of entrepreneurship in the digital age. This paper introduces a conceptual framework for studying entrepreneurship in the digital age by integrating two well-established concepts: the digital ecosystem and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The integration of these two ecosystems helps us better understand the interactions of agents and users that incorporate insights of consumers’ individual and social behavior. The Digital Entrepreneurial Ecosystem framework consists of four concepts: digital infrastructure governance, digital user citizenship, digital entrepreneurship, and digital marketplace. The paper develops propositions for each of the four concepts and provides a theoretical framework of multisided platforms to better understand the digital entrepreneurial ecosystem. Finally, it outlines a new research agenda to fill the gap in our understanding of entrepreneurship in the digital age.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Reinventing the Company. Economist Magazine, October 24, 2015.

  2. This trend is reflected in the continuing decline in the cost of computing, the rise of open-source software, the move to the “cloud” and the emergence of huge datacenters where companies such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook are designing their own approaches.

  3. Fifteen companies that were together worth less than $10 billion in 2000 are now among the world’s 50 top technology companies as measured by market capitalization, with a combined who of $2.1 trillion. Had Amazon been included this number would have swollen by another $250 billion (Moritz 2015).

  4. The strategy literature acknowledges different forms of value logic (Stabell and Fjeldstad 1998) that extends Porter’s value chain logic of the firm and presents new ways of looking at firm creation approaches and different underpinning economic logics for firm creation (knowledge and network economic principles).

  5. Some will call this a business ecosystem that is not bounded by space.

  6. August 4, 2014.

  7. October 25, 2015

  8. We use the concept system of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial ecosystem interchangeably in this paper.

  9. Digitization is the technical process, whereas digitalization is a socio-technological process of applying digitization techniques to broader social and institutional contexts that render digital technologies infrastructure (Tilson et al. 2010 p.3)

  10. At the end of 2016, Facebook had 1.9 billion active users. Snapchat that went public in 2017 had 158 million users, who spent an average of 30 min each day on the site, with an average of 18 visits per day, creating $2.5 billon of them are under 25 years of age. Snap IPO tests unsocial network, The Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2017 p. A8.

  11. Acs et al. 2014a; Autio et al. 2012, 2015; Stam 2015; Stam and Spigel 2015.


  13. European Commission (2017).





  18. According to Bloomberg as of November 20, 2015.



  • Acemoglu, D., & Johnson, S. (2005). Unbundling institutions. Journal of PoliticalEconomy, 113(5), 949–995.

    Google Scholar 

  • Acs, Z. J., Astebro, T., Audretsch, D., & Robinson, D. T. (2016). Public policy to promote entrepreneurship: a call to arms. Small Business Economics, 47(1), 35–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Acs, Z. J., & Audretsch, D. B. (1988). Innovation in large and small firms: An empirical analysis. American Economic Review, 78, 678–690.

    Google Scholar 

  • Acs, Z. J., Autio, E., & Szerb, L. (2014a). National systems of entrepreneurship: measurement issues and policy implications. Research Policy, 43(1), 476–494.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Acs, Z. J., de Groot., & Nijkamp, P. (2002). The emergence of the knowledge economy: a regional perspective. Spring, 2002.

  • Acs, Z. J., Estrin, S., Mickiewicz, T., & Szerb, L. (2017). Institutions, entrepreneurship and growth: the role of national entrepreneurial ecosystems, SSRN, https://papers.Ssrn.Com/sol3/papers2.Cfm?abstract_id=2912453 January 2017.

  • Acs, Z. J., Szerb L., & Autio, E. (2014b). Global entrepreneruship index, The GEDI Institute, Amazon, LLC.

  • Aghion, P. (2017). Entrepreneurship and growth: lessons from an intellectual journey. Small Business Economics, 48(1), 9–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Armstrong, M. (2006). Competition in two-sided markets. RAND Journal of Economics, 37(3), 668–691.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arrow, K. J. (1962). Economic welfare and the allocation of resources for invention. In R. R. Nelson (Ed.), The rate and direction of inventive activity (pp. 609–626). Princeton University Press: Princeton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Autio, E., Cleevely, M., Hart, M., Levie, J., Acs, S. J., & Szerb, L. (2012). Entrerpeneurial profile of the UK in the light of the global entrepreneurship and developmetnt index. London: Imperial College Business School.

    Google Scholar 

  • Autio, E., Dahlander, L., & Frederiksen, L. (2013). Information exposure, opportunity evaluation, and entrepreneurial action: an investigation of an online user community. Academy of Management Journal, 56(5), 1348–1371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Autio, E., Kenny, M., Mustar, P., Siegel, D. S., & Wright, M. (2015). Entrepreneurial innovation: the imortance of context. Research Policy, 43, 1097–1108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Autio, E., & Levie. (2015). Management of entrepreneurial ecosystems. London: Imperial College Business School.

    Google Scholar 

  • Autio, E., & Thomas, L. (2016). Tilting the playing field: Towards an endogenous strategic action theory of ecosystem creation. Forthcoming in. In S. Nambisan (Ed.), Open Innovation, Innovation Ecosystems, and Entrepreneurship: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. New Jersey: World Scientific Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baller, S., Dutta, S., & Lanvin, B. (Eds.). (2016). The global information technology report 2016: innovating in the digital economy. Geneva: World Economic Forum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baumol, W. (1990). Entrepreneurship, Productive, Unproductive and Destructive, Journal of Political Economy.

  • Binham, C. (2016). UK regulators are the most fintech friendly. Financial times. Accessed December 30, 2016

  • Caillaud, B., & Jullian, B. (2003). Chick and egg: competing matchmakers. RAND Journal of Economics, 34(2), 309–328.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Casson, M. (1982). The entrepreneur: an economic theory. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

  • Chandler, J. D., & Vargo, S. L. (2011). Contextualization and value-in-context: how context frames exchange. Marketing Theory, 11(1), 35–49.

  • Coad, A., Frankish, J. S., Roberts, R. G., & Storey, D. J. (2016). Predicting new venture survival and growth: does the fog lift? Small Business Economics, 47(1), 217–243.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Coase, R. (1937). The nature of the firm. Economica, new series, 4(16), 386–405.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cooks, P., Urangs, M. G., & Etxebarria, G. (1997). Regional innovation systems: institutional and organizational dimensions. Research Policy, 26(4–5), 475–491.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cusumano, M. A., & Goeldi, A. (2013). New businesses and new business models. In W. H. Dutton (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of internet studies (pp. 239–261). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Daunfeldt, A. O., & Halvarsso, D. (2015). Are high-growth firms one-hit wonders: evidence from Sweden. Small Business Economics, 44, 361–383.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • de Moraes, J. A., & de Andrade, E. B. (2015). Who are the citizens of the digital citizenship? International Review of Information Ethics, 23, 11.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dexheimer, E., & Hamilton, J. (2016) The US will regulate some Fintech companies like traditional lenders. Bllomberg. Accessed 12.30.2016

  • Dini, P., Iqani, M., & Mansell, R. (2011). The (im) possibility of interdisciplinary lessons from constructing a theoretical framework for digital ecosystems. Culture, theory and critique, 52(1), 3–27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Edquist, C. (1997). Systems of innovation: technologies, institutions, and organizations. Psychology Press.

  • Estrin, S., Korosteleva, J., & Mickiewicz, T. (2013). Which institutions encourage entrepreneurial growth aspirations? Journal of Business Venturing, 28(4), 564–580.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • European Commission, Enterprise and industry directorate-general, “strategic policy forum on digital entrepreneurship”, Brussels, 2017.

  • Evans, D. S., & Schmalensee, R. (2016). Matchmakers: the new economics of multisided platforms. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Florida, R. (2004). The rise of the creative class. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haefliger, S., Jäger, P., & Von Krogh, G. (2010). Under the radar: industry entry by user entrepreneurs. Research Policy, 39(9), 1198–1213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hanseth, O., & Lyytinen, K. (2010). Design theory for dynamic complexity in information infrastructures: the case of building internet. Journal of Information Technology, 25(1), 1–19.

  • Hayek, F. A. (1945). The use of knowledge in society. The American Economic Review, 519–530.

  • Henfridsson, O., & Bygstad, B. (2013). The generative mechanisms of digital infrastructure evolution. MIS Quarterly, 37(3), 907–931.

    Google Scholar 

  • Henrekson, M., & Sanandjai, T. (2011). The interaction of entrepreneurship and institutions. Journal of Institutional Economics, 7(1), 47–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hilbert, M. (2011). The end justifies the definition: the manifold outlooks on the digital divide and their practical usefulness for policy-making. Telecommunications Policy, 35, 715–736.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hussain, A., Wang, H., & Nobakhti, A. (2010). Editorial: advances in complex control systems theory and applications. IET Control Theory & Applications, 4(2), 173–175.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Katz, M., & Shapiro, C. (1985). Network externalities. Competition and Compatibility, American Economic Review, 75, 424–440.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kirzner, I. (1973). Competition & entrepreneurship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leibenstein, H. (1968). Entrepreneurship and development. American Economic Review, 58, 72–83.

    Google Scholar 

  • Li, W., Badr, Y., & Biennier, F. (2012). Digital ecosystems: challenges and prospects. In proceedings of the international conference on management of Emergent Digital EcoSystems (pp. 117–122). ACM.

  • Lundvall, B. A. (1992). National systems of innovation: an analytical framework. London: Pinter.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lusch, R. F., & Nambisan, S. (2015). Service innovation: a service-dominant logic perspective. Mis Quarterly, 39(1), 155–175.

  • Mathews, C., & Brueggemann, R. (2015). Innovation and entrepreneurship. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moore, J. F., (1993). Predators and prey: a new ecology of competition, Harvard Business Review, 71 30, 76.

  • Moritz, 2015 The fall and rise of technology juggernauts, financial times. Accessed online June 1, 2016

  • Mossberger, K., Tolbert, C. J., & McNeal, R. S. (2007). The internet, society, and participation. Boston: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nelson, R. R. (1994). National innovation systems: a comparative analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • North, D. C. (1990). Institutions, institutional change and economic performance. Cambridge University Press.

  • Ofer, G. (1987). Soviet economic growth: 1928-1985. Journal of Economic Literature, 25(4), 1767–1833.

  • Parker, S. (2002). The economics of self-employment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Porter, M. (1990). The competitive advantage of nations. New York: Free Press.

  • Porter, M. (1998) Clusters and the new economics of competition. Harvard Business Review 76(6), 77–90.

  • Read, S. (2016). Organic or deliberate: a comment on “Applying the ecosystem metaphor to entrepreneurship: uses and abuses”. The Antitrust Bulletin, 61(4), 574–579.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Read, S., Dew, N., Sarasvathy, S. D., Song, M., & Wiltbank, R. (2009). Marketing under uncertainty: the logic of an effectual approach. Journal of Marketing, 73(3), 1–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rice, J. C., & Sussan, F. (2016). Digital privacy: a conceptual framework for business. Journal of Payments Strategy & Systems, 10(3), 260–266.

    Google Scholar 

  • Richter, C., Kraus, S., & Syrjä, P. (2015). The share economy as a precursor for digital entrepreneurship business models. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business, 25(1), 18–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rippé, C. B., Weisfeld-Spolter, S., Yurova, Y., & Sussan, F. (2015). Is there a global multichannel consumer? International Marketing Review, 32(3/4), 329–349.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rochet, J. C., & Tirole, J. (2004). Defining two-sided markets. Toulouse, France: mimeo, IDEI.

  • Romer, P. M. (1990). Endogenous technological change. Journal of Political Economy, 98(5, Part 2), S71–S102.

  • Rong, K., & Shi, Y. (2015). Business ecosystems, New York Sage Publishing.

  • Rosenberg, N., & Nelson, R. (1993). Technical innovation and national systems. in R.R. Nelson, National Innovation Systems: A Comparative Analysis, Oxford, pp 3-22

  • Salter, A. J., & McKelvey, M. (2016). Evolutionary Analysis of Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Sidney G. Winter—recipient of the 2015 Global award for entrepreneurship research. Small Business Economics, 47(1), 1–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schumpeter, J. [1934 (1911)]. The theory of economic development, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

  • Spigel, B. (2015). The relational organization of entrepreneurial ecosystem. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, in press.

  • Shah, S. K., & Tripsas, M. (2007). The accidental entrepreneur: the emergent and collective process of user entrepreneurship. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 1(1–2), 123–140.

  • Shane, S., & Venkatraman, S. (2000). The promise of entrepreneurship as a field of research. Academy of Management Review, 25, 217–226.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shaver, K. (2003). The social psychology of entrepreneurial behavior. In Z. J. Acs & D. B. Audretsch (Eds.), Handbook of entrepreneurship research: an interdisciplinary survey and introduction (pp. 331–358). Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stabell, C. B., & Fjeldstad, Ø. D. (1998). Configuring value for competitive advantage: on chains, shops, and networks. Strategic Management Journal, 413–437.

  • Stam, E. (2015). Entrepreneurial ecosystems and regional policy: a sympathetic critique. European Planning Studies. 1–11.

  • Stam, E., & Spigel, B. (2015). Entrepreneurial ecosystems. Chapter for the SAGE Handbook for Entrepreneurship and Small Business.

  • Stenholm, P., Acs, Z. J., & Wuebker, R. (2013). Exploring country level institutional arrangements on the rate and type of entrepreneurial activity. Journal of Business Venturing, 28(1), 176–193.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stone, B. (2017). The upstarts: how Uber, Airbnb, and the killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley are changing the world. Boston: Little Brown.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sussan, F. (2012). Consumer interaction as intellectual capital. Journal of Intellectual Capital, 13(1), 81–105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sussan, F., Gould, S., & Weisfeld-Spolter, S. (2006). Location, location, location: the relative roles of virtual location, online word-of-mouth (eWOM) and advertising in the new-product adoption process. NA-Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 33.

  • Szerb, L., Acs, Z. J. Ortega-Argilés, R., & Komlosi, E. (2014). The entrepreneurial ecosystem: the regional entrepreneurship and development index (May 30, 2015). Available at SSRN: http://Ssrn.Com/Abstract=2642514 or

  • Terjesen, S., Acs, Z J., Audretsch, D. B., Hechavarria, D., Stam, E., & White, R. (2017). Entrepreneurial ecosystems: the search for performance, Small Business Economics, this issue.

  • Terranova, T. (2000). Free labor: Producing culture for the digital economy. Social text, 18(2), 33–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tilson, D., Lyytinen, K., & Sørensen, C. (2010). Research commentary-digital infrastructures: the missing IS research agenda. Information Systems Research, 21(4), 748–759.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vargo, S. L., & Lusch, R. F. (2004). Evolving to a new dominant logic for marketing. Journal of Marketing, 68(1), 1–17.

  • Vargo, S. L., & Lusch, R. F. (2008). Service-dominant logic: continuing the evolution. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 36(1), 1–10.

  • Vicente, M. R., & Gil-de-Bernabé, F. (2010). Assessing the broadband gap: from the penetration divide to the quality divide. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 77, 816–822.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Von Hippel, E. (2006). Democratizing innovation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Webster Jr., F. E., & Lusch, R. F. (2013). Elevating marketing: marketing is dead! Long live marketing! Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 41, 389–399.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weitzman, M. L. (1970). Soviet postwar economic growth and capital-labor substitution. The American Economic Review, 60(4), 676–692.

  • Williamson, O. E. (2000). The new institutional economics: taking stock, looking ahead. Journal of Economic Literature, 38(3), 595–613.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Winter, S. G. (2016). 6 in “The Economics that Might Have Been”. Small Business Economics, 47(1), 15–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zittrain, J. L. (2006). The generative internet. Harvard Law Review, 2006, 1974–2040.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zittrain, J. (2008). The future of the internet—and how to stop it. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This paper draws on several research projects over the years that the authors have been involved in. We wish to thank Erkko Autio, Laszlo Szerb, Erik Stam, and Johnathan Levie who have contributed to previous projects on the topic of entrepreneurship ecosystems and two anonymous referees for their helpful comments. All errors remain ours.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Fiona Sussan.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sussan, F., Acs, Z.J. The digital entrepreneurial ecosystem. Small Bus Econ 49, 55–73 (2017).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


JEL classification