Linking entrepreneurship and society: Solving current and future social challenges


Guest Editors:

David Audretsch, Indiana University ([email protected])

Sebastian Aparicio, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona ([email protected])

Mathew (Mat) Hughes, Loughborough University ([email protected])

David Urbano, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona ([email protected])


Recent and salient literature suggests that entrepreneurship is a policy and strategic vehicle that creates essential and valuable outcomes for society. As an example, the International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research (IJEBR) has published and led different articles in which social and sustainable entrepreneurial activities have been associated with resolving social challenges, including inequality, social mobility, and well-being (see, for example, Brieger & De Clercq, 2019; Muñoz et al., 2018; Urban, 2008). Although it is expected a priori that activities related to social entrepreneurship are socially oriented, there are still doubts about whether other types of entrepreneurship go beyond commercial purposes and may drive, purposefully or otherwise, productive or unproductive implications for society. For example, approaches such as Patel et al. (2021) have shown that not necessarily entrepreneurship itself, but regulations related to entrepreneurial activity, may be helpful to solve the income inequality–growth puzzle across countries. However, questions on whether fewer regulations, for instance, increase any types of entrepreneurial activities (Welter, Baker, Audretsch, & Gartner, 2017), which in turn, foster social development, are still unanswered. Hence, scholars and policymakers still need to know what factors can explain the societal and developmental orientation of entrepreneurship (Urbano, Aparicio, & Audretsch, 2019) and when entrepreneurship as a general phenomenon makes positive-sum contributions to society.


There is no doubt that many internal (i.e. business and managerial), external (i.e. institutional), and international (i.e. global) factors may explain entrepreneurial activity in its traditional sense (Landström, Harirchi, & Åström, 2012). However, current studies tend to isolate (not integrate) different antecedents and social outcomes of entrepreneurship. Shepherd and Patzelt (2020) claim call for more research exploring how entrepreneurs scale up social impacts from business and managerial perspectives. We add to this the critical importance of a concurrent societal lens. In its simplest sense, entrepreneurship should solve other people’s problems. While such a statement carries an implicit commercial aspect, commerce can bring externalities that have societal implications. Rethinking the statement from a society-first lens holds the potential to shape new insights into entrepreneurship theory and theories of the firm in its social context. For instance, scholars suggest that entrepreneurial actions can contribute to society through social initiatives (e.g. social innovation and social entrepreneurship), alleviating poverty, etc. (Verleye, Perks, Gruber, & Voets, 2019). In this regard, entrepreneurial activity can become a mechanism to generate valuable solutions for business and society (Bjørnskov & Foss, 2013; Proffitt & Spicer, 2006). Despite this provocative evidence, there are differences in the quantity and quality of entrepreneurship, mainly because certain business and societal institutions (either positively or negatively) affect entrepreneurs’ decision-making (Cuervo-Cazurra, Mudambi, & Pedersen, 2019), and, in turn, the real business and society potential of entrepreneurial activity (Bruton, Ahlstrom, & Li, 2010; Urbano et al., 2019). For example, Foss, Klein, and Bjørnskov (2019) offer a perspective that considers how different external layers (macro, industry, market, etc.) affect not only opportunity identification but also the decision-making processes that help entrepreneurs adapt to different barriers to provide solutions useful for society. Consistent with this idea, Urbano et al. (2019) show how different cultural values characterize societies that encourage entrepreneurs to accomplish outcomes beyond economic growth, represented by increased national production while either reducing the poverty level and augmenting well-being or encouraging social mobility. Despite these approaches, much more evidence is required to understand the transmission process from external factors such as institutions and the decisions of entrepreneurs through to social outcomes.


The problem escalates when considering international aspects. For example, entrepreneurs are buffeted by pressures for compliance to norms and expectations versus a commercial pressure from the parent firm to follow its practices (Hughes, Powell, Chung, & Mellahi, 2017). Thus, in sight of these pressures, when do international entrepreneurial ventures choose societal welfare as an objective or not is conditioned by the current political and social order in society and beyond. Moreover, Bapuji et al. (2020) reflect on how the global pandemic crisis has affected business and society in many ways. Although the crisis has brought institutional change (in both negative and positive ways), an entrepreneurial mindset in a broad sense has also emerged due to the slowdown of several economic sectors. Accordingly, Bapuji et al. (2020) have observed that businesses have reinvented and found new ways to deliver products and services. However, most importantly, business and society have found a way to support each other. Business and society continue to experience heightened uncertainties as the global pandemic continues. Nevertheless, society must also respond to many preexisting difficulties that predate the novel coronavirus including economic crisis, migration, climate, and natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes, hurricanes). Can entrepreneurship provide a platform for economic and societal development in the future (Williams et al., 2017)? And if not, why not?


Poorly drafted policies or ineffective governmental decisions regarding existing social problems may coerce the sort of behaviors that are not beneficial to social welfare (Jones et al., 2019). These policies (or the lack of protective ones) not only might impede a quick recovery but also originate political violence that is transferred to society. This state fragility is mostly common in developing countries (Cuervo-Cazurra et al., 2019). Internal violence originated from inequalities leaves small room for people to escape poverty traps, intrafamily conflicts, and other social issues. Thus, potential but unproductive solutions emerge. For example, Webb, Ireland, and Ketchen (2014) discuss how (unofficial) entrepreneurs make decisions outside regulations and laws in the informal economy to effect change. While capable of legitimate social interest (e.g., welfare), a societal cost also follows such activity (e.g., lost tax revenue for social investment). Alternatively, other productive entrepreneurial activities associated with immigration and gender, for instance, become an option for those living in difficult situations in international economies or local ones while contributing to the society at the same time (Urbano et al., 2019). Thus, Welter et al. (2017) invite scholars, but above all policymakers, to discuss effective strategies and policy mechanisms that embrace diversity in entrepreneurship (e.g. social, green, immigrant, international, necessity-driven, women’s, digital, grey, disabled, productive, rural, etc.), which are ultimately translated into benefits such as well-being, quality of life, and development. We encourage these studies too. They can boost regions and countries to higher socioeconomic development paths (Urbano et al., 2019). However, missing in this discussion is why some entrepreneurs favor or come to favor societal objectives in addition to economic ones and how such goals emerge (and coexist).


This special issue aims to shed light on the importance of entrepreneurship for society and help societies overcome barriers to progress and crises behind social challenges. We aim to collect and showcase exemplary empirical research, theoretical developments, and meta-analyses that use novel empirical strategies, theoretical concepts, and new data sources that advance our knowledge of those factors that (in)directly explain the emergence of entrepreneurship and its diversity for (but not limited to) social progress, sustainability, well-being, poverty alleviation, women empowerment, and the mitigation of social adversity in general. Because there is a diversity of types, measures, and quality of entrepreneurship, we are open to perspectives that combine entrepreneurship and society with views from adjacent and related fields such as public economics, business management, international business, sociology, anthropology, political science.


Possible Research Questions

* What do fields such as entrepreneurship, business studies, public economics, among others, say about entrepreneurship for socioeconomic development and social benefit?

* How do institutions shape governments’/policymakers’ decision-making to better manage entrepreneurship as a vehicle to achieving socioeconomic development and overcome social and economic crises?

* What business or managerial factors are conducive to or harmful for encouraging entrepreneurship related to economic and social outcomes?

* Is there a multilevel interplay between macro-level factors and (regional) stakeholders that explain entrepreneurship, growth, and socioeconomic development?

* What types of entrepreneurial activities do bring solutions and applications for society under uncertain environments? What effect does environmental uncertainty have for entrepreneurs in the balance between economic and societal goals? How do entrepreneurs and businesses, in general, react to mitigate such uncertainty while helping society?

* What is the response of new ventures when a state fragility exists across countries and regions? How does the social support of places aim at achieving diversity in entrepreneurship and the progress of communities’ productivity at the same time?

* How do different constructs and scales of entrepreneurial behavior vary across regions and countries? What differences in terms of socio-economic development paths do exist when assessing a variety of business, institutional, and global factors?

* How do institutions condition entrepreneurial behavior within firms for them to create commercial and social value? How quickly do entrepreneurial firms react, and through which solutions and applications for society, when institutional changes take place?

* What is deemed ‘productive’ and to whom, and how is that productivity can be grounded in business and society, rather than business or society


Submission Process and Deadlines

Publication of this special issue is planned for 2023.



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