The Question of Ecosystems

Entrepreneurship reflections from the UK. From early June through until late August the ECIC Academic Director for post graduate Innovation and Entrepreneurship programs, Allan O’Connor, will be on study leave. During his time away (mainly at the University of Edinburgh, UK), he will from time to time post observations, challenges, new insights and reflections encountered across his travels.

The Question of Ecosystems

Work has started in earnest. After a week of travelling which included a pit stop in London (another story another time) and finding my way around Edinburgh – the University, the office, the bank, the bus stops, the pubs – doing all the things one needs to do to get settled into a new place of abode – stocking the fridge, cupboard and bar, not necessarily in order of priority – the time has come to get down and serious.

 On the back of asking the question on whether entrepreneurship is a business discipline (see June 13, 2011 post), conversations with my Edinburgh colleagues about the intended business incubation research raised the question of where and how business incubation fits into the ecosystem. What is the role of a university business incubator in a regional economy? Is it meaningful in the context of stimulating economic development? How does it interact and add value to other institutional forms? All good questions for entrepreneurship research in my view.

The idea of ecosystem research is borrowed from the biological sciences and the study of interactions between living organisms and the physical environment in a particular area (see Wikipedia on ecosystems). Interestingly, my very brief and naive look at this field of study reveals some similar characteristics with the field of entrepreneurship. The study of biological ecosystems deals with both the dynamics and preservation of a particular ecology just as entrepreneurship deals with ‘creative destruction’ coined by Schumpeter. It distinguishes levels of analysis between the ecosystem and the species, of which there are many contributors to the ecosystem acting individually as well as collectively, just as we distinguish between individual, firm and regional levels of analysis. Ecological systems, just like entrepreneurship (systems) have always existed and the research involves understanding how they work, why they work, what causes systemic change and what is the consequence of change; these questions are not dissimilar to those we are challenged by in entrepreneurship.

The borrowed analogy of an ecosystem offers a worthwhile perspective. It reinforces the idea that entrepreneurship research is distinct to business research and it highlights the duality of the forces for continuity and evolution. For the collaborative research kick-off in Edinburgh it provides a useful and informative backdrop that contextualises why this research has relevance and significance to practitioners, policy-makers and other researchers.

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