Skip to main content

From individual sustainability orientations to collective sustainability innovation and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems

Abstract

Sustainability and economic growth—the integration and balance of social, environmental, and economic needs—is a salient concern for sustainable development and social well-being. By focusing on a sustainable innovation project, we explore how entrepreneurial ecosystems become sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems and investigate the interactions of entrepreneurial actors. We conducted an inductive, single-case study of a specific collaborative innovation project in the denim industry specialized in a specific geographic location. From our data, we show that the presence of four conditional aspects foster sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems. These include sustainability orientation of actors, recognition of sustainable opportunities and resource mobilization, collaborative innovation of sustainability opportunities, and markets for sustainable products. We make two observations that contribute to the literature. First, we see that in a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem, entrepreneurial experimentation is a highly interdependent and interactive process. Second, we see that recognition of sustainable opportunities is distributed among different actors in the ecosystem. Our findings also have implications for practitioners and policy-makers.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Acs, Z. J., Stam, E., Audretsch, D. B., & O’Connor, A. (2017). The lineages of the entrepreneurial ecosystem approach. Small Business Economics, 1–10.

  2. Adner, R. (2017). Ecosystem as structure: An actionable construct for strategy. Journal of Management, 43(1), 39–58.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Almeida, P., & Kogut, B. (1999). Localization of knowledge and the mobility of engineers in regional networks. Management Science, 45(7), 905–917.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Alvarez, S. A., & Barney, J. B. (2007). Discovery and creation: Alternative theories of entrepreneurial action. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 1(1–2), 11–26.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Alvedalen, J., & Boschma, R. (2017). A critical review of entrepreneurial ecosystems research: Towards a future research agenda. European Planning Studies, 25(6), 887–903.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Asheim, B. T., & Coenen, L. (2005). Knowledge bases and regional innovation systems: Comparing Nordic clusters. Research Policy, 34(8), 1173–1190.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Asheim, B. T., & Isaksen, A. (2002). Regional innovation systems: The integration of local ‘sticky’ and global ‘ubiquitous’ knowledge. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 27(1), 77–86.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Audretsch, D. B., & Belitski, M. J. (2017). Entrepreneurial ecosystems in cities: Establishing the framework conditions. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 42(5), 1030–1051.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Audretsch, D. B., & Keilbach, M. (2007). The theory of knowledge spillover entrepreneurship. Journal of Management Studies, 44(7), 1242–1254.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Audretsch, D. B., & Link, A. N. (2017). Embracing an entrepreneurial ecosystem: An analysis of the governance of research joint ventures. Small Business Economics, 1–8.

  11. Autio, E., Kenney, M., Mustar, P., Siegel, D., & Wright, M. (2014). Entrepreneurial innovation: The importance of context. Research Policy, 43(7), 1097–1108.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Autio, E., Nambisan, S., Thomas, L. D., & Wright, M. (2018). Digital affordances, spatial affordances, and the genesis of entrepreneurial ecosystems. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 12(1), 72–95.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Bank, N, Fichter, K., & Klofsten, M. (2017). Sustainability-profiled incubators and securing the inflow of tenants—the case of green garage Berlin. Journal of Cleaner Production, 157, 76–83.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Barnett, M. L. (2006). Finding a working balance between competitive and communal strategies. Journal of Management Studies, 43(8), 1753–1773.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Belz, F. M., & Binder, J. K. (2017). Sustainable entrepreneurship: A convergent process model. Business Strategy and the Environment, 26(1), 1–17.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Bergek, A., Jacobsson, S., Carlsson, B., Lindmark, S., & Rickne, A. (2008a). Analyzing the functional dynamics of technological innovation systems: A scheme of analysis. Research Policy, 37, 407–429.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Bergek, A., Jacobsson, S., & Sandén, B. A. (2008b). ‘Legitimation’ and ‘development of positive externalities’: Two key processes in the formation phase of technological innovation systems. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 20(5), 575–592.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Bischoff, K., & Volkmann, C. K. (2018). Stakeholder support for sustainable entrepreneurship—a framework of sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Venturing, 10(2), 172–201.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Casper, S. (2007a). Creating Silicon Valley in Europe: Public policy towards new technology industries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Casper, S. (2007b). How do technology clusters emerge and become sustainable?: Social network formation and inter-firm mobility within the San Diego biotechnology cluster. Research Policy, 36(4), 438–455.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Casper, S., & Whitley, R. (2004). Managing competences in entrepreneurial technology firms: A comparative institutional analysis of Germany, Sweden and the UK. Research Policy, 33(1), 89–106.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Cohen, B. (2006). Sustainable valley entrepreneurial ecosystems. Business Strategy and the Environment, 15(1), 1–14.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Cohen, B., & Winn, M. (2007). Market imperfections, opportunity and sustainable entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing, 22(1), 29–49.

    Google Scholar 

  24. De Clercq, D., & Voronov, M. (2011). Sustainability in entrepreneurship: A tale of two logics. International Small Business Journal, 29(4), 322–344.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Dean, T. J., & McMullen, J. S. (2007). Toward a theory of sustainable entrepreneurship: Reducing environmental degradation through entrepreneurial action. Journal of Business Venturing, 22(1), 50–76.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Dey, P., & Mason, C. (2018). Overcoming constraints of collective imagination: An inquiry into activist entrepreneuring, disruptive truth-telling and the creation of ‘possible worlds’. Journal of Business Venturing, 33(1), 84–99.

    Google Scholar 

  27. DiVito, L., & Bohnsack, R. (2017). Entrepreneurial orientation and its effect on sustainability decision tradeoffs: The case of sustainable fashion firms. Journal of Business Venturing., 32(5), 569–587.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Dorado, S. (2006). Social entrepreneurial ventures: Different values so different process of creation, no? Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship, 11(04), 319–343.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Edmondson, A. C., & McManus, S. E. (2007). Methodological fit in management field research. Academy of Management Review., 32(4), 1246–1264.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Edquist, C. (Ed.). (1997). Systems of innovation: Technologies, institutions, and organizations. Psychology Press.

  31. Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 532–550.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Elkington, J. (1994). Towards the sustainable corporation: Win-win-win business strategies for sustainable development. California Management Review, 36(2), 90–100.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Etzkowitz, H., & Klofsten, M. (2005). The innovating region: Toward a theory of knowledge-based regional development. R&D Management, 35(3), 243–255.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Florida, R., Gulden, T., & Mellander, C. (2008). The rise of the mega-region. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 1(3), 459–476.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Freeman, C. (2002). Continental, national and sub-national innovation systems—Complementarity and economic growth. Research Policy, 31(2), 191–211.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Gertler, M. S. (2003). Tacit knowledge and the economic geography of context, or the undefinable tacitness of being (there). Journal of Economic Geography, 3(1), 75–99.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Gioia, D. A., Corley, K. G., & Hamilton, A. L. (2013). Seeking qualitative rigor in inductive research: Notes on the Gioia methodology. Organizational Research Methods, 16(1), 15–31.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Glaeser, E. L., Kolko, J., & Saiz, A. (2001). Consumer city. Journal of Economic Geography, 1(1), 27–50.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Glaeser, E. L., Ponzetto, G. A., & Tobio, K. (2014). Cities, skills and regional change. Regional Studies, 48(1), 7–43.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Hahn, T., Preuss, L., Pinkse, J., & Figge, F. (2014). Cognitive frames in corporate sustainability: Managerial sensemaking with paradoxical and business case frames. Academy of Management Review, 39(4), 463–487.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Hahn, T., Pinkse, J., Preuss, L., & Figge, F. (2015). Tensions in corporate sustainability: Towards an integrative framework. Journal of Business Ethics, 127(2), 297–316.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Hall, J. K., Daneke, G. A., & Lenox, M. J. (2010). Sustainable development and entrepreneurship: Past contributions and future directions. Journal of Business Venturing, 25(5), 439–448.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Hockerts, K., & Wüstenhagen, R. (2010). Greening goliaths versus emerging Davids—Theorizing about the role of incumbents and new entrants in sustainable entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing, 25(5), 481–492.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Isenberg, D. J. (2010). How to start an entrepreneurial revolution. Harvard Business Review, 88(6), 40–50.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Klag, M., & Langley, A. (2013). Approaching the conceptual leap in qualitative research. International Journal of Management Reviews, 15(2), 149–166.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Kuratko, D. F., Fisher, G., Bloodgood, J. M., & Hornsby, J. S. (2017). The paradox of new venture legitimation within an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Small Business Economics, 1–22.

  47. Langley, A. (1999). Strategies for theorizing from process data. Academy of Management Review, 24, 691–710.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Langley, A., Smallman, C., Tsoukas, H., & van de Ven, A. (2013). Process studies of change in organization and management: Unveiling temporality, activity, and flow. Academy of Management Journal, 56(1), 1–13.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Lundvall, B. Å., Johnson, B., Andersen, E. S., & Dalum, B. (2002). National systems of production, innovation and competence building. Research Policy, 31(2), 213–231.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Mair, J., & Marti, I. (2006). Social entrepreneurship research: A source of explanation, prediction, and delight. Journal of World Business, 41(1), 36–44.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Marsden, T., & Smith, E. (2005). Ecological entrepreneurship: Sustainable development in local communities through quality food production and local branding. Geoforum, 36(4), 440–451.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Meek, W. R., Pacheco, D. F., & York, J. G. (2010). The impact of social norms on entrepreneurial action: Evidence from the environmental entrepreneurship context. Journal of Business Venturing, 25(5), 493–509.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Muñoz, P., & Cohen, B. (2018). Entrepreneurial narratives in sustainable venturing: Beyond people, profit, and planet. Journal of Small Business Management, 56, 154–176.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Muñoz, P., & Dimov, D. (2015). The call of the whole in understanding the development of sustainable ventures. Journal of Business Venturing, 30(4), 632–654.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Neck, H. M., Meyer, G. D., Cohen, B., & Corbett, A. C. (2004). An entrepreneurial system view of new venture creation. Journal of Small Business Management, 42(2), 190–208.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Nelson, R. R. (Ed.). (1993). National innovation systems: A comparative analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Neumeyer, X., Santos, S. C., Caetano, A., & Kalbfleisch, P. (2018). Entrepreneurship ecosystems and women entrepreneurs: A social capital and network approach. Small Business Economics, 1–15.

  58. Pacheco, D. F., Dean, T. J., & Payne, D. S. (2010). Escaping the green prison: Entrepreneurship and the creation of opportunities for sustainable development. Journal of Business Venturing, 25(5), 464–480.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Parrish, B. D. (2010). Sustainability-driven entrepreneurship: Principles of organization design. Journal of Business Venturing, 25(5), 510–523.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Pentland, B. T. (1999). Building process theory with narrative: From description to explanation. Academy of Management Review, 24(4), 711–724.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Roundy, P. T., Brockman, B. K., & Bradshaw, M. (2017). The resilience of entrepreneurial ecosystems. Journal of Business Venturing Insights, 8, 99–104.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Saxenian, A. (1996). Regional advantage. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Schaltegger, S., & Hansen, E. G. (2013). Industry transformation through sustainable entrepreneurship, examples in the apparel and energy industries. In M. McIntosh (Ed.), The necessary transition. The journey towards the sustainable enterprise economy (pp. 182–197). Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Schaltegger, S., & Wagner, M. (2011). Sustainable entrepreneurship and sustainability innovation: Categories and interactions. Business Strategy and the Environment., 20(4), 222–237.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Schlange, L. E. (2009). Stakeholder identification in sustainability entrepreneurship. Greener Management International, 55.

  66. Shepherd, D. A., & Patzelt, H. (2011). The new field of sustainable entrepreneurship: Studying entrepreneurial action linking “what is to be sustained” with “what is to be developed”. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 35(1), 137–163.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Simatupang, T. M., Schwab, A., & Lantu, D. C. (2015). Building sustainable entrepreneurship ecosystems, introduction. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business, 26(4), 389–398.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Smith, A., & Raven, R. (2012). What is protective space? Reconsidering niches in transitions to sustainability. Research Policy, 41(6), 1025–1036.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Soskice, D. W., & Hall, P. A. (2001). Varieties of capitalism: The institutional foundations of comparative advantage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Spigel, B. (2015). The relational organization of entrepreneurial ecosystems. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 41(1), 49–72.

    Google Scholar 

  71. Stam, E. (2014). The Dutch entrepreneurial ecosystem. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2473475.

  72. Stam, E. (2015). Entrepreneurial ecosystems and regional policy: A sympathetic critique. European Planning Studies, 23(9), 1759–1769.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Szerb, L. A., Acs, Z., & Autio, E. (2013). Entrepreneurship and policy: The national system of entrepreneurship in the European Union and in its member countries. Entrepreneurship Research Journal, 3(1), 9–34.

    Google Scholar 

  74. Watkins, A., Papaioannou, T., Mugwagwa, J., & Kale, D. (2015). National innovation systems and the intermediary role of industry associations in building institutional capacities for innovation in developing countries: A critical review of the literature. Research Policy, 44(8), 1407–1418.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Wesseling, J. H., & Van der Vooren, A. (2017). Lock-in of mature innovation systems: The transformation toward clean concrete in the Netherlands. Journal of Cleaner Production, 155, 114–124.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Whitley, R. (2000). The institutional structuring of innovation strategies: Business systems, firm types and patterns of technical change in different market economies. Organization Studies, 21(5), 855–886.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Woolley, J. L. (2014). The creation and configuration of infrastructure for entrepreneurship in emerging domains of activity. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 38(4), 721–747.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research: design and methods (3rd ed.). London: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  79. York, J. G., & Venkataraman, S. (2010). The entrepreneur–environment nexus: Uncertainty, innovation, and allocation. Journal of Business Venturing, 25(5), 449–463.

    Google Scholar 

  80. Zahra, S. A., & Nambisan, S. (2011). Entrepreneurship in global innovation ecosystems. Academy of Marketing Science, 1(1), 4.

    Google Scholar 

  81. Zahra, S. A., Gedajlovic, E., Neubaum, D. O., & Shulman, J. M. (2009). A typology of social entrepreneurs: Motives, search processes and ethical challenges. Journal of Business Venturing, 24(5), 519–532.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We express our gratitude to the Special Issue Editors and reviewers for their insightful and constructive suggestions that led to substantial improvements of this paper. We also extend our gratitude to the entrepreneurs and firms that participated in this study and generously shared their time and experience with us.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lori DiVito.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

DiVito, L., Ingen-Housz, Z. From individual sustainability orientations to collective sustainability innovation and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems. Small Bus Econ 56, 1057–1072 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11187-019-00254-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Entrepreneurial ecosystems
  • Sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems
  • Sustainable entrepreneurship
  • Innovation systems
  • Apparel

JEL classification

  • L26
  • L67