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2013/4 (Vol. 16)

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  • DOI : 10.3917/mana.164.0362
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Bernard Haisch proposes that “Advances [in science] are made by answering questions. Discoveries are made by questioning answers” [1][1] This observation aptly relates to research on corporate entrepreneurship (CE), a body of literature that has flourished over the past three decades and has attracted a global audience. Researchers have explored the role of CE in organizational innovation, strategic renewal and rejuvenation (Guth & Ginsberg, 1990). This research has redefined organizational domains and identity, as well as developing new skills and capabilities that promote organizational evolution, rather than merely facilitating rapid adaptation to a changing environment. Connecting the fields of strategy, organizational theory and entrepreneurship, CE researchers have also explored the issues associated with companies’ exploration and exploitation activities as well as with opportunity discovery and creation (Zahra, 2008). CE research has been fundamental in revising the traditional boundaries and definitions of the field of entrepreneurship itself (Zahra & Dess, 2001).



In this paper, we take a close look at the progress CE research has made. In the spirit of Haisch’s observation, we review the progression of issues that CE researchers have tackled, the methods they have used and the accumulated findings of prior research. We also reflect on the nature of inquiry in CE research to determine whether we are asking the correct questions, correct in the sense that they will advance our collective learning and intelligence. Equally importantly, we sketch an impression of how CE research might look in a few years. As we are interested in understanding points of transition in the history of CE research, we need to go back to basics in order to better understand the territory that has been covered in this growing body of empirically-grounded research.


By necessity, our survey of the evolution of CE research does not constitute a historical account of every development that has occurred over the past 50 years. We also recognize that others might reconstruct the field and its milestones in very different ways. Furthermore, our suggestions for future research do not constitute the only paths the field should take; they are suggestions grounded in our experiences and in our preferences. Scholarly fields are not defined by the judgments and preferences of a few researchers. What we hope, however, is that our discussion here encourages and prompts others to ask, “Where are we?”, “Where are we going?” and “What is the best way to get there?” If we succeed in doing this, then we have achieved our aim for this article.



Spurred by serious concerns in the US and elsewhere over the ability of maturing large, expanding corporations to adapt to changing and volatile technological, social and competitive forces, researchers have found a shared interest in CE. Early CE research was phenomenon-driven, focusing on defining the territory and distinctiveness of the entrepreneurial activities that occur in established companies in comparison to those undertaken by individual (independent) entrepreneurs.


For years, researchers have restricted the notion of entrepreneurship to that of individuals creating and growing their own companies. This focus changed with the essay by Peterson and Berger (Peterson & Berger, 1971), “Entrepreneurship in Organizations: Evidence from the Popular Music Industry”. The two authors sought to identify the conditions in which entrepreneurship emerges and the organizational strategies adopted to contain its disruptive organizational effects. Employing Schumpeter’s (Schumpeter, 1934) definition of the term “entrepreneurship” as a novel recombination of preexisting elements, Peterson and Berger observed that, “entrepreneurship is a process variable which may be seen in the leadership roles of widely divergent historical and organizational contexts” (p. 103). One of Peterson and Berger’s seminal contributions was to link individual initiatives with organizational-level entrepreneurial activities. This important link served as a key foundation in the early study of CE but has been overlooked in the field’s recent focus on generating generalizable empirical findings. Fortunately, the intimate link between individual and firm-level CE activities has been rediscovered in the past few years by researchers seeking to unravel and investigate the micro-foundations of CE.


Despite the importance of Peterson and Berger’s work, it was the publication of Danny Miller’s (Miller, 1983) study, “The Correlates of Entrepreneurship in Three Types of Firms” that stimulated and spurred broad interest in CE research. Miller was able to show that firms can behave entrepreneurially. Miller defined CE as having three related dimensions: innovation, risk-taking and proactiveness. The fact that Miller developed standardized measures to identify CE at the firm level further accelerated empirical research in this area. Interestingly, Miller’s intention was not to define firm-level entrepreneurship per se, but to identify the means by which managers can promote firm-level entrepreneurial behavior through individual initiatives.


It is noteworthy that Covin and Selvin’s (Covin & Slevin, 1989; Covin & Slevin, 1986) extension, refinement and validation of Miller’s (1983) measures inspired a surge in empirical CE research. These validated measures, in turn, encouraged the use of mail surveys, which dominated early research into CE. Covin and Slevin’s measures connected research into CE to another important body of research that seeks to clarify a firm’s entrepreneurial orientation (EO). EO is defined as a firm’s disposition to promote and pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, whether discovered or created [2][2] Researchers often confuse CE and EO, probably because.... The widespread use of the Covin and Slevin scales, coupled with researchers’ emphasis on EO, might have led some to believe that the two research streams (CE and EO) were one and the same.


Another key point of transition in the study of CE was the work of Burgelman (Burgelman, 1983a, 1983b, 1984), who studied internal corporate venturing. Burgelman’s work identified and explicated two types of individual strategic behaviors. Induced strategic behaviors fit into the existing categories of organizations and also into familiar external environments. The structural context aims at keeping strategic behavior at operational levels in line with a firm’s current concept of strategy. Induced strategic behaviors can lead to incremental innovations. Autonomous strategic behaviors fall outside of the organization’s current concept of strategy. Burgelman (1983a: 1350) concluded that, “… autonomous strategic behavior is conceptually equivalent to entrepreneurial activity—generating new combinations of productive resources in the firm. It provides the basis for radical innovation from the perspective of the firm”.


Managing the tensions that frequently occur between autonomous strategic behavior and structural context is accomplished through “strategic context”. This is defined as the system of political mechanisms through which middle managers question current concepts of strategy and provide top management with the opportunity to retrospectively rationalize successful autonomous strategic behavior. Autonomous strategic behaviors correspond to the notion of “intrapreneurship” (Pinchot III, 1985). One of Burgelman’s main contributions, therefore, is clarifying the individual behaviors intimately associated with CE. Burgelman used a process research approach that captures “the vicious circles, paradoxes, dilemmas, and creative tensions encountered by entrepreneurial activities in organizations” (Burgelman, 1983a: 1353). Burgelman’s work also succeeds in conceptually integrating the literatures of “management/ bureaucracy” (induced strategic behaviors) and “intrapreneurship” (autonomous strategic behaviors).


Gifford Pinchot III (1985) focused on the informal activities that give birth to CE. Pinchot coined the term “intrapreneurship” to describe individual intracorporate entrepreneurship. An “intrapreneur” acts entrepreneurially in response to organizational inertia, brought about by the size, bureaucracy or strategic near-sightedness of their firm. Pinchot believed that this inertia encourages employees and middle managers to work against the existing rules of the organization to bring about change and innovation. Pinchot’s focus was on individual initiatives.


Rosabeth Moss Kanter and her team of Harvard researchers (R. Kanter, 1985; Kanter, North, Bernstein, & Williamson, 1990; R. M. Kanter, North, Richardson, Ingols, & Zolner, 1991; Kanter, Quinn, & North, 1992; Kanter & Richardson, 1991; Kanter, Richardson, North, & Morgan, 1991) adopted a methodology of multiple case studies and observed eight different companies that were engaged in strategic renewal. Her analyses showed how these firms were organized for CE activities through programs conceived to induce value creation through new ideas. Kanter identified four generic approaches that companies used to support and nurture CE: the “pure venture capital” model, where the parent company invests in external ventures; the new “venture development incubator”, where new ventures are managed as independent entities, either internally or externally; the “idea creation and transfer center”, which develops new activities and then passes them on for established operations to exploit, and the “employee project” model, which is an entrepreneurial variant of employee involvement programs. These activities focused on managing the tensions between the “mainstream” and the “newstream”.


Ian MacMillan and his colleagues also studied corporate venturing activities, focusing on understanding the criteria for successful corporate venture capital initiatives. They (MacMillan, Block, & Narashima, 1986) found that success was more likely when a joint venture was privileged in terms of resources and its access to top management and when the experience from unsuccessful ventures was maintained in the organization and reused in other venturing projects. They also found that traditional planning tools were inefficient in venturing contexts. MacMillan and Day (MacMillan & Day, 1987) examined modes of entry into the market. The experience effect, in which companies learn by doing in undertaking corporate venturing activities, was noticed in the field of corporate venture capital (Siegal, Siegal, & MacMillan, 1988). However, this effect was not always linear. For instance, those corporate venture capital investors who remained close to the firm (in their management style, compensation and decision-making activities) were less successful than those who were more independent.


The research by MacMillan and his colleagues offered important insights into different aspects of corporate venturing activities. What is remarkable about this research is the close interactions that it involved between researchers, venture capitalists and managers. These interactions not only provided important sources of data but also gave theoretical grounding to findings that have since withstood the test of time. MacMillan and his colleagues were also attentive to the challenges that managers faced in developing, evaluating and institutionalizing corporate venture activities. This attention generated interesting actionable findings that are rare in the study of CE.


Guth and Ginsberg (1990) noted a lack of consensus among researchers on what CE is. Their extensive review of the literature led them to view CE as having two dimensions. The first involves corporate venturing/innovation activities that relate to new business developments within existing firms. The second is strategic renewal, which involves the creation of new wealth through new combinations of resources (for example, refocusing a business, majorly altering methods of marketing or distribution, redirecting product development or reshaping operations). This definition has guided some subsequent empirical research (Zahra, 1991, 1996b; Zahra & Garvis, 2000).


In Table 1, we give a recap of the key contributions to early CE research. As Table 1 makes clear, the focus was on making the case for entrepreneurship as an organizational-level phenomenon, defining CE and drawing its boundaries. Most contributions were conceptual or qualitative studies, with some attention to large-scale data analysis (Covin & Slevin, 1988; MacMillan, et al., 1986; MacMillan & Day, 1987; Miller, 1983). An important distinction that some researchers (e.g., Burgelman 1983; Pinchot III, 1985) made was between formal and informal CE, which result from different forces within established companies. These formal and informal CE activities sometimes complement each other. However, on other occasions, formal and informal CE initiatives compete with and stifle each other. This important insight has not been empirically studied in the literature.

Table 1 - Main contributions of the early literature



The pace of CE research accelerated significantly in the 1990s. Throughout this period, three key themes dominated CE research: examining the performance implications of CE, documenting the antecedents and effects of CE and examining the international aspects of CE. Research during this period also shifted to quantification, using large scale databases that were developed based primarily on surveys. This research was also dominated by variance studies that sought to explain differences in the outcomes of CE. Yet, this research lacked engaged scholarship, as it was done mostly without close interactions between researchers and managers.


CE research was also conducted around the globe, though for most of the 1990-2000 period US-based research continued to dominate. Larger US public companies were the key recipients of CE research attention and privileged in terms of empirical testing. Given the predominance of mail surveys, the interplay between individual and organizational variables received less and less attention, a factor that has handicapped our understanding of the micro foundations of CE research. In Table 2, we recap the key changes that occurred in the focus of CE research during the 1990s. Next, we reflect on the key themes that dominated CE research throughout that period.

Table 2 - Key changes in the focus of CE research



Researchers have given attention to the financial payoff from CE, especially profitability and growth (Zahra, 1991, 1993, 1996b). Harms’ (in this issue) analysis of past research reveals that, on the whole, CE appears to have positive financial outcomes. However, these effects might vary under different conditions, such as the types of industries analyzed. Given that the factors that influence growth and profitability are different, it remains unclear when the pursuit of CE activities might have different implications for both variables (i.e., profitability and growth). In addition, because companies use different combinations of CE initiatives (Zahra, 1991, 1993), it would be beneficial to study how these different initiatives might influence profitability and growth. There is also the possibility that the effect of CE on performance is non-linear in nature (Zahra, 1991). Finally, some research (Zahra & Covin, 1995) has shown that there is lag between CE and financial performance. The duration of this lag might vary from one industry to the next and therefore deserves systematic empirical attention and documentation.


It is noteworthy that the bulk of the literature has focused on formal CE activities, overlooking the implications of informal CE initiatives. One study (Zahra, 1991) reported positive associations between these informal CE efforts and a company’s financial performance. The contingent nature of these effects is yet to be examined. As with financial indicators of company performance, there is a need to determine the lag effects of CE on non-financial measures and determine if these relationships are non-linear.


Researchers have also probed the effect of CE on other organizational outcomes such as learning (Yang, Narayanan, & Zahra, 2009), the sharing and creation of knowledge (Dushnitsky & Shaver, 2009) and the upgrading and development of capabilities (Zahra, Nielsen, & Bogner, 1999). Most of these research efforts are conceptual and include little empirical validation. Researchers have used organizational learning (Yang, et al., 2009), capability (Sapienza, Autio, George, & Zahra, 2006; Yiu, ChungMing, & Bruton, 2007) and resource based (Barney, 1991) views to develop their arguments about the vital role of CE in effecting these outcomes and to link them to the development of competitive advantage and successful organizational performance.



Researchers have also sought to understand the antecedents of CE, producing several studies that have focused on companies’ external contexts. These studies have explored the effects of national cultures (Hayton, George, & Zahra, 2002) and industry (Zahra, 1991, 1993, 1996) conditions on CE. Some researchers have treated industry conditions as moderators of the effect of CE on company performance (Covin, Slevin, & Covin, 1990), helping to pinpoint some of the conditions under which CE might hinder or enhance company performance.


Researchers have also paid special attention to the internal (firm-specific) antecedents of CE. For example, they have focused on the organizational structure (Covin & Slevin, 1988; Zahra, 1991), organizational culture (Zahra, 1991), incentives (Zahra, 1991) and managerial systems (Zahra, 1991) of firms. They have also looked into the effect of firms’ ownership on CE (Zahra, 1996a) and linked CE activities to firm strategy (Zahra, 1991). Much of this research has been guided by the proposition that firm-specific variables influence employees’ perceptions, attitudes and behaviors, thereby determining potential investments in (and in pursuit of) CE. Taking risks has important career implications. Proactiveness demands employee empowerment and psychological ownership. Innovation requires managerial support when employees use their creativity and apply their knowledge to address existing and complex organizational issues.


Several trends in research into the antecedents of CE in the 1990s are noteworthy. Researchers examined sets of variables (for example, environmental characteristics) without considering their configuration. This practice ignored the relationships between these sets and their dimensions. Furthermore, the literature lacked studies that delineated and tested the causal chain among these variables. This is problematic as the causal chain may change over time or under particular conditions. In reviewing the literature, it became apparent that there are very few studies that employ longitudinal designs, a shortcoming that future studies should address. Finally, although CE research sought to provide creative solutions to issues related to corporate strategy (for example, “how to define the business?” or “how to create new revenue streams?”), researchers have not followed Burgelman’s (1983) pioneering work to further refine the link between corporate strategy and CE activities. This research could be powerful in its documentation of the strategic issues associated with organizational renewal. It could also provide insights into the competitive strategies that companies use in different markets, the capabilities that they develop in order to pursue these strategies and how that mix of capabilities might change over time and under what conditions.



An important development in CE research in the 1990s was the growing interest in international issues (such as strategies) and settings. The globalization of the world economy, the formidable challenges facing leading Western multinationals, and the growing recognition of “born global” companies prompted CE scholars to pay special attention to the global arena as a fruitful research context. It is interesting that researchers working on “international entrepreneurship” have had to revise and broaden their definition of their field by adopting Miller’s (1983) conceptualization of CE.


Julian Birkinshaw (Birkinshaw, 1997) studied CE within multinational companies and their subsidiaries. His work mirrored the research conducted in the context of multi-business firms. It focused on the strategies, structures, systems, rewards and, importantly, interdepartmental relationships that could influence CE. His analyses documented the pivotal role of CE in creating new businesses. It also explained the relative power of different subsidiaries within a multinational’s portfolio and supported organizational evolution. One of the key insights of this impressive body of research is that the political economy of an organization (for example, its competition for resources) influences the extent to which different units engage in CE. Equally insightful is the finding that successful CE can influence power dynamics within a firm, thereby affecting commitment to and investment in future CE initiatives.


Zahra and Garvis (2000) made an empirical study that linked CE in international operations to companies’ overall performances. Arguing that these international operations exist in different business environments, Zahra and Garvis found that environmental characteristics significantly moderate the relationship between CE and company performance. Despite the strong interest in understanding the global challenges facing multinationals, empirical studies on international CE activities remain scarce. One of the reasons for this is the growth of research on international entrepreneurship as a separate area of scholarly inquiry, which has shifted attention away from international CE. Another is the complexity of the relationships associated with internationalization. CE activities appear to flourish in particular units but not others. Conceptual issues about the relationships between different international CE activities have also been difficult to disentangle, as noted by (Dess et al., 2003). Still, we believe these deficiencies in the literature offer important opportunities to examine variations in CE across countries and companies.


Overall, although researchers have recognized the importance of international CE, there has been limited empirical work attempting to delineate relevant and important research themes worthy of study. Research has also failed to systematically consider the differential effects of country and firm-specific variables in explaining CE in companies’ international operations. The means by which companies induce and capitalize on CE activities have also been overlooked. Researchers have also failed to recognize that many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are active in international markets and these face unique challenges from multinational companies. Lastly, researchers have overlooked the unique issues associated with company origins, such as the differences caused by being from either an emerging or an. advanced economy.

THE 2000-2012 PERIOD


Researchers have continued to study CE, following different paths. Some have studied the different activities that companies undertake to engage middle managers and promote their interest in CE (Hornsby, Kuratko, Shepherd, & Bott, 2009; Kuratko, Ireland, Covin, & Hornsby, 2005). Others have studied the effect of intellectual capital and HRM research policies on CE (Schmelter, Mauer, Börsch, & Brettel, 2010; Zhang & Jia, 2010). Still others have investigated the effects of CE on company performance in countries other than the US (Hajipour & Mas’oomi, 2012; Kemelgor, 2002; Li & Zahra, 2012). Surprisingly, most research conducted outside the US has consisted of replications and extensions of earlier studies published using data from US companies. This practice has served to homogenize findings, instead of uncovering the distinct forces at play in different national settings. This practice stands in stark contrast to the growing focus on contextualizing entrepreneurship research.



Researchers have paid greater attention to the corporate venturing dimension of CE. “Venturing” means entering new market arenas to revitalize or revise a company’s portfolio. Researchers have classified different types of venturing activities and discussed the conditions under which each can add value. They have also linked corporate venturing to strategic renewal, the process by which senior executives transform the fundamental values that guide their companies’ strategic moves.


Organizational renewal through venturing serves the dual goal of exploring opportunities in existing and new market arenas as well as stretching and levering organizational capabilities to exploit discovered or created opportunities. Venturing helps to fill gaps in a company’s capability set, expedites its strategic moves, enhances its strategic repertoire and allows it to benefit from knowledge created by and obtained from external sources. As such, venturing can complement the internal capabilities and skills of a corporation, providing a foundation for growth and profitability.


Aglaring omission in this body of research is ignoring the myriad of organizational issues with which senior managers and entrepreneurs struggle in pursuit of value creation. How should companies sequence their venturing efforts? How can they build synergy among these activities? How should managerial talent be developed in order to manage these diverse initiatives? How can senior managers induce coherence among these activities? What and under what conditions can organizations learn from their corporate venturing?



A promising development is the growing appreciation of the differences that appear to exist between independent entrepreneurs and established companies in identifying opportunities. These two groups pursue opportunities that differ in their magnitude, focus, resource requirements, potential payback and strategic implications. In one of the various studies that have focused on corporate opportunity recognition, O’Connor and Rice (O’Connor & Rice, 2001) investigated opportunity recognition in large firms. They found that, for radical innovation, the innovation had to be identified as an opportunity by different actors in the organization and through these occurrences, understanding of the opportunity was changed, ultimately by senior executives wishing to protect the innovation from the organization. To improve organizational capacity for opportunity recognition in firms with an R & D unit, O’Connor and Rice suggested that top management send signals that they are receptive to game-changing innovation, invest in organizational enablers for opportunity recognition, initiate a pilot group to sustain attention, promote and nurture informal networks and develop organizational structural mechanisms that support breakthrough innovations.


Opportunity recognition and identification is even more complicated in MNEs. The diversity of locations where subsidiaries operate can expose them to a rich array of lucrative opportunities that they can pursue individually or in collaboration with sister units. Interactions with customers, suppliers and key local stakeholders can also increase the number of potential opportunities. However, not all subsidiaries have a free hand in choosing the opportunities that they may wish to exploit. In some MNEs, these decisions are made by the headquarters and approved resource allocation follows. However, subsidiaries do enjoy considerable autonomy from their headquarters. Mahnke, Venzin, and Zahra, (Mahnke, Venzin, & Zahra, 2007) observe that the political economy of competition (between different strategic orientations and different risk preferences among managers) within these units can profoundly influence the search for and recognition of opportunities. Mahnke et al. (2007) further assert that knowledge fragmentation and information asymmetry create serious barriers to opportunity comprehension among key executives. Opportunities are like unborn children: until their birth, their identities and potential contributions are almost entirely unknown.


Some opportunities are discovered whereas others are created (Alvarez & Barney, 2007). This distinction has implications for future CE research. As Zahra (2008: 243) shows, in CE, “discovery and creation sometimes form a virtuous and dynamic cycle where entrepreneurial opportunities that have been discovered at a point in time become a platform for the creation of a myriad of additional opportunities at a later time. In turn, this sparks further discovery of varied and more lucrative opportunities”. This dynamic cycle requires empirical validation to determine where discovery inspires creation. Are there conditions under which this virtuous cycle (where discovery encourages creation) becomes a vicious cycle (where these activities stifle each other)?



As our review suggests, considerable progress has been made in the study of CE. Yet, it is also evident that findings have been fragmented. The bulk of prior research lacks theoretical grounding. Attention to the temporal, spatial and political contexts of CE activities has also been limited, thereby generating generic findings of little value for managers or scholars. The limitations of past CE research presented in the previous sections can serve as important areas for future inquiry. Still, we will focus on several areas where we can conduct fruitful CE research.



We believe a major transformation in CE research is likely to result if we focus on its role in inducing strategic variety, in the ability to develop new strategic moves by building on and harvesting the collective intelligence of organizational members through knowledge creation, absorption, sharing and utilization. When knowledge is combined with creativity and imagination, new types of skills are envisioned, developed and used to generate the variety necessary to compete successfully. When this occurs, we can observe the dynamic interplay that can occur between strategy and entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is the engine by which companies define opportunities, explore and create novelty and variety and give substance to their capabilities. Strategy focuses more on exploiting opportunities and creating value, sequencing competitive moves and defining key rivals. This dialogue between strategy and entrepreneurship keeps capabilities current and focused on pursuit of the company’s mission. This leads to our next point.



If CE centers on creating new businesses and inducing strategic variety, then the knowledge creation and exploitation processes associated with CE activities should be studied further. We need to study the kind of knowledge being created by CE. This knowledge becomes the foundation for building capabilities and inducing variety in organizations (Zahra & George, 2002). Capabilities go beyond technological skills and competencies. They include marketing, operational, managerial, cognitive and organizational capabilities. How these capabilities develop and change because of CE is an important area for future inquiry. To illustrate our point, consider the work of Newey and Zahra (2009), who examined how operating and dynamic capabilities interact through endogenously caused changes. They found that, at the operating capability level, firms ensure that new product development activities are absorptive. This learning has to be captured at the product portfolio planning level. When this learning is captured and transformed, product portfolio planning becomes a dynamic capability that reconfigures operating capabilities based on beliefs about follow-on entrepreneurial opportunities.


Capability development often requires the conversion of abstract knowledge into concrete applications. Zahra, Van de Velde and Larrañeta (Zahra, Van de Velde, & Larraneta, 2007) find that, in corporate and university spin-offs, knowledge conversion capabilities differ greatly: corporate spin-offs emphasize more than university spin-offs their embodiment and integration capabilities, their configuration and design capabilities and their conceptualizing and visioning capability. These different capabilities help to translate knowledge into prototypes that allow the development of different business applications. Some of the knowledge used in these activities resides within companies but other types of knowledge are brought from external sources, requiring the firm to develop absorptive capacity to benefit from this imported knowledge (Zahra & George, 2002). Enriching strategic variety, therefore, requires exposure to a wide range of sources of external knowledge (Larraneta, Zahra, & Gonzalez, 2012). The open innovation movement and the global network of dispersion of knowledge and innovation can enrich the variety and the quality of knowledge a firm gains externally. This knowledge can spark internal innovation and fill gaps in a company’s knowledge base.


Future CE research could help us address a number of fundamental questions. How do companies determine the types of knowledge needed to build strategic variety? Where does the knowledge come from? How do companies integrate internal and external knowledge? What is the role of knowledge integration in this regard? How do companies convert this knowledge into specific applications? Who is responsible for knowledge integration when the firm has multiple, ongoing CE initiatives? Which types of knowledge are likely to be gained from different venturing activities?



Research into the international dimensions of CE began in earnest in the late 1990s, as noted earlier. A key development that occurred in this research was the recognition that international expansion can be a form of CE (Zahra, 2003). Researchers have sought to draw heavily on literature from international business to study the scope and scale of companies’ operations and discover how they might influence CE and, in turn, organizational performance. Empirical findings reveal a significant positive relationship between internationalization and company performance, but this relationship is mediated by companies’ absorptive capacity (Zahra & Hayton, 2008). CE is important for the development of absorptive capacity, as noted earlier. The instances of learning and knowledge acquisition that occur because of (or within) CE can stretch firms’ absorptive capacity, thereby allowing them to import and creatively use knowledge in conceiving new revenue streams.


Researchers have shown an interest in understanding the nature of entrepreneurial activities that occur as a result of companies’ internationalization efforts. Most past research has examined well established, large, multinational corporations mostly from advancing economies that expanded into new markets in advanced or emerging economies. This focus has limited research attention on the role of SMEs as important players in the global economy (George, Wiklund, & Zahra, 2005). This gap persists in CE research, even in many of the studies that have been conducted using data from economies dominated by SMEs.


Another noteworthy development in CE research is its attention to emerging economies, the home of over 80 percent of the world’s population. Companies from these economies have become adept and entrepreneurial in their pursuit of markets in advanced or emerging markets. Companies from these emerging markets need to unlearn existing values and practices while learning new ones (Zahra, Abdelgawad, & Tsang, 2011). Unlearning rids these organizations of arcane and dysfunctional routines that could otherwise stifle their creativity and growth. Learning facilitates the building of new capabilities that make possible the profitable exploitation of entrepreneurial opportunities.


Clearly, researchers interested in international aspects of CE have important opportunities to conduct meaningful research and important question to try and answer. For example, how do emerging multinationals’ internationalization objectives affect how and what they unlearn as they move to developed economies? What are the effects of different opportunity types on emerging multinationals’ learning and unlearning processes as they build entrepreneurial capabilities? How do the attributes of emerging economies influence CE? Does this setting influence the rate and form of CE? How do changes in these characteristics influence CE? What does national culture play in this regard? Given that countries develop and support distinct systems of innovation, what is the role of these systems in shaping the types of CE activities? Answering these questions is likely to require a shift in research methods and design, where qualitative and process (rather than variance-type) studies play a key role.



Interest in social entrepreneurship and bottom of the pyramid strategy also offers rich opportunities for future research. Social entrepreneurs apply business models that focus on addressing important social issues while making a profit. Bottom of the pyramid strategies focus more on how well established companies can leverage their skills and capabilities in serving the poor. Some companies have focused on applying bottom of the pyramid strategies; others have focused more on the creation of social ventures. Both these alternatives offer opportunities for research to capture the range of possible social ventures, to better understand the various actions and processes which are followed to discover and exploit opportunities and to enrich our understanding of the motivations of social entrepreneurs. Zahra and colleagues (Zahra, Rawhouser, Bhawe, Neubaum, & Hayton, 2008) note that societies increasingly depend on social entrepreneurs, whether individual or corporate, to fulfill social needs left unaddressed by governments and NGOs. Zahra et al. highlight the forces leading to the globalization of social opportunities (global wealth disparity, the Corporate Social Responsibility movement, market, institutional and state failure, and technological advances and shared responsibility) and define five attributes that define social opportunities (prevalence, relevance, urgency, accessibility and radicalness). Nonetheless, important questions remain: what heuristics do social entrepreneurs apply to expedite their ventures’ internationalization decisions? Do social ventures, especially those created by large corporations that operate internationally, have to employ innovative organizational structures and business models? Do they need to employ cooperatives strategies and connect with different sources of funds around the globe? Why do some internationalize earlier than others? Understanding these issues can help us better appreciate the sources of heterogeneity in companies’ CE activities and, as a result, their strategies.



More and more, the idea of competition as defined by physical or digital dimensions (time, space or resources) is being replaced by an idea defined by the opportunities, challenges, core competences, capabilities and constantly changing competitive arenas of firms. This encompasses the global networks and ecosystems in which firms operate. Zahra and Nambishan (Zahra & Nambisan, 2012) explore the dynamic interplay between entrepreneurship and strategic thinking in different types of business ecosystems and discuss how that interplay affects the ways companies compete. They identify four models of ecosystems (termed Orchestra, Creative Bazaar, Jam Central, and MOD Station) that differ in terms of the nature of the innovation spaces they inhabit and the nature of their governance of independent new ventures, corporate ventures and established companies. This raises several questions for future research. For instance: how can CE activities foster adaptations to and within these systems? How can CE activities foster moves that can change the system (to change the competitive arena, alter the rules of the game and redefine competitors)? Can CE and venturing activities be used creatively to redraw an industry’s ecosystems and the relationships that might exist in them?



Micro foundations refer to individual cognitions, attitudes, beliefs, motivations and behaviors that create and influence macro structures (for example, firms, organizations, markets and networks) and other social economic activities (Van de Ven, 2007). Micro-processes (Teece, 2007), which have been overlooked in entrepreneurship research (Santos & Eisenhardt, 2009), recognize that economic action arises from their situated cognitions, as expressions of their beliefs (Nonaka & von Krogh, 2009). Examining these variables could serve future CE research by highlighting the role of agency (Dew, Read, Sarasvathy, & Wiltbank, 2008) and reclaiming the centrality of the entrepreneur. Studying micro foundations also underscores the importance of studying the research setting. For example, why does the behavior of certain individuals influence group behavior? How can group behavior influence an organization?



Over the past 50 years, research on CE has flourished and become increasingly global in scale. This research has the potential to inform our theories on organizational adaptation and transformation. The lack of theory and the tendency to ignore the context of CE activities raises questions about the contributions that this research has made. Though selective in focus, our review serves to highlight areas requiring close examination for future studies. The review also draws attention to the many intermediate outcomes of CE such as learning, adaptation, capability building and the facilitating of organizational evolution. By paying closer attention to context and studying micro-foundational issues, more informative and relevant research could be carried out and shape theory building and testing on CE and its various dimensions.


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Researchers often confuse CE and EO, probably because they use the measures developed by Miller to define CE. We believe that this has confused prior findings. In this article we treat the two as distinct constructs. EO reflects a firm’s disposition to become entrepreneurial in its operations. CE refers to the gamut of informal and formal activities the firm actually undertakes in identifying, evaluating and exploiting opportunities through internal (e.g., the creation of new venture units) and external (e.g., alliances) means.

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