The ecology of entrepreneurship

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Citation: Glenn R. Carroll, Olga M. Khessina (2005) The ecology of entrepreneurship. Handbook of Entrepreneurship Research (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): The ecology of entrepreneurship
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Tagged: Sociology (RSS) Organization Ecology (RSS), Entrepreneurship (RSS)


Published in the Handbook of Entrepreneurship, this chapter tries to argue for a closer relationship between entrepreneurship research and population ecology. The authors argue that because ecology is focused so strongly on the foundings of new organization, it seems like there should be space for synergistic connections which, for the most part, have not been acted on directly because the theory is focused at a level of analysis that the phenomena-focused literature has avoided, for the most part. The authors also suggest that sociological literature on ecology has simply not been very practically focused. To demonstrate the problem, the authors argue that only 2.7% of papers in the top entrepreneurship journals cited organizational ecology papers (loosely defined).

The paper sets out to offer a conceptual framework for linking the two using a core ecological observation. The idea is to view new venture success or failure as involving two rates of event occurrence: a population-level founding rate (i.e., the rate at which entrepreneurs create new organizations) and an individual organizational mortality rate. The authors argue that ecology has traditionally argued that there are two rates underlying a populations rate of founding rate: both the number of attempted foundings and the successful foundings. Historically, ecology has not unpacked this difference and only looked at successful foundings but suggested that by decomposing this rate, there is an opportunity for entrepreneurship research that also enriches ecology.

Much of the rest of the paper focuses on traditional ecological variables including age dependence, entry mode (de novo versus de alio), niche width, resource-partitioning, etc.

The paper suggests that several emerging research areas offer opportunities for ecologists studying entrepreneurship. This includes a focus on ecological effects on the transition from pre-production of an organization to the creation of a new firm. Additionally, they suggest that spin-offs that Phillips (2002) began to examine with ecological variables. They also suggest that founding in particular niche positions, identity space as a resource can provide, and social-movement type behaviors may all provide ways to link entrepreneurship research and ecology.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

At times, the chapter seems more like a literature review of population ecology aimed an audience of entrepreneurship scholars than a real attempt to bring the two literatures together. The literature review seems to largely be on ecology's terms.

Perhaps as a result, the chapter has been cited only 28 times since its publication 5 years ago.