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Entrepreneurial ecosystems have emerged as a popular concept to explain the persistence of high-growth entrepreneurship within regions. However, as a theoretical concept ecosystems remain underdeveloped, making it difficult to understand their structure and influence on the entrepreneurship process. The article argues that ecosystems are composed of 10 cultural, social, and material attributes that provide benefits and resources to entrepreneurs and that the relationships between these attributes reproduce the ecosystem. This model is illustrated with case studies of Waterloo, Ontario, and Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The cases demonstrate the variety of different configurations that ecosystems can take.
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The Relational
Organization of
Ben Spigel
Entrepreneurial ecosystems have emerged as a popular concept to explain the persist-
ence of high-growth entrepreneurship within regions. However, as a theoretical concept
ecosystems remain underdeveloped, making it difficult to understand their structure and
influence on the entrepreneurship process. The article argues that ecosystems are com-
posed of 10 cultural, social, and material attributes that provide benefits and resources to
entrepreneurs and that the relationships between these attributes reproduce the ecosys-
tem. This model is illustrated with case studies of Waterloo, Ontario, and Calgary, Alberta,
Canada. The cases demonstrate the variety of different configurations that ecosystems
can take.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems have become a popular tool in the study of the geography
of high-growth entrepreneurship. Ecosystems are the union of localized cultural outlooks,
social networks, investment capital, universities, and active economic policies that create
environments supportive of innovation-based ventures. They are seen within the aca-
demic (Acs, Autio, & Szerb, 2014; Feldman, Francis, & Bercovitz, 2005), policy (Isen-
berg, 2010; World Economic Forum, 2013), and popular business literature (Feld, 2012;
Hwang & Horowitt, 2012) as a critical tool for creating resilient economies based on
entrepreneurial innovation. But research on ecosystems is underdeveloped and under-
theorized. Ecosystems represent more of a conceptual umbrella encompassing a variety
of different perspectives on the geography of entrepreneurship rather than a coherent
theory about the emergence of sustainable communities of technology entrepreneurs.
This fosters a tendency among policymakers to import best practices from thriving eco-
systems without regard to the underlying local economic and cultural attributes on which
their success depends (Harrison & Leitch, 2010). This is in part due to the tendency for
research on entrepreneurial ecosystems to focus on individual cultural, economic, and
This article benefited from the advice and suggestions of Harald Bathelt, Richard Harrison, Meric Gertler,
Maryann Feldman, Olav Sorenson, and Pierre Desrochers, as well as Thomas Keil and the three anonymous
reviewers. I would also like to thank David Wolfe and Gregory Spencer at the Munk School of Global Affairs
Innovation Policy Lab for the use of their datasets. The remaining errors are my own. Please send correspon-
dence to: Ben Spigel, tel.: 144 (0)131 650 5552; e-mail:
June, 2015 1
DOI: 10.1111/etap.12167
C2015 Baylor University
policy elements while ignoring how the interdependencies between these elements create
and reproduce the overall ecosystem (Motoyama & Watkins, 2014).
This article addresses this gap by examining the attributes constituting entrepre-
neurial ecosystems, the relationships between them, and how they influence the compet-
itiveness of new ventures. In order to be an effective theoretical construct,
entrepreneurial ecosystems need to be more than a label for regions with high rates of
entrepreneurship. Rather, ecosystem theory should focus on the internal attributes of
ecosystems and how different configurations of these attributes reproduce the overall
ecosystem and provide resources to new ventures that they could not otherwise access.
This helps differentiate the outcomes of a successful ecosystem—high rates of entrepre-
neurship—from the internal processes and governance strategies that creates and sus-
tains it. It also emphasizes the fact that there are multiple ways an ecosystem can
Illustrative case studies of Calgary and Waterloo, Canada are used to explore the dif-
ferent possible configurations of entrepreneurial ecosystems and how this affects the
types of resources entrepreneurs can draw from to start and grow their firms. Calgary’s
ecosystem is driven by its strong local oil and gas market, which creates numerous oppor-
tunities for new ventures and attracts highly skilled workers and financial capital to the
region. Waterloo’s ecosystem is driven by an underlying entrepreneurial culture that fos-
ters strong networks of entrepreneurs, advisors, and investors and well-performing public
entrepreneurship training and support programs. Despite their different configurations,
both confer significant benefits to new ventures, suggesting they are supportive of entre-
preneurial ecosystems.
The following section reviews existing theories about entrepreneurial ecosystems and
related concepts of clusters, regional innovation systems (RIS), and networks. Ten core
cultural, social, and material attributes of entrepreneurial ecosystems are identified. The
next section goes on to discuss the relational structure of these attributes within an eco-
system. The article argues that successful ecosystems are not defined by high rates of
entrepreneurship but rather how the interaction between these attributes creates a sup-
portive regional environment that increases the competitiveness of new ventures. This
is illustrated by case studies of entrepreneurial ecosystems in Waterloo, Ontario and
Calgary, Alberta. These case studies demonstrate the different possible configurations
of entrepreneurial ecosystems and the implications this has for the entrepreneurship
process within them. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of this
new perspective of entrepreneurial ecosystems and suggestions for directions for future
The Structure of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
The Attributes of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
Entrepreneurial ecosystems are combinations of social, political, economic, and cul-
tural elements within a region that support the development and growth of innovative
startups and encourage nascent entrepreneurs and other actors to take the risks of starting,
funding, and otherwise assissting high-risk ventures. As originally defined by Dubini
(1989) ecosystems (or as she called them, environments) are characterized by the pres-
ence of family businesses and role models, a diverse economy, a strong business infra-
structure, available investment capital, a supportive entrepreneurial culture, and public
policies that incentivize venture creation. Others like Spilling (1996); Neck, Meyer,
Cohen, and Corbett (2004); and Kenney and Patton (2005) highlight features such as
skilled workers, lawyers, and accountants specializing in the needs of new ventures, and
large local firms or universities to act as talent attractors and spinoff generators. More
recent work by Isenberg (2010) and groups such as the World Economic Forum (2013)
have argued that accessible local and international markets, available human capital and
financing, mentorship and support systems, robust regulatory frameworks, and major uni-
versities are the most important pillars of an ecosystem.
Thinking about entrepreneurial ecosystems draws on a heterodox literature that
includes work on clusters (Delgado, Porter, & Stern, 2010; Marshall, 1920; Porter, 1998,
2000), innovations systems (Cooke, Gomez Uranga, & Etxebarria, 1997; Fritsch, 2001),
economic geography (Feldman, 2001; Malecki, 1997), social capital (Westlund &
Bolton, 2003), and networks (Sorenson & Stuart, 2001; Stuart & Sorenson, 2003). While
these approaches differ in their methodological and conceptual outlooks, they share a
common belief that certain attributes exist outside the boundaries of a firm but within a
region that contribute to the competitiveness of a new venture. In general, these perspec-
tives emphasize three main regional resources that contribute to increased entrepreneur-
ship and growth. First, shared cultural understandings and institutional environments that
ease interfirm cooperation and normalize practices such as knowledge sharing and firm
mobility (Gertler, 2003; Henry & Pinch, 2001), or act as barriers to this kind of activity
(Saxenian, 1994; Staber, 2007). Second, social networks within regions create pathways
for knowledge spillovers between firms and universities (Owen-Smith & Powell, 2004),
help spread information about entrepreneurial opportunities (Arenius & de Clercq, 2005),
and connect entrepreneurs with financiers (Powell, Koput, Bowie, & Smith-Doerr, 2002).
Finally, government policies and universities can help support these cultures and net-
works by removing institutional barriers to entrepreneurs, training skilled workers and
entrepreneurs, and funding specific support programs such as networking events and incu-
bation facilities (Feldman & Francis, 2004).
There is an obvious harmony among the concepts of entrepreneurial ecosystems,
clusters, and RIS. Each argues that a major part of firms’ competitive advantage is related
to the resources found within the region rather than residing solely within the firm
(Asheim, Smith, & Oughton, 2011; Porter, 2000). These regional resources may include
access to a shared regional labor pool, local knowledge spillovers, or connections with
nearby research universities. However, the precise role of entrepreneurial firms and how
they benefit from these externalities differs among the three concepts. Cluster theory has
long separated localization economies—the savings due to colocation of firms in the
same vertical industry, such as shared infrastructure or lowered transportation costs—and
agglomeration economies, the advantages found by being in an environment filled with
other firms in the same market with whom they can collaborate and share knowledge
(Malmberg and Maskell, 2002). The latter are more important to entrepreneurs, who are
given “the advantages of a business environment tailored to their specific needs, even in
situations when they might still be unaware of what these needs might be or how they
may best be accommodated” (Maskell, 2001, p. 933).
Entrepreneurial ecosystems resemble what Markusen (1996) describes as Neo-
Marshallian Industrial Districts: clusters built on the networks between multiple small-
and medium-sized firms who simultaneously cooperate and compete within the same
industry or supply chain. These clusters benefit firms through the continuous circulation
of tacit knowledge and the normalization of particular routines such as cooperation and
learning. Entrepreneurial ecosystems are similarly marked by this type of relational gov-
ernance and lack a clear power hierarchy or formalized enforcement methods that could
impede informal interaction between firms (Bell, Tracey, & Heide, 2009; Pitelis, 2012).
June, 2015 3
However, at the same time, there are clear differences between clusters and entrepreneur-
ial ecosystems. Firms in clusters benefit from being colocated near other firms in the same
industry or supply chain because they can cooperate to serve larger clients and learn from
each other’s production techniques (Piore & Sabel, 1984). This is not necessarily the case
for entrepreneurial ecosystems, where entrepreneurs are more likely to share a core tech-
nology (such as computer coding) rather than a common client or market. Entrepreneurs
can exchange knowledge about the challenges of growing an innovative venture and the
presence of many entrepreneurs in a region helps build up a support structure such as net-
works of investors, advisors, and mentors. The advantages of an entrepreneurial ecosys-
tem are related to resources specific to the entrepreneurship process such as startup
culture and financing rather than other types of industrial benefits found in clusters that
accrue to firms of all sizes and ages.
While cluster and innovation system theories provide important clues to how these
resources build up and flow between firms, the underlying mechanisms are not necessarily
identical. However, drawing on this work and the extant literature on entrepreneurial eco-
systems can help to highlight several key components of regional economic and social
systems. These include the presence of entrepreneurs, workers, investors, and mentors;
favorable government policies; research universities and other sources of innovative
knowledge; availability of local customers; and an entrepreneurial culture that encourages
risk taking. These attributes provide resources that new local ventures could not otherwise
access such as managerial experience or a skilled workforce. The following sections
detail the most commonly cited attributes of entrepreneurial ecosystems and discuss how
they provide resources and benefits to entrepreneurs and new ventures. These attributes
can be broadly grouped into three categories: cultural, social, and material based on how
their benefits are created and governed.
Cultural Attributes
Cultural attributes are the underlying beliefs and outlooks about entrepreneurship
within a region. There are two main cultural attributes of entrepreneurial ecosystems: cul-
tural attitudes and histories of entrepreneurship. A number of scholars have examined
how localized cultural outlooks affect the larger regional entrepreneurship process (e.g.,
Stuetzer, Obschonka, Brixy, Sternberg, & Cantner, 2014; Vaillant & Lafuente, 2007). For
example, Aoyama (2009, p. 500) argues that regional cultures influence entrepreneurial
activities “by shaping acceptable entrepreneurial practices and norms.” Saxenian’s
(1994) comparison of Silicon Valley and Boston famously showed how cultural attitudes
toward entrepreneurship and risk taking led to radically divergent economic and entrepre-
neurial paths. Cultural beliefs normalize outlooks about entrepreneurship, making it seem
a standard part of a person’s career path or as something to be undertaken only when no
other options are available (Kibler, Kautonen, & Fink, 2014). This helps create a milieu
surrounding the entrepreneurship that supports firm creation and encourages others to
support risky entrepreneurial endeavors (Ritsil
a, 1999).
Prominent histories of entrepreneurial success stories are an important part of these
cultural outlooks (Feldman et al., 2005). Stories of successful local entrepreneurs who
found startups that went on to become large, global market leaders can inspire younger
entrepreneurs to undertake similar journeys (Feld, 2012). Just as importantly, local policy
makers can mobilize these stories as part of larger entrepreneurship campaigns (Nelles,
Bramwell, & Wolfe, 2005). Examples of successful entrepreneurs within the community
provide a central focus for discussing the benefits and possibilities of entrepreneurship
and demonstrate that it is a potential career path for students coming out of secondary
education. This helps ensure a stable supply of new entrepreneurs and further legitimizes
the status of risk taking within the region’s culture.
Social Attributes
Social attributes are the resources composed of or acquired through the social net-
works within a region. The importance of social networks and social capital to the entre-
preneurship process is well documented (Nijkamp, 2003; Stuart & Sorenson, 2005).
Social networks act as conduits for new knowledge about opportunities and technologies
(Owen-Smith & Powell, 2004), help new ventures obtain access to financing (Shane &
Cable, 2002), and influence entrepreneurial outlooks and skills (De Carolis & Saparito,
2006). The ability of new ventures to benefit from these networks requires pre-existing
connections among entrepreneurs, investors, and other entrepreneurial actors as well as
sufficient trust among those parties to encourage the sharing of scarce resources (Kwon,
Heflin, & Ruef, 2013). There are four main social attributes of entrepreneurial ecosys-
tems: the networks themselves, investment capital, mentors and dealmakers, and worker
talent. Discussions about the importance of dense social networks to entrepreneurship
within a region date back nearly three decades (Aldrich & Zimmer, 1986). Networks help
entrepreneurs gather market and technological knowledge, acquire resources such as
investment capital, and gain access to customers and suppliers (Greve & Salaff, 2003;
Hoang & Antoncic, 2003). Networks tend to be locally focused with the densest links
forged by frequent face-to-face interactions (Schutjens & V
olker, 2010). While connec-
tions outside the region are critical for importing novel knowledge, dense social networks
within a region create a “buzz” of knowledge flow that helps entrepreneurs tap into
knowledge streams they would otherwise not be able to access (Bathelt, Malmberg, &
Maskell, 2004).
Investment capital—financing from institutional investors like venture capitalists,
high net-worth angel investors, or the entrepreneur’s own family and friends—are critical
components of an entrepreneurial economy (Malecki, 2011). Investment capital is a nec-
essary catalyst for startup growth, and investors act as advisors to firms, helping them
navigate the challenges of growth. As discussed above, almost all risk capital invested in
startups is channeled through the social networks of investors (Fritsch & Schilder, 2008).
Social networks help investors identify new firms to invest in and reduce the information
asymmetry between the firm and the investor (Shane & Cable, 2002) while more informal
investors might rely on the trust contained within their social ties to ensure their invest-
ment is used properly (Steijvers, Voordeckers, & Vanhoof, 2010). The presence of local
investors deeply connected with the local entrepreneurial community is necessary to cata-
lyze the growth of entrepreneurial firms.
The third social attribute of entrepreneurial ecosystems is mentors and dealmakers.
Having a mentor increases an entrepreneur’s performance (Bosma, Hessels, Schutjens,
van Praag, & Verheul, 2012; Ozgen & Baron, 2007) and their presence in a region
increases overall firm formation and survival rates (Lafuente, Yancy, & Rialp, 2007).
More recently, Feldman and Zoller (2012) have drawn attention to what they call deal-
makers: actors with high levels of social capital who proactively build new connections
between entrepreneurial actors, helping to improve firm formation and growth within
regions. These are people who “live and work in a region and take responsibility for the
stewardship of the place” (Feldman, 2014, p. 4). This highlights the importance of indi-
vidual actors like successful business people or philanthropists in building a sustainable
June, 2015 5
entrepreneurial ecosystem. Mentors and dealmakers assist entrepreneurs in developing
new business skills and help them build their localized social capital.
The final social attribute of ecosystems is worker talent: skilled employees accus-
tomed to the specific demands of working at a small firm. High levels of human capital
are a necessary precursor for success in the modern knowledge economy, and skilled
workers are a key component of the competitiveness of new ventures (Audretsch, Falck,
Feldman, & Heblich, 2011; Qian, Acs, & Stough, 2012). This includes both technical
workers as well as experienced managers who can help entrepreneurs as their firms grow
and mature. Both entrepreneurs and workers use their social networks to find good
matches, adding to the value of dense social networks within a region (van Hoye, van
Hooft, & Lievens, 2009). Workers in supportive entrepreneurial ecosystems need more
than technical skills; they must also have a similar tolerance for risk as entrepreneurs
themselves in order to thrive in the chaotic environment of a startup. The availability of
skilled workers who are accustomed to these challenges is a key resource for new
Material Attributes
The material attributes of an ecosystem are those with a tangible presence in the
region. This presence can be a physical location, such as a university, or formalized rules
like entrepreneurial policies and well-regulated markets which materialize locally. There
are four types of material attributes: universities, support services and facilities, policy
and governance, and open markets. Universities provide two main resources to an entre-
preneurial ecosystem. First, they develop new technologies that create entrepreneurial
opportunities (Lawton Smith, Chapman, Wood, Barnes, & Romeo, 2014). Academic
entrepreneurs can take these opportunities to market, or they can spill over into existing
startups (Krichhoff, Newbert, Hasan, & Armington, 2007; Shane, 2004). Established
firms are able to access the knowledge of universities through hiring graduates, commis-
sioning research, or through more informal knowledge spillover vectors like discussions
with faculty or public talks. Universities help develop the human capital of a region while
simultaneously fostering entrepreneurial mindsets in its students, encouraging them either
to start new ventures or to work within them (Wolfe, 2005).
Support services and facilities provide specialized assistance for early-stage firms.
These include services such as accountants, patent lawyers, and human resource advisors
who are accustomed to the unique challenges that small firms face and who offer services
aimed at early ventures such as equity-for-service arrangements (Kenney & Patton, 2005;
Patton & Kenney, 2005). Support firms allow startups to access capabilities they do not
possess internally while support firms benefit from a large number of local clients. Incu-
bation, acceleration, and coworking facilities also provide essential services for new ven-
tures by furnishing subsidized office space for startups along with advising and
networking support (Totterman & Sten, 2005). Though questions remain about their
effectiveness (see Tamasy, 2007), these organizations represent an important facilitator
of entrepreneurial activity and are often a key node of an ecosystem.
Policies and governance are less “material” in the sense that they do not have a physi-
cal location but instead materialize through government rules and regulations. Policies
represent laws and directives that create publicly funded support programs designed to
encourage entrepreneurship through tax benefits, investment of public funds, or reduc-
tions in bureaucratic regulation (Huggins & Williams, 2011; Mason & Brown, 2013). As
such, they are a key part of the economic and political context in which entrepreneurship
occurs. This context may involve reducing legal barriers to firm formation; developing
effective tax regimes; or providing public funds to run entrepreneurship support, network-
ing, or incubation programs. While the effectiveness of policies promoting entrepreneur-
ship is debated (e.g., Lerner, 2009), policy remains an important attribute of regional
Finally, the availability of strong local markets is a key part of providing opportuni-
ties within entrepreneurial ecosystems. The presence of local customers with specialized
needs creates opportunities for new ventures and encourages entrepreneurial spinoffs
(Spilling, 1996; World Economic Forum, 2013). Entrepreneurs are in a prime position to
identify opportunities within the local marketplace because they interact more with local
potential customers and can easily test out new offerings with them. This gives young
firms a platform to make early sales and build up their capabilities for future expansion
(e.g., Feldman, 2001). Such markets often act as the catalyst for the development of an
entrepreneurial ecosystem. For example, the U.S. defense industry in California was a
major initial customer of microelectronic firms that eventually helped form present-day
Silicon Valley (Markusen, 1991).
Table 1 summarizes the attributes of entrepreneurial ecosystems. Not all of these ele-
ments are necessary for the development of a thriving ecosystem. There are ready exam-
ples of successful entrepreneurial ecosystems that lack one or more of these elements. For
example, Boston first developed a thriving biotechnology ecosystem in the absence of a
strong local market or histories of successful biotech entrepreneurs. Rather, these attrib-
utes should be understood as the major factors that help create supportive environments
for entrepreneurial activity and provide external resources that increase the competitive-
ness of new ventures.
The Relational Configuration of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
An ecosystem’s attributes do not exist in isolation but rather develop in tandem, help-
ing to influence and reproduce one another. For example, a community’s underlying
beliefs about the wider social status of entrepreneurship affects the desire of entrepreneur-
ial actors to support the entrepreneurial endeavors of others (Li~
an, Urbano, & Guerrero,
2011). By normalizing and legitimizing support for entrepreneurship within the larger
community, an ecosystem’s cultural attributes create a context through which supportive
social attributes can emerge. This contributes to the formation of dense networks among
entrepreneurs, investors, and advisors. Policies and programs designed to encourage
entrepreneurship struggle in the absence of an underlying community of other entrepre-
neurs, advisors, and workers who provide support above and beyond what the programs
supply. These programs would not be successful without supportive social and cultural
However, the relationships between attributes of an ecosystem are not a simple hier-
archy of “lower” elements like culture supporting “higher” ones like policy. The develop-
ment and success of material attributes can reinforce social attributes, in turn
strengthening the underlying cultural attributes (see Figure 1). For example, entrepreneur-
ial support organizations can play an important role in fostering local networks and rais-
ing the profile of successful local startups. This encourages new actors to engage in
networking activities by exposing them to success stories, increasing the amount of finan-
cial, technical, and advisory resources within local social networks. Strong sets of social
attributes such as networks, mentors, and investment capital within a region then help to
reinforce and reproduce the ecosystem’s pre-existing culture by normalizing these
June, 2015 7
practices and creating new stories of successful entrepreneurship that enter in the region’s
This model suggests that entrepreneurial ecosystems can have multiple possible con-
figurations. Ecosystems represent the presence of multiple overlapping sets of attributes
and institutions that encourage entrepreneurial activity and provide critical resources that
new ventures can draw on as they expand and evolve. An ecosystem’s attributes are sus-
tained and reproduced through their relationships with other attributes. In ecosystems
with dense relationships between attributes, this reproduction occurs by the interplay
between a supportive entrepreneurial culture; networks of entrepreneurs, workers, and
investors; and effective public programs and organizations. In sparser ecosystems, one
attribute drives the production of the other attributes, such as a large local market that
Table 1
Attributes of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
Type of
Attribute Attribute Description Examples
Cultural Supportive culture Cultural attitudes which support and normal-
ize entrepreneurial activities, risk taking,
and innovation.
Aoyama (2009); Feldman (2001);
Julien (2007)
Histories of
Prominent local example of successful entre-
preneurial ventures.
Nelles et al. (2005); Feld (2012)
Social Worker talent Presence of skilled workers who are willing
to work at startups.
Arruda, Nogueira, and Costa (2014);
Audretsch et al. (2011); Bahrami
and Evans (1995); Harrison and
Leitch (2010)
Investment capital Availability of investment capital from fam-
ily and friends, angel investors, and ven-
ture capitalists.
van der Borgh, Cloodt, and Romme
(2012); Kenney and Patton
(2005); Malecki (2009)
Networks Presence of social networks that connect
entrepreneurs, advisors, investors, and
workers and that allow the free flow of
knowledge and skills.
Dubini (1989); Malecki (1997);
Neck et al. (2004)
Mentors and role models Local successful entrepreneurs and business
people who provide advice for younger
Feld (2012); Kenney and Patton
(2005); World Economic Forum
Material Policy and governance State-run programs or regulations that either
support entrepreneurship through direct
funding or remove barriers to new venture
Desrochers and Saulet (2008); Isen-
berg (2010)
Universities Universities and other higher education insti-
tutions which both train new entrepreneurs
and produce new knowledge spillovers.
Audretsch et al. (2011); Dubini
(1989); Feldman et al. (2005);
Wolfe (2005)
Support services Firms and organizations that provide ancil-
lary services to new ventures, for example,
patent lawyers, incubators, or
Kenney and Patton (2005); Patton
and Kenney (2005); Startup
Genome Project (2012)
Physical infrastructure Availability of sufficient office space, tele-
communication facilities, and transporta-
tion infrastructure to enable venture
creation and growth.
Audretsch et al. (2011); Mack and
Rey (2014)
Open markets Presence of sufficient local opportunities to
enable venture creation and unimpeded
access to global markets.
Spilling (1996); World Economic
Forum (2013)
creates multiple opportunities for entrepreneurs to exploit, grow, and profitably exit. The
study of ecosystems should focus not only on the outcomes—rates of entrepreneurship—
but rather the inputs such as the localized cultural, social, and material attributes that sup-
port entrepreneurial activity and the ways in which these attributes interact and reproduce
the overall ecosystem.
Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Waterloo and Calgary, Canada
Case Study Motivation
The different configurations of ecosystems and their influence on entrepreneurial
practices and regional economic trajectories can be explored through comparative quali-
tative case studies. A comparative approach highlights features that are unique to a partic-
ular ecosystem and that are standard parts of the entrepreneurship phenomena.
Saxenian’s (1994) study of technology entrepreneurs in Boston and Silicon Valley is an
example of the usefulness of this approach. This work adopts Perren and Ram’s (2004)
“multiple stories milieu” approach in order to explore how entrepreneurial actors develop
their practices within their larger regional contexts and how this affects the structure of
the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The purpose is not to privilege one type of ecosystem con-
figuration over another but rather illustrate and explore the different types of relationships
between attributes within ecosystems and how this structure affects the ability of entre-
preneurs to draw on the localized resources within their community.
Qualitative methods allow for a nuanced understanding of how entrepreneurs interact
with their local entrepreneurial ecosystem and are particularly useful in situations where
there are yet few standardized metrics to analyze the structure or success of entrepreneur-
ial ecosystems. As argued by Steyaert and Katz (2004) such methods have the potential to
examine the socially constructed nature of the entrepreneurship process. The case study
method is used as a theory-building tool for the relatively underdeveloped field of entre-
preneurial ecosystems (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008). The findings should not be
Figure 1
Relationships Among Ecosystem Attributes
June, 2015 9
considered generalizable because each region’s ecosystem is the product of its unique his-
torical and economic processes. However, the findings do point to two more generalizable
points about entrepreneurial ecosystems: the way in which their structure can differ
between regions and the importance of understanding how the connections between their
internal attributes helps reproduce the overall ecosystem structure and provide benefits to
Comparing the cases of Calgary, Alberta and Waterloo, Ontario (part of the larger
Kitchener–Waterloo–Cambridge census metropolitan area) is a useful way to understand
the differing relationships between ecosystem attributes and their resulting influence on
entrepreneurs. As shown in Table 2, both cities perform better than the Canadian average in
terms of their human capital, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, and venture invest-
ment activity. The lower rates of self-employment in Waterloo are due to the region’s com-
paratively large industrial sector and belie the high rates of technology startup activity in
the region. Both are home to leading research universities (the University of Calgary and
the University of Waterloo); headquarters of locally founded global technology firms
(SMART Technologies in Calgary, a smart whiteboard company, and smartphone maker
Blackberry in Waterloo); public entrepreneurship support programs; and large pools of
skilled workers, support services, and investment capital. While each city has a successful
entrepreneurial ecosystem, they have very different configurations. Waterloo has a dense
ecosystem made up of very strong social, cultural, and material attributes that help repro-
duce an overall orientation toward high-risk, high-growth entrepreneurship. Calgary’s eco-
system is dominated by the oil and gas sector, a large open market that drives high rates of
venture creation but with weaker relationships between its cultural and social attributes.
Semistructured interviews were conducted with 71 technology entrepreneurs, invest-
ors, and economic development officials in each city between 2011 and 2012 (see Table
3). Interviews focused on respondents’ views of their region’s entrepreneurial commu-
nity, and how these views have affected the practices entrepreneurs used to start, run, and
grow new ventures. In order to avoid a bias toward the founders of larger and more suc-
cessful startups, Scotts Business Directory was used to construct a random pool of entre-
preneurs who had started firms in six technology sectors.
After eliminating firms that did
not sell a technological product, subsidiaries of larger firms, and where the founder had
left, 83 firms were contacted for interviews in Calgary and 84 in Waterloo, leading to 28
(34% response rate) and 23 (28% response rate) entrepreneur interviews, respectively.
Interviews were conducted until data saturation occurred. Comparing the age, year found,
and revenue category
between the interviewed firms and nonrespondents suggests that
interviewees are representative of the overall population in the two communities, though
the interviewed firms in Waterloo were slightly younger than nonrespondents (see Table
4). In general, interviewed firms in Calgary tended to be larger than those in Waterloo
both in terms of their reported revenues and number of employees (see Table 5).
Market-Driven Ecosystem in Calgary, Alberta
The city of Calgary has undergone a profound economic transformation as a result of
the extraction of Alberta’s natural gas and petroleum reserves. The discovery of nearby
natural gas deposits in the early 1900s and the later development of the Athabasca Tar
1. The selected industries were: computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing; software publishers;
data processing, hosting, and related services; computer systems design and related services; other scientific
and technical consulting services; engineering services.
2. Scotts Directories classifies firm revenues into five categories: less than 1 million CAD, 1–5 million
CAD, 5–10 million CAD, 10–25 million CAD, above 25 million CAD.
Sands in Northern Alberta in the last two decades helped Calgary grow from a small fron-
tier town to a command and control center for Canada’s resource sector and associated
finance and support services (Chastko, 2004). One of Canada’s largest entrepreneurial
communities has developed around this economic engine, with nearly 12% of the popula-
tion classified as self-employed, the highest rate in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2012).
Many of the region’s technology startups are oriented toward the energy industry, which
interviewees saw as rich in entrepreneurial opportunities and more focused on speed of
product development than on price. Seventeen of the 28 (68%) entrepreneurs interviewed
served this industry, indicating that a great deal of this region’s entrepreneurship is due to
this large local market. As the founder of a software firm serving this industry said: “They
weren’t interested in saving money, they were only interested in getting it done. How
much money isn’t an issue” (C103). Major oil producers are increasingly outsourcing
large portions of their business to reduce risk during downturns, creating numerous entre-
preneurial opportunities in areas such as exploration and production management,
resource forecasting, logistics, and specialized software development.
Table 2
Demographic and Economic Data for Waterloo and Calgary
Kitchener-Waterloo Calgary Canada
Population 477,160 1,096,833 33,476,688
Self-employment rate (%) 8.55 11.29 11.02
Labor force in natural and applied science occupations (%) 8.87 11.91 7.16
Population with bachelor’s degree or higher (%) 21.65 28.82 20.85
Bachelor’s degrees or higher in STEM fields (%) 11.60 15.14 9.82
GDP per capita (2007 dollars) $50,161 $73,151 $45,704
Number of VC investments 2000–2011 93 196 6,004
Average size of VC investment, 2000–2011 (2007 dollars) $1,979,297 $2,866,391 $239,583
VC investments per 100,000 residents (2000–2011) 19.49 17.87 17.93
Source: Statistics Canada (2012); Conference Board of Canada (2012); Thomson Reuters (2013).
Table 3
Type and Location of Interviews
Waterloo Calgary Total
Entrepreneurs 23 28 51
Investors 5 5 10
Economic development officials 4 6 10
Total 32 39 71
June, 2015 11
This market drives an entrepreneurial ecosystem that provides resources for entrepre-
neurs both inside and outside the resource industry. This is evidenced by the comparative
size of the interviewed firms. The mean number of employees of interviewed firms in
Calgary was 25.5 compared to 10.3 in Waterloo and mean revenues in Calgary were 3.7
million CAD compared to 1.1 million CAD in Waterloo. This difference can be seen as a
result of both the different local markets within the two ecosystems along with the differ-
ent structures of their cultural and social attributes that encourage this kind of growth.
Culturally, Calgary is heavily influenced by the norms of the oil and gas industry. As early
as the 1980s, House (1980, p. 2) argued: “oil dominates the economic and social life of
Table 5
Characteristics of Interviewed Firms
Firm characteristics Calgary Waterloo
Size—employees 1–5 6 (21%) 13 (57%)
6–14 7 (25%) 7 (30%)
15–29 9 (32%) 0 (0%)
30–50 3 (11%) 2 (9%)
5114 (14%) 0 (0%)
Not reported 0 (0%) 1 (4%)
Size—revenues (CAD) 0–499,999 4 (14%) 8 (35%)
500,000–999,999 6 (21%) 5 (22%)
1,000,000–2,499,999 6 (21%) 5 (22%)
2,500,000–4,999,999 5 (18%) 2 (9%)
5,000,00014 (14%) 0 (0%)
Not reported 2 (7%) 5 (22%)
Industrial classification Computer equipment manufacturing 2 (7%) 2 (9%)
Software publishers 4 (14%) 4 (18%)
Data processing and hosting 2 (7%) 0 (0%)
Computer systems design 16 (57%) 10 (43%)
Other scientific and technical services 2 (7%) 2 (9%)
Engineering services 2 (7%) 2 (9%)
Not available 0 (0%) 3 (13%)
Table 4
Response Analysis for Entrepreneur Interviews by City
City Sample average Nonrespondent average t
Waterloo Employees 18.9 27.2 20.78
Year founded 2,001.3 1,997.8 22.51**
Revenue 1.92 2.11 20.68
Calgary Employees 25.3 34.5 20.96
Year founded 1,999.8 1,998.6 1.01
Revenue 1.92 2.23 21.93
**Significant at p<.05
the city.” Discourses about cowboys and roughnecks have contributed to a local culture
that focuses on wealth creation over other aspects of entrepreneurship such as building an
advanced technology. These cultural attitudes create higher social rewards for personal
wealth than they do for technological or business achievements such as being featured in
a technology magazine or creating an internationally recognized business. One example
of this effect is the lower attachment Calgary entrepreneurs felt for their firms than those
in Waterloo. Twelve of the 28 (42%) entrepreneurs interviewed in Calgary were catego-
rized as “profit-oriented” because they structured their firm to maximize their short-term
personal profit rather than long-term sustainability, compared to 1 of 23 entrepreneurs
(4%) in Waterloo. As a result, few Calgary interviewees reported strong connections to
their firms or to entrepreneurship in general. One entrepreneur reported that he had
“created something that someone wants to buy, [but] I’ve got no emotional attachment to
it. It’s just a company. If someone today came and gave me an offer on [my firm], I’d be
gone tomorrow. No emotional ties to this stuff whatsoever” (C127).
These cultural outlooks influence the ecosystem’s other social and material attributes.
The low social value placed on entrepreneurship within Calgary along with the constant
demand for workers within larger energy firms have created challenges for developing a
large pool of skilled employees willing to work in new ventures. Almost all interviewees
reported that they could not compete with the high salaries and other fringe benefits
offered by the major oil companies. For example, the founder of an e-learning startup
said: “Two days ago we had a new employee who spent one day here and said he got a
better offer” (C110). Workers’ focus on wages suggests they also shared the perception of
the lower social prestige of working at an innovative startup, thus reducing the number of
potential employees willing to work in startups. While some interviewees reported that
they were able to attract workers tired of the bureaucratic style of the larger oil producers
or looking for the increased freedom of working at a smaller firm, they still experienced
difficulties hiring and retaining qualified workers.
Calgary’s cultural attitude toward entrepreneurship has also affected the propensity
of entrepreneurial actors to develop strong social ties within the community, limiting the
effectiveness of entrepreneurial social networks. Most respondents expressed little desire
to share advice or learn from the experiences of other entrepreneurs. Only 46% of inter-
viewed entrepreneurs in Calgary reported seeking advice about running their business
from family and friends, compared to 70% in Waterloo. Entrepreneurs in Calgary typi-
cally thought it was more important to spend their time building their networks within the
oil and gas industry, which many described as an “old-boys network” (C129) rather than
other local entrepreneurs. On the whole, interviewees reported frequently engaging in
networking activities to keep abreast of new developments in the marketplace and find
new clients, but spent little time meeting with other entrepreneurs to develop their busi-
ness skills. Calgary’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, therefore, has a strong network attribute,
but its social networks are more oriented toward the oil and gas industry, reducing their
benefits for entrepreneurs outside this sector.
These outlooks toward networking have hampered the effectiveness of the ecosys-
tem’s entrepreneurship support programs and policies. While Innovate Calgary (a pub-
licly funded startup incubation facility and entrepreneurial support organization) runs
entrepreneurship training and networking programs, none of the interviewed entrepre-
neurs—even tenants of Innovate Calgary’s incubation center—reported participating in
them. Nor did interviewees regularly participate in networking events hosted by the city’s
Chamber of Commerce or the University of Calgary. As one entrepreneur explained:
“there’s been quite a few different entrepreneurship groups, but what I have found is that
most of them are there because they think they’re going to get a chance to meet potential
June, 2015 13
clients. What it ends up being is a bunch of people like themselves” (C104). While the
programs themselves are based on best practices from elsewhere to complement the
region’s energy industry focus, they lack a supportive foundation of complementary cul-
tural and social attributes, and therefore, have struggled to influence the wider ecosystem.
The strength of the local resource industry has created a large pool of potential angel
investors and venture capital firms to finance entrepreneurial ventures. As an economic
development official put it: “Calgary is awash in money” (C101). This provides an impor-
tant resource for entrepreneurs looking to quickly expand a firm through outside financing
or to support ongoing research and development. However, the backgrounds of many of
these investors are in the oil and gas industry, limiting their ability to effectively invest in
and advise firms outside this sector. Risk in the oil and gas industry is quantified and lim-
ited compared to other high-tech industries where risk is generally unknowable. The large
upside risk of investing in a software or life science firm is unfamiliar to energy-based
investors. For a local angel investor outside this industry, “[investors] will invest half-a-
million dollars to poke a hole in the ground and have no bubbling crude come up way,
way, way before they will invest half-a-million dollars in a technology company because
they understand it” (C132). While there is substantial investment capital to be found
within the ecosystem, not all entrepreneurs have equal access to it.
Calgary’s local oil and natural gas market is the most important attribute of its ecosys-
tem. Large energy and natural resources firms are a constant source of new opportunities
for startups. As one entrepreneur put it: “If you live in Calgary, and you want to make
money, you should be in energy” (C119). The local resource economy reproduces the
ecosystem by increasing the supply of entrepreneurs through the easy availability and vis-
ibility of entrepreneurial opportunities in the local market. Resource firms attract skilled
workers to the region, some of whom eventually leave to form new ventures or work at
them, and the industry’s high wages help create new potential angel investors. However,
the culture of this industry has contributed to an undervaluing of certain entrepreneurial
activities within the region’s underlying culture, such as building networks with other
entrepreneurs, focusing new firms on innovation rather than quick growth, or working for
startups rather than large corporations. As a result, the benefits of the ecosystem largely
accrue to firms within the oil and gas sector. New ventures outside this industry experi-
ence more difficulty accessing the ecosystem’s labor pool, investment capital, and social
Dense and Innovative Ecosystem in Waterloo, Ontario
Waterloo, Ontario is commonly seen as a major center of Canadian technology entre-
preneurship. The presence of major anchor institutions such as Blackberry and the Uni-
versity of Waterloo, one of the world’s leading computer science and engineering
universities, has contributed to the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem charac-
terized by supportive relationships among its cultural, social, and material attributes. The
presence of several active entrepreneurial support organizations strengthens local com-
munities of entrepreneurs, mentors, and workers and helps to reproduce the region’s
underlying entrepreneurial culture. Many observers connect this ecosystem with an entre-
preneurial culture that dates back to the region’s founding by Mennonite farmers and Ger-
man immigrants in the nineteenth century (Bramwell & Wolfe, 2008). While the reality
of this connection is questionable, waves of German migrants to the region throughout
the early twentieth century created a thriving industrial economy that was instrumental in
the founding of the University of Waterloo in 1957 as a polytechnic university intended
to supply local firms with skilled engineers (Bathelt & Spigel, 2011). As a result, the uni-
versity has developed an entrepreneurial culture that contributed to the creation of fea-
tures such as a favorable intellectual property regime that encourages faculty and students
to spin off their developments into new ventures (Kenney and Patton, 2011). A similar
culture has developed throughout the entire region that supports entrepreneurial risk tak-
ing and provides entrepreneurs and related actors with a great deal of social prestige.
Numerous interviewees discussed an entrepreneurial ethos that permeated the community
and how, in the words of one entrepreneur: “we’re just so lucky that everyone is prepared
to share and be involved and that there’s a bunch of structured mentoring and networking
and there’s a ton of informal stuff that just happens that people just take care of each other
in the region” (W115).
This culture promotes dense social networks among entrepreneurs, workers, and
investors. The importance of entrepreneurship and networking in the region’s culture
encourages many successful businesspeople to participate in these networks, contributing
to their high perceived valued by entrepreneurs. A local venture capitalist explained that:
“the CEOs of the large companies ... will help the next generation of entrepreneurs. [If I]
sent a note over to say I met with this company, the CEO has been struggling with this or
that, would you be able to help them, I know they’re going to get a response” (W115).
This ethos allows entrepreneurs within the ecosystem to more easily find mentors and
advisors who can guide them through the challenges of the entrepreneurship process.
Many respondents believed that sharing their experiences and learning from others was
an essential part of being an entrepreneur in Waterloo. As one explained:
Here, unlike any other community that I’ve lived or worked [in], there’s a strong
sense of not just a desire, but a responsibility, to help up and coming companies,
especially technology companies.... We do a good job of integrating people into
the community and that builds strong ties. ... I’d hazard a guess that we have
more individuals in this community that have very broad, expansive networks
than other communities. (W114)
The cultural importance of entrepreneurship within Waterloo contributes to strong
networks of skilled workers accustomed to the demands and opportunities of working in a
startup. None of the entrepreneurs interviewed in Waterloo experienced the same chal-
lenges of finding and retaining skilled employees observed in Calgary. Instead, the nor-
malization of working within startups has allowed entrepreneurs the leeway to offer
lower salaries in favor of a more relaxed workplace and the possibility of revenue sharing.
The social status accorded workers in firms that are seen as particularly innovative can
serve as a substitute for more pecuniary interests. For example, one entrepreneur reported
that his workers were willing to forgo their pay during periods of low cash flow in
exchange for flexible working conditions and a portion of future revenues. The founder
believed that: “the model of being able to work from home, be your own boss and get to
be a participant in a pretty cool product made up for not getting a pay check” (W130).
The material attributes of Waterloo’s ecosystem benefit from this entrepreneurial cul-
ture while at the same time reproducing it. Communitech, a nonprofit entrepreneurship
support organization, has been very successful in promoting the ethos of technology
entrepreneurship. Some of this support is direct, such as its Accelerator Centre and Hyper-
dive incubator who offer subsidized office space, early-stage funding, and expert advising
to selected local startups. Other programs provide less direct support to individual firms
but help create a community entrepreneurs can turn to when necessary. Communitech’s
peer-to-peer groups and networking events give entrepreneurs the opportunity to meet
June, 2015 15
other firm founders as well as executives from larger firms and prospective investors,
advisors, and mentors. Many interviewees said these networking programs helped them
learn from other entrepreneurs who had encountered problems similar to theirs as well as
introducing them to more senior businesspeople who can provide guidance on long-term
strategic decisions. One entrepreneur reported that: “[Communitech] was instrumental
for us at the early stage. It gives you access to facilities, access to contacts and the events.
Again, that’s induced serendipity. You attend events certainly to pick up information, but
you also run into the types of people who are maybe interested in investing or who can
help out” (W118).
These events do more than simply help entrepreneurs connect with like-minded peo-
ple: by allowing new entrepreneurs to meet with more successful entrepreneurs, Commu-
nitech and other local organizations promote a particular vision of high-growth,
technology-led firms. This vision helps reproduce the cultural importance of technology
entrepreneurship within the region’s ecosystem by celebrating successful entrepreneurs
and normalizing particular practices like young university graduates founding growth-
oriented companies. Communitech is in a position to influence how entrepreneurship is
understood, in effect allowing it to reinforce the ecosystem’s social and cultural attributes.
However, Communitech could not have become such a successful material attribute of
the ecosystem without the support of local business and political leaders fostered by the
pre-existing social and cultural attributes that supported technology-based entrepreneur-
ship. The high social status of entrepreneurship encourages successful businesspeople to
pledge both time and money to support these organizations.
Waterloo’s ecosystem provides numerous resources to new ventures. The region’s
dense social networks allow entrepreneurs to develop critical business skills and help
form connections with local angel investors and venture capitalists. New ventures can
access a large pool of skilled workers who are used to the challenges of working at start-
ups and are able to reduce their upfront labor costs in exchange for future revenue sharing.
The region has several well-developed entrepreneurial organizations such as the Univer-
sity of Waterloo and Communitech that promote entrepreneurship and help strengthen
local networks. While Waterloo lacks Calgary’s large local market, its strong cultural and
material attributes help reproduce the entrepreneurial ecosystem by normalizing entrepre-
neurial risk taking and network building.
There is a strong relationship between the characteristics of each region’s ecosystem
and the ways in which firms derive resources from their environment. As shown in Table
6, there are small but distinctive trends in how firms grew or exited between 2011 and
2015. Four of the 28 firms (14.3%) interviewed in Calgary were acquired over this period,
compared to 2 of 23 (8.7%) in Waterloo. However, 13% of interviewed firms in Waterloo
have received venture capital investment, ranging from 125,000 CAD for a microchip
design firm to over 65 million CAD for a social messaging app, compared to only one
firm in Calgary who received venture capital investments. While a similar number of
interviewed firms in each city ceased trading between 2011 and 2015, more entrepreneurs
in Waterloo have moved on to start new ventures rather than either retiring or going to
work for existing firms as technical or managerial employees.
These differences reflect the structure of each ecosystem’s cultural, social, and mate-
rial attributes. Calgary’s underlying entrepreneurial regional culture and economic struc-
ture encourages entrepreneurs to try to quickly realize profits from their entrepreneurial
endeavor through both fast growth and eventual exits through acquisition. The strength of
the local energy industry means that there are a large number of firms capable of acquit-
ting new ventures for their technology and market access. As a result, local venture capi-
talists are focused on investing in later-stage investments in firms that are likely to be
quickly acquired, and the dense networks in the oil and gas industry allow larger firms to
monitor the activities of many of the region’s energy startups. Entrepreneurs whose firms
are not performing as well as they expected can shut down their venture secure in the
knowledge that they can quickly find employment elsewhere, reducing rates of serial
Waterloo’s ecosystem is far more focused on catalyzing growth through venture capi-
tal, with the goal of making a much larger exit either through an acquisition by a major
global technology company or an IPO. This means forgoing early revenues in favor of
rapid customer acquisition and long-term R&D activities. This is embedded in the cul-
tural attributes of the ecosystem through a history of technology startups who have experi-
enced this lifecycle and it is reinforced by the efforts of support organizations like
Communitech who work to attract venture capital investments to the region along with
networks of experienced entrepreneurs and managers who have been through this process
before and can advise newer firms. The strong cultural support for entrepreneurship
encourages entrepreneurs not to see the closing of a firm as a failure but rather as a lesson
on a longer entrepreneurial journey.
Calgary and Waterloo both have ecosystems that provide valuable resources to entre-
preneurs and which are reproduced through the relationships between their cultural,
social, and material attributes (see Figure 2). In the case of Waterloo, organizations like
Communitech and the University of Waterloo promote networking among entrepreneur-
ial actors and highlight local examples of successful technology entrepreneurship, both of
which increase the social status of entrepreneurship. This enhanced status encourages
actors within the region to participate in these networks, to dedicate their limited time to
advising or mentoring entrepreneurs, or to work in a high-risk startup. The high level of
entrepreneurial activity created by this activity reproduces and reinforces the region’s
pre-existing cultural outlooks toward entrepreneurship. The strength of these attributes
and their relationships creates a dense ecosystem for technology entrepreneurship.
Calgary’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is driven by the strength of its local oil and gas
industry, a market that creates a number of niches that entrepreneurs can exploit. This
ensures a steady supply of new entrepreneurs and investors and provides a foundation for
new firms to develop capabilities and products that can be sold first within the local econ-
omy before venturing further afield. This market attracts a number of highly skilled
Table 6
Characteristics of Interviewed Firms
Firm Outcomes—2011 through 2015 Calgary Waterloo
Still in business—No major changes 18 (64%) 12 (52%)
Acquired 4 (14%) 2 (9%)
Received venture capital investment 1 (4%) 3 (13%)
No longer trading—no further entrepreneurial activity 4 (14%) 3 (13%)
No longer trading—continued entrepreneurial activity/serial entrepreneurship 1 (4%) 3 (13%)
June, 2015 17
workers to the region, though the higher wages offered by the major resource firms create
challenges for entrepreneurs to hire enough workers. However, the economic and cultural
structures of this industry have resulted in sparser connections between other ecosystem
attributes. For example, the lowered importance of entrepreneurship as a lifestyle has led
to fewer network connections between entrepreneurs for the purpose of developing new
business skills and to lower participation in entrepreneurship programs.
Studying the interplay among cultural, social, and material attributes is key to under-
standing the larger role of entrepreneurial ecosystems within regional economies. An
entrepreneurial ecosystem is not simply a region with high rates of entrepreneurship; this
mistakes the effect for the cause. Instead, ecosystems are defined by the connections
between the attributes that produce them and the benefits they provide to entrepreneurs.
These benefits and relationships can differ between regions. Calgary’s overall ecosystem
has weaker ties between its attributes, but the power of its primary material attribute, the
local oil and gas market, acts as the central point for the ecosystem’s development and
reproduction. Waterloo’s ecosystem lacks the powerful local market that creates opportu-
nities for new entrepreneurs but instead depends on tight linkages among its cultural,
social, and material attributes.
This relational perspective of cultural, social, and material attributes makes three
contributions to the study of entrepreneurial ecosystems and the geography of entrepre-
neurship more broadly. First is the identification of various categories of attributes that
Figure 2
Relationships Among Ecosystem Attributes in Calgary and Waterloo, Canada
constitute an ecosystem. This provides a framework for future research methodologies
that can analyze and compare entrepreneurial ecosystems to reveal the different ways
in which they emerge, change over time, and influence the entrepreneurship process.
Second, it provides for an expanded view of entrepreneurial ecosystems that acknowl-
edges that there are numerous different ways these attributes can be configured. This
creates the need for a more nuanced understanding of entrepreneurial ecosystems that
takes into account local specificities. Finally, the importance of relationships between
different attributes demonstrates that new material attributes such as entrepreneurial
support organizations, state-financed startup investment schemes, or new university
technology and knowledge transfer programs are unlikely to succeed if they are not
underpinned by complementary social and cultural attributes. Regional entrepreneurial
policy, therefore, should focus on building underlying support for these new programs
rather than expecting the programs themselves to create entrepreneurial cultures and
As research on entrepreneurial ecosystems continues to develop, there is a need for
theoretical frameworks to understand the processes through which ecosystems emerge,
change, and influence the activities of entrepreneurial actors. Without this framework,
research on ecosystems risks devolving into simple description of successful regions
without any claim to more generalizable findings about the ecosystem’s internal
dynamics or its role in economic development. Identifying the attributes of entrepre-
neurial ecosystems and their relationships is the first part of a much broader research
agenda. There is also a need for a dynamic perspective that seeks to understand how the
structure and influence of ecosystems change over time in response to both external
economic and social shocks as well to internal changes, such as entrepreneurial suc-
cesses or the concerted philanthropic or organizational efforts of a few “ecosystem
entrepreneurs.” At the same time, researchers must develop metrics that can be used to
identify the presence of the ecosystem attributes discussed in this article and compare
them between different regions. While some metrics, such as startup rates, venture cap-
ital investment, and the size of entrepreneurial exits are readily available, gathering
comparable data on cultural outlooks or the effectiveness of social networks is much
more difficult. These research developments will provide both a more nuanced and rig-
orous understanding of how entrepreneurial ecosystems affect the entrepreneurship
process and will also enable more precise and reliable policy recommendations to
strengthen existing ecosystems and develop successful ecosystems in regions without
histories of successful entrepreneurial growth.
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... The main insight of the chapter is that CE entrepreneurs who embrace the assistance of their local ecosystems supplement their personal and digital resources with place-based resources, which enables them to create business models, processes, and products that contribute to the circular economy. Specifically, the chapter explains how CE entrepreneurs leverage the place-based social, cultural, and material attributes of entrepreneurial ecosystems (Spigel, 2017), such as local networks, events, values, and resource providers, to improve their needfinding, idea generation, and idea testing activities, and, in turn, the circularity of their manufacturing (Elsbach and Stigliani, 2018;Geissdoerfer et al., 2016). Entrepreneurial ecosystem-enhanced design thinking is an approach CE entrepreneurs can use in conjunction with digital ecosystems and platforms to fine-tune and refine their sustainable manufacturing processes. ...
... An intuitive framework for organizing entrepreneurial ecosystem attributes was identified and developed by Spigel (2017) who proposed three categories: social, cultural, and material attributes. Subsequent studies have confirmed and refined the social-cultural-material attributes framework (Loots et al., 2021). ...
... An entrepreneurial ecosystem's social attributes create relational resources from the interdependence of ecosystem participants (Spigel, 2017). Entrepreneurs accrue relational resources by becoming embedded in an ecosystem's networks (Neumeyer & Santos, 2018;Pittz et al., 2021). ...
Circular economy (CE) entrepreneurs pursue opportunities to replace the linear “take-make-use-dispose” manufacturing model with innovative business models aimed at reducing, reusing, recycling, and recovering materials. Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that is synergistic with CE entrepreneurship and helps entrepreneurs create effective solutions to manufacturing problems. However, the design thinking approach is not without costs and may require resources that entrepreneurs do not possess. This chapter explains how CE entrepreneurs utilize entrepreneurial ecosystems—the interconnected actors and forces in local communities that support entrepreneurship—in the design thinking process. To address the resource challenges of CE entrepreneurs, the concept of “entrepreneurial ecosystem-enhanced design thinking” is proposed and a conceptual framework is developed which explains how entrepreneurs augment their use of digital ecosystems and platforms by leveraging local startup communities. The framework contributes to the burgeoning research stream at the intersection of entrepreneurial ecosystems, digital ecosystems, and platforms and also has practical implications for circular economy entrepreneurs.
... The multi-, trans-, cross-disciplinary nature refers to the several origins of this concept deriving from biology, economy, geography, management, entrepreneurship etc. Hence, researchers from different disciplines have been interested in examining various types of ecosystems from different lens and perspectives including the configurations approaches (Spigel, 2017), network approach (Scott et al., 2022, Fernandes & Ferreira, 2022Neumeyer & Santos, 2018); system approaches (Stam & Van de Ven, 2021;Roundy et al., 2018), process-based approaches (Spigel and Harrison, 2018), institutional approaches (Cloitre et al., 2022), multi-level approaches (Theodoraki & Messeghem, 2017), or even ecosystem as a method (Theodoraki, 2020;van Rijnsoever, 2022). ...
... configurational approach of Spigel (2017) that supports that the entrepreneurial ecosystem is composed of three main categories of attributes: i) material attributes (including the contextual setting and specificities of places such as the legal assets, the knowledge-based institutions, the infrastructure, the local economic fabric and the support services), ii) social attributes (including the human, social, and financial capital within the structural setting, such as the networks of actors and role models that inspire the next generations of entrepreneurship leaders, the pool of worker talents, and the investment capital that constitute a rare and fundamental resource for the well-functioning of the entrepreneurial ecosystem) and iii) cultural attributes (including the intangible elements that facilitates the dynamic interactions within the ecosystem such as a supportive entrepreneurial culture or the history of entrepreneurship that enable the success stories and narratives shared by the ecosystem members). ...
... The relational dimension is characterized by the norms, obligations, trust, and member identification. Prior research highlighted the need for formal and information rules that are necessary to conform the well-functioning of the established relationships (Spigel, 2017). While both formal and informal rules are necessary to set up the ecosystem, its success depends on its ability to find the "right" balance to maintain the agility and flexibility between written and unwritten rules. ...
While entrepreneurship has traditionally been studied from the perspective of the entrepreneur or entrepreneurial enterprise, a modern view emphasizes the importance of the context in which the entrepreneur or enterprise operates. From this perspective, the entrepreneurial ecosystem describes the entrepreneurial context by disentangling the complex interdependent interactions between various organizations (biocenosis) and the milieu/environment in which the entrepreneur or company operates (biotope). However, previous research has neglected to provide a holistic view of the complex dynamics of ecosystems. In response, this HDR thesis develops the state of the art of this emerging theoretical framework, identifies research gaps that require further investigation, and designs a research program (i.e. the BEES program, Building Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Sustainably) to provide concrete directions for the development of entrepreneurial companies. This program contributes i) to the theorization of the entrepreneurial ecosystems theoretical current through a holistic vision; ii) to a better understanding of the complex strategic dynamics and behaviors in this context; iii) and to its successful adaptation and implementation in different contexts. The CEED program facilitates the adoption of an ecosystem approach to building an entrepreneurial society and provides the impetus for the construction of a new school of scientific thought based on the ecosystem approach.
... In contrast, there is a gap in the literature on combined analysis of the role of individual and organizational drivers of entrepreneurial activity such as the adoption of new technologies, access to resources, investment in internal capabilities and external knowledge collaboration (Audretsch & Belitski, 2020a, and macroeconomic, institutional drivers such as formal and informal institutions (Stenholm et al., 2013;Audretsch et al., 2019a;Khlystova et al., 2022). Altogether a combination of individual and institutional and ecosystem factors (Spigel, 2017) embrace entrepreneurial decision-making and enable the sustainable transformation of entrepreneurial activity at the different stages of entrepreneurial growth (Van der Zwan et al., 2013). Moreover, we argue that the contextual influences such as the transformation of the digital landscape and the introduction of novel digital technologies, allowed for new opportunities identification and creation by entrepreneurs (Bryniolfsson & McAfee, 2014;European Commission, 2017). ...
... Third, distinguishing between the individual and the contextual factors, such as entrepreneurial firm and manager characteristics as well as the framework conditions of digital entrepreneurial ecosystems (Sussan & Acs, 2017;Audretsch & Belitski, 2017;Spigel, 2017), this special issue focuses on variation in entrepreneurial and knowledge capital and demonstrates how it changes entrepreneurial strategy for growth, innovation and value creation at different stages of entrepreneurship. ...
... As entrepreneurs grow their business exploration activities are replaced by exploitation, with entrepreneurs entering a routinized regime of doing business (Agarwal & Audretsch, 2001), changing Schumpeterian to Kirznerian perspectives of entrepreneurial activity and cognition (Kirzner, 1989). The role of new digital technologies at this stage is to enhance absorptive capacity and dynamic capabilities (Zahra & George, 2002), further connecting to entrepreneurial ecosystems agents and improve efficirency of data collection, management and transfer (Feld, 2012;Spigel, 2017;Cantner et al., 2021). Over time, entrepreneurial activity focuses on technologies through which economic and societal value can be created, with digital technology addressing such questions as how, when, and which technology should be adopted by entrepreneurs to facilitate their entrepreneurial journey, maximize returns to technology adoption and facilitate growth . ...
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A robust literature has provided compelling evidence showing how digital transformation impacts entrepreneurship activity. However, only a paucity of research has linked adoption of new technologies to innovation, value creation, knowledge transfer and performance across different stages of the entrepreneurial growth continuum. This special issue fills this gap in the literature by focusing on if, how and why adoption of digital technologies and embeddedness in the digital entrepreneurial ecosystem enhances innovative activity and firm performance during the early and later stages of market entry. In particular, this special issue examines how digital transformation facilitates entrepreneurial, innovation, and social outputs along the entrepreneurial journey as well as why and how digital technologies may facilitate the interaction between economic agents and re-combination of internal resources and capabilities with those available externally. In doing so, this special issue unpacks a nuanced relationship between the diversity of new technologies and knowledge, their suitability and applicability for entrepreneurship and at different growth stages. This study offers policy implications and future research roadmap.
... A number of models offer theoretical explanation for entrepreneurial ecosystems. Among the main ones, Spigel's (2017) presents ecosystems as a set of cultural, social and material attributes that sustain and reinforce each other. Nicotra et al. (2018) argue that EEs are composed of financial, institutional, knowledge, and social capitals that provide appropriate variables and data sources for measuring and configuring EEs. ...
... These six dimensions point to the elements an EE must have to facilitate the thriving of startups. However, every single EE is peculiar and the level of idiosyncrasies is high (Spigel, 2017). Although most good practices may be similar among ecosystems, a final model, suitable for all situations, does not exist. ...
... Among the types of failures for startups, the most common in the absence of funding. Bankruptcy occurs when the funding is not sufficient to maintain the startup operations (Spigel, 2017), limiting the capacity of operation and consequently jeopardizing businesses survival (Kshetri, 2014). Therefore, in the Finance domain, lack of funding may lead a startup to insolvency and cause its early death (Cantamessa et al., 2018;Schwarzkopf, 2016). ...
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Objective: Entrepreneurs are responsible for innovation, but they do not act in the vacuum, the greater the support for their action, the improve the chances of success. Startups - technology-based companies with high potential for growth and impact - are associated with the existence of entrepreneurial ecosystems that facilitate entrepreneurial action. This paper goal is to provide evidence that help to explain why startups fail in an emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem. Method: We perform exploratory research in which entrepreneurs whose startups failed in the emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem of Porto Alegre, Brazil, were interviewed. We complement the analysis with the collection of secondary data. Results: Building on Isenberg’s (2011) six domains, we generate ideas on how each of them in emergent entrepreneurial ecosystem may influence startup mortality. Our results indicate that emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem could be much better in avoiding the premature failure of startups. Policy and Finance are the most problematic domains, while culture, support, and markets are the three middle-ground dimensions. These last three need improvement, but they are not as critical as the first two. Contributions: This paper contributes to the entrepreneurial ecosystems literature by exploring how emergent ecosystems contribute for discontinuity of promising startups. Originality: Besides entrepreneurial mistakes, problems that are out of the entrepreneur control can also cause a venture's death (Cardon et al., 2011). Building on this, we use Isenberg's (2010; 2011) model for understanding the influence of the entrepreneurial ecosystem on the circumstances that entrepreneurs faced that determined their startup failure (Jenkins & McKelvie, 2016). Social Contributions: by better understanding why startups fail in emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems, we support policymakers in their focus on possible improvements of the features that seem most relevant to entrepreneurs. The public agents can then work to provide a better environment for future entrepreneurial endeavors.
... Depending on the ecosystem, this may be due to a lack of community trust or cultural perspectives that punish failure and discourage intensive networking between entrepreneurs and other actors. As a result, entrepreneurs may find it challenging to sustain or re-enter the entrepreneurial ecosystem after an episode of failure (Spigel, 2017). ...
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Drawing on entrepreneurial cognition and experiential learning theories, this article explores the complexities of entrepreneurial learning from business failure and its reflections on the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Qualitative research was conducted through individual in-depth interviews and focus groups, and data were subjected to content analysis using NVivo software. The analysed data relate the nature of the failure to its reflections on entrepreneurial learning and the most relevant contents used in the resurgence of the entrepreneur. How the entrepreneurial ecosystem absorbs and recycles learning from failure impacting new business creation was analysed. This study explored emerging economies’ themes based on the triangulation of data from startups from different industries and maturity levels from the perspective of founding partners, directors and employees and incubator and accelerator managers. The article offers a vision of entrepreneurial learning due to exceptional failure. The results presented in this paper demonstrate that learning from a critical event profoundly impacts the performance of entrepreneurial ecosystems and influences their vocation and the accession of new ventures to the industries analysed. These results encourage research in areas such as learning to model or replicating the proposed approach in other ecosystems. In practical terms, the findings can support policymakers in identifying localised factors that can be leveraged to produce macro-level change by identifying appropriate incentives for social networks and experiential knowledge sharing. The article presents a new perspective on entrepreneurial learning. It offers evidence that micro-learning strategies adopted and developed after critical events impact the performance of the entrepreneurial ecosystem related to the creation and diffusion of new ventures.
... Para más información consultar Spigel (2017). 23 ...
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El Proyecto Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, GEM CAPV 2021-2022, realiza un diagnóstico de la actividad emprendedora en la Comunidad Autónoma del País Vasco. Para ello, este informe analiza la actividad emprendedora en dicha región comparándola con la de otros países y regiones estatales.
Girişimcilik alanındaki çalışmalarda 2000’li yıllardan itibaren hâkim hale gelen girişimcilik ekosistemi yaklaşımı girişimciliği bireysel ya da firma düzeyinde ele almak yerine ülkelerin içinde bulundukları ekonomik, sosyal, siyasi ve kültürel koşulları dikkate alarak kapsayıcı ve bütüncül bir perspektifi benimsemektedir. Girişimciliğin desteklenmesi yoluyla üretimin, istihdamın ve toplam refahın artırılması günümüzde çok daha önemli hale gelmiştir. Bu çalışma, girişimcilik ekosistemi yaklaşımını açıklayarak, girişimcilik ekosisteminin ölçülmesinde kullanılan Küresel Girişimcilik Endeksi ve ülkelerin girişimcilik profillerini ortaya koyan Küresel Girişimcilik Monitörü verisine ve literatürdeki çalışmalara dayalı olarak Türkiye’de girişimciliğin güçlü ve zayıf yönlerini ortaya koymayı amaçlamaktadır. Yapılan değerlendirme sonucunda, dinamik piyasa koşulları, teknolojiye yatkınlık, iş beklentisi yüksek işletmelerin varlığı, başlangıç becerilerine sahip olduğunu düşünen insanların oranı Türkiye’nin görece güçlü yönleri olarak öne çıkmaktadır. Bununla birlikte, risk alma, fırsat algısı, kültürel destek, rekabet koşulları, beşerî sermaye, uluslararasılaşma ve süreç yeniliği Türkiye’nin görece zayıf kaldığı ve geliştirilmesi gereken alanlardır.
The entrepreneurial ecosystem literature paid little attention to policies' effects on the evolution of the regional ecosystem. Scholars underlined the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and how different actors affect its dynamics. However, no study focused on the dynamic role and different types of policies in an entrepreneurial ecosystem that evolves or changes. This chapter aims to fill this gap by highlighting the policy directions in addressing regional entrepreneurial ecosystem development. The author presents the results of the thematic content analysis exploring the regional operational programme of three Italian regions - Lombardy, Campania, and Calabria - representative of different development levels. Taking evidence from the analysis, implementing a specific policy direction indicates the entrepreneurial ecosystem stage covered by each region. Results highlight measures employed at different stages of the entrepreneurial ecosystem - nascent, strengthening, and resilient - and identify three policy directions: recovery, reinforcing, and shooting.
The extant theory posits that ethno-racial diversity promotes entrepreneurship by increasing the novelty of information and perspectives available for recombination in a region. This view presupposes the flow of novel information among potential entrepreneurs. Yet, we know comparatively little about how regional social structures (e.g., collective social capital) that affect information flows condition this relationship. We build on the sociological literature to theorize how the interplay between collective social capital and residential segregation moderates the relationship between ethno-racial diversity and entrepreneurship. We test, and find empirical support for, our hypotheses among all registered new ventures started in the United States between 1990 and 2018.
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A presente pesquisa teve como objetivo analisar o ecossistema de inovação do estado de Santa Catarina, a partir do confronto da literatura científica e dos resultados da pesquisa empírica. Na metodologia qualitativa, buscou-se um protocolo de estudo de caso, a partir de uma amostra não probabilística por cotas. Como fontes de evidências foram realizadas entrevistas semiestruturadas, observação não participante, análise de documentos, registro em arquivos e artefatos físicos. Para o embasamento teórico, foi realizada uma revisão sistemática do conceito, atores e casos de ecossistema de inovação a partir da análise de publicações na base de dados da Web of Science. Como técnica de pesquisa, utilizou-se a análise de conteúdo com o auxílio do software Nvivo 12 licenciado para analisar todo o conteúdo investigado. Observa-se que Santa Catarina tem um ecossistema de inovação maduro e pulverizado entre os seus 295 municípios. É um ambiente com intenso desenvolvimento de inovação e tecnologia, onde despontam atores, tais como, a Associação Catarinense de Tecnologia (ACATE), o Sistema S, a Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC), o Parque Sapiens, o Governo de Santa Catarina e outros atores de inovação espalhados por vários municípios. A conexão do ecossistema de Santa Catarina, está muito atrelada aos seus 13 polos de inovação, que são responsáveis por interligar as diversas regiões geográficas. Palavras-chave: Empreendedorismo. Habitats de Inovação. Conexão. Inovação. Santa Catarina.
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The formation of new businesses can be conceptualized as a function of opportunity structures and motivated entrepreneurs with access to resources. On the demand side, opportunity structures contain the environmental resources that can be exploited by new businesses as they seek to carve out niches for themselves. On the supply side, motivated entrepreneurs need access to capital and other resources so that they can take advantage of perceived opportunities. A cursory examination of this formulation reveals two essential issues that research on entrepreneurship must address: (1) Entrepreneurship is a process and must be viewed in dynamic terms rather than in cross-sectional snapshots; and (2) entrepreneurship requires linkages or relations between key components of the process.
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"'... it is my view that this book gives a very important contribution for the understanding of development of local entrepreneurship, through its cross-disciplinary approach. I see the book is especially interesting from an entrepreneurship and a regional development perspective... this book should inspire research that takes a more holistic approach using different levels of analysis and applies it to economic development at a local/territorial level, when studying entrepreneurship.' - Einar Lier Madsen, International Small Business Journal".
'. . . likely to prove exceptionally valuable for researchers in this area and as a reference for those briefing policymakers. . . essential reading for those joining technology transfer offices, particularly in the USA, and for many who are there already. It will clearly give would-be academic entrepreneurs a feel for the terrain and some clue to the causes of success or failure.' Robert Handscombe, R&D Management