Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Industry and Innovation

For a Special Issue on

Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and the Quest for Sustainable Transitions

Manuscript deadline
15 December 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Bruno Fischer, Department of Science and Technology Policy & School of Applied Sciences, University of Campinas (Brazil)
[email protected]

Ross Brown, University of St Andrews Business School (UK)
[email protected]

Pelin Demirel, Dyson School of Design Engineering, Imperial College London (UK)
[email protected]

Gustavo Salati Moraes, School of Applied Sciences, University of Campinas (Brazil)
[email protected]

Philip T. Roundy, University of Tennessee (Chattanooga)
[email protected]

Erik Stam, Utrecht University School of Economics (The Netherlands) & Allan Gray Centre for Africa Entrepreneurship, Stellenbosch University (South Africa)
[email protected]

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Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and the Quest for Sustainable Transitions

Background and Objective

Entrepreneurs are pivotal agents who drive innovation and technological change in industrial structures (Malerba & McKelvey, 2020). Yet, far from freestanding agents, these individuals (and their firms) rely on complementary resources, agents, and institutional settings that compose the complex business environments in which entrepreneurs are embedded (Hervás-Oliver et al., 2021). Drawing from these insights, the literature on Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (EE) emerged with a strong emphasis on contextual features of territories to explain regional development dynamics (Stam & van de Ven, 2021; Mason & Brown, 2014). In this respect, the EE concept encompasses collaborative arrangements between firms and governments, institutions, universities, research institutes, sources of finance, incumbents, and other entrepreneurial ventures (Tsouri & Pegoretti, 2021; Stam & van de Ven, 2021).

Even though the EE framework has had significant impact in scholarly debates as well as in policymaking processes worldwide, its specific focus on high-growth ventures regardless of their actual impacts on aggregate socioeconomic development has received criticism (Audretsch, 2021; Kuckertz et al., 2023; O’Connor & Audretsch, 2022). The industrial and innovation dynamics directed at high growth in these ecosystems has encouraged new business formation and growth without any specific attention to the social and environmental impact of these ventures (Meissner et al., 2024). However, while our comprehension on EE mechanisms and dynamics has advanced significantly over the last decade, our knowledge concerning the interplay between EE and sustainable transitions remains limited. Hence, there is still substantial ground to cover when it comes to understanding how localized phenomena enable (or constrain) ecosystem-level shifts towards sustainability (Pinkse et al., 2023; Raposo et al., 2022; Potluri & Phani, 2020; Demirel et al., 2019).

As a concept, Sustainable Entrepreneurship (SE) describes those entrepreneurial activities that address economic, environmental, and social goals jointly (Johnson & Schaltegger, 2020; Cohen & Winn, 2007). Accordingly, sustainable entrepreneurs operate through distinct technological, managerial, and institutional logics than ‘traditional’ entrepreneurs (Battilana, 2018; Agarwal et al., 2018). Also, SE takes place following an idiosyncratic entrepreneurial rationale, one in which the creation of social and/or environmental value takes center stage in driving the behavior of individuals (Hanohov & Baldacchino, 2018). From this background we know that: (i) SE has faced increasing challenges in terms of the required innovation capabilities in order to meet social and environmental challenges (Pinkse et al., 2023; Demirel et al., 2019; Ibáñez et al., 2022; Vo-Thanh et al., 2021; Scillitoe et al., 2018); (ii) these firms require the support of a diversified group of stakeholders to properly deal with social and environmental needs (Theodoraki et al., 2022; Pandey et al., 2017; Bozhikin et al., 2019; Guerrero et al., 2021; Cohen, 2006). Consequently, active policymaking and substantial regulatory shifts play a key role in setting the appropriate framework for sustainable transitions in regions - although it remains unclear what kinds of interventions are most effective to trigger such processes (Bailey et al., 2018; van den Heiligenberg et al., 2017).

In this respect, SE ventures appear to demand somewhat distinct qualitative characteristics than those observed in ‘canonical’ EE configurations (Kuckertz et al., 2020), thus requiring bespoke policies and nurturing initiatives. Ultimately, this is a reflection of the higher levels of market uncertainty faced by these firms (Potluri & Phani, 2020). Hence, we are far from developing a clear picture of how EEs can be configured to facilitate sustainable transitions in industries. Although Huang et al. (2023) have provided interesting insights to understand the association between national-level entrepreneurial conditions and the rise of sustainable entrepreneurs, we still do not understand how cities or regions (and their agents and institutions) organize (or fail) to nurture sustainable transitions in entrepreneurial activity. Such issues are critical for understanding how regional productive structures can promote the much-needed shifts in the economic fabric towards more sustainable and inclusive societies.


Research Topics

For this Special Issue we expect contributions that address the dynamics of entrepreneurship-led sustainable innovation in Entrepreneurial Ecosystems. A non-exhaustive list of research questions is presented below. This list provides a tentative guide that outlines some of the key issues involved in debates concerning how Entrepreneurial Ecosystems can become more efficient structures in driving sustainable industrial transitions through innovative products, processes, and business models that generate positive impacts for the economy, the environment, and society.

  • What is unique about the Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (EE) that support sustainable transitions? What are the key components of these EE? How are these EEs the same as or different from ‘conventional’ EE?
  • How and to what extent do digital transformations affect the dynamics of sustainable transitions in EE?
  • What are the ecosystem-level attributes that make some EE fertile environments for innovation-driven sustainable transitions? What makes these EEs effective (i.e., able to support high levels of sustainable entrepreneurship)? Through which processes (and by which incentives) are social and environmental values co-created in EE?
  • How do evolutionary trajectories of EE affect the propensity to generate significant levels of innovation-driven sustainable entrepreneurship?
  • What are the EE voids (e.g. institutional, financial, market-related) that hinder the emergence of sustainable innovations? How can policy address such challenges?
  • How are innovation networks formed and orchestrated in EE to promote sustainable transitions? Who are the leaders and enablers of the EE that support sustainable transitions, how do community leaders improve EE, and do these EE “builders” face unique opportunities and challenges?
  • How does sustainable entrepreneurship depend on the availability of specific EE actors, such as local entrepreneurship support organizations (e.g., green incubators, accelerators) and types of investors (e.g., impact investors)? How are these EE actors organized across territories, i.e., the spatial topology of EE configurations that enable sustainable transitions based on innovation-driven entrepreneurship (local/regional/national/international)?
  • What specific strategies do sustainable entrepreneurs use to draw resources from their EE? How do sustainable entrepreneurs leverage their local startup communities?
  • What are the theories that can inform our understanding of the interface between EE, innovation and sustainable transitions?
  • How do national, regional and global governance systems interact with sustainable EE?

We also welcome other timely and relevant contributions that connect the dynamics of innovation in Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and sustainable transitions that are not included in the topics above. We encourage theoretical, conceptual and empirical work that can offer a multifaceted perspective on the phenomena of interest. Guest Editors are also interested in articles that go beyond the examination of well-known entrepreneurial ecosystems, thus exploring new contexts in both developed and developing economies.

Submission Instructions

Publication of the Special Issue expected in Spring/Summer, 2026

Related events

This Special Issue will involve one hybrid Paper Development Workshop promoted by guest editors’ institutions at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.  It will involve the set of papers that (i) have successfully gone through the initial editorial screening; and (ii) have not been rejected after the first round of blind reviews. Through this strategy we expect to generate opportunities for further constructive feedback, cross-pollination of ideas, and guarantee a cohesive set of accepted papers for the Special Issue. The PDW should take place in July/August, 2025. Although participation in the event is neither a requisite nor mandatory for publication in the Special Issue, the guest editors highly encourage authors to attend the event.

Submission Process

Paper submissions will undergo rigorous editorial screening and double-blind peer review by a minimum of two recognized scholars. The standard requirements of Industry and Innovation for submissions apply. Please consult the journal submission guidelines.

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