Entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial ecosystems
Edward J. Malecki
Department of Geography, The Ohio State
Edward J. Malecki, Department of Geography,
The Ohio State University Columbus, OH,
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
This paper reviews the literature, concepts, and operationalizations
of the concept of entrepreneurial ecosystems. Despite some interest
at the national level, entrepreneurship is understood to take place in
localities or, at most, regions, drawing on local resources, institutions,
and networks. Bibliometric evidence shows that usage of the term
entrepreneurial ecosystem has overtaken other concepts, such as
environments for entrepreneurship, which also highlight the mecha-
nisms, institutions, networks, and cultures that support entrepre-
neurs. This review addresses several specific topics: the choice of
scale, universities as ecosystem hubs, and how such ecosystems
evolve. This is followed by suggestions toward an agenda for future
research, placing particular attention on methodologies.
Entrepreneurship—or new firm formation—is a fundamental process of economic geography (Stam, 2007). Although
empirical research by economic geographers historically has focused on large firms as employers and as agents of
globalization, large firms typically start small and attract interest only after they become large. Perhaps partly in reac-
tion to the decline in new firms in recent decades (Decker, Haltiwanger, Jarmin, & Miranda, 2016), entrepreneurship
has not been a prominent research subject within economic geography in the United States (Mack & Qian, 2016). The
situation appears to have changed, as seen in the recent attention to entrepreneurial ecosystems—dynamic local
social, institutional, and cultural processes and actors that encourage and enhance new firm formation and growth.
Common usage of the term “ecosystem” in a social science rather than an ecological context became widespread
only after the work of Moore (1993), which highlighted the business ecosystem as the firm's external environment.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems have similarities with industrial districts, clusters, and innovation systems; entrepreneurs
and spin‐offs are present in these other frameworks but are not central as they are in entrepreneurial ecosystems
(Stam & Spigel, 2017). Acs, Stam, Audretsch, and O'Connor (2017) accordingly identify entrepreneurial ecosystems
as having developed from literatures in both business strategy and regional development.
If it is true that “there is no such thing as an innovation system without entrepreneurs” (Hekkert, Suurs, Negro,
Kuhlmann, & Smits, 2007, p. 421), then a closer focus on entrepreneurs is needed. Only the entrepreneurial regional
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution‐NonCommercial‐NoDerivs License, which permits
use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non‐commercial and no modifications or
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© 2018 The Author(s) Geography Compass © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Received: 31 July 2017 Revised: 2 November 2017 Accepted: 28 November 2017
Geography Compass. 2018;12:e12359.