Values and Entrepreneurship in the Sustainable Society

Audretsch D., Fiedler A., Belitski M., Meurer M.

Small Business Economics

Submission deadline: 2023/12/30

Guest Editors

sej cover

David Audretsch, Indiana University
Antje Fiedler, University of Auckland
Maksim Belitski, University of Reading
Madeleine Meurer, Jönköping University

Call for papers

This special issue seeks a better understanding of how an increased emphasis on sustainability, as a contextual condition, shapes entrepreneurship. Societies undergo major value shifts by placing more emphasis on social and sustainable goals. Values shift on the macro-, meso-, and micro-levels. Such shifts enable entrepreneurial innovation based on values rather than technology, and entrepreneurship can actively contribute to the societal value shift. This shift shapes how opportunities can be pursued and by whom; how firms compete and collaborate; how knowledge about sustainable opportunities might travel between them; and the aspirations, motivations, and goals of individuals. It is a shift that shapes the availability of human, financial and entrepreneurial resources. We welcome conceptual and empirical contributions from diverse disciplines to explore how entrepreneurs disrupt markets through value-oriented innovation, how they shape their context, and how various stakeholders or environmental changes may facilitate or hinder the emergence of value-oriented entrepreneurial activities. By exploring these topics, this special issue aims to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the intersection between societal values, sustainability, and entrepreneurship.

Relevance and Novelty

Every few generations, a paradigm shift fundamentally alters societal values (Drucker, 1993). At present, such a shift is underway towards a more sustainable society. This transformation entails a fairer distribution of wealth across nations and more equal opportunities within societies and markets (Shannon, 2019). In response to heightened awareness of issues such as inequality, social exclusion, and climate change, societies are seeking a new balance between economic, 2 environmental, and social goals (Bapuji et al., 2018; Jacobs & Mazzucato, 2016). The value shift acts as an exogenous force that disrupts markets and catalyzes other macro-environmental changes, such as regulations and cultural norms, which can serve as external enablers for the creation of value-oriented sustainable entrepreneurial activities (Davidsson et al., 2020).

Despite recent progress, the field of sustainable entrepreneurship is still emerging (Volkmann et al., 2021). Studies have advanced our understanding of the antecedents and market-level outcomes of green start-ups (Demirel et al., 2019), as well as how entrepreneurial ecosystems transition toward more sustainable opportunities (DiVito & Ingen-Housz, 2021; O’Shea, Farny & Hakala, 2021; Audretsch, Belitski & Guerrero, 2023), such as the sharing economy (Pankov, Velamuri & Schneckenberg, 2021) or the circular economy (Harlin & Berglund, 2021). Nonetheless, while the opportunities for values-based entrepreneurship have widened, specific barriers to sustain these ventures and to stay true to the entrepreneurs’ desired values in the face of competitive pressures remain (Ball & Kittler, 2019; O’Neil & Ucbasaran, 2016).

The increased focus on sustainability opens a wider range of opportunities for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship can serve as a catalyst for promoting and embedding new societal values (Calás et al., 2009). Entrepreneurs may challenge the value creation of legacy firms by offering goods, services and ways of production that are more congruent with societal values, as they have more freedom to shape market niches and new business models (Hockerts & Wüstenhagen, 2010; Bohnsack et al., 2014). Therefore, value-oriented sustainable entrepreneurial activities not only benefit from the current social value shifts but also actively contribute to their development and consolidation (Hoogendoorn et al., 2019). However, powerful legacy firms may also hinder the transition towards more sustainable solutions as their legacy investment becomes threatened (Audretsch & Fiedler, 2022b). The speed and scope of the transformation toward a more sustainable society will vary depending on how actors, including entrepreneurs and legacy firms, and institutions, such as Universities (Wagner et al., 2021), might support or oppose it.

This special issue will explore how an increased emphasis on sustainability, as a contextual condition, shapes entrepreneurship.

Research areas

For this special issue of Small Business Economics (SBEJ), we seek contributions that focus on the relationship between sustainability, entrepreneurship, and societal value shifts. We invite contributions from various perspectives on the role of entrepreneurship in the transition to a more sustainable entrepreneurial society, as well as how their ventures are affected by market competition and policies. In this call, we identify four key research areas:

(1) Trade-offs between economic, social, and environmental value

There are implicit trade-offs in achieving economic, social and ecological value, creating barriers for entrepreneurs to solve pressing societal challenges. While the funding landscape is changing, and ESG capital is becoming increasingly available, there is still a significant challenge in acquiring funding and resources due to the mixed objectives that need to be fulfilled (Penz et al., 2022; Parhankangas & Renko, 2017). Investors and funding agencies may prioritize one goal over another, leading to a lack of support for ventures that seek to balance all three objectives (Bacq & Janssen, 2011). More specifically, minority and necessity entrepreneurs may struggle to align with the growth-oriented shareholder capitalism paradigm that still dominates many markets ( Cervelló-Royo et al., 2020). Also, while consumer values are shifting towards more sustainable products, citizens of many economies, including developed economies, are 3 increasingly struggling to make ends meet, forcing them to purchase affordable products and services over those aligned with sustainable values. Sustainability is also difficult to measure (Rashid, 2022), as it is a multi-dimensional concept that often involves trade-offs about its dimensions, such as economic growth to provide job opportunities within society and negative externalities resulting from production. Neesham, Dembek and Benkert (2023) argue that to measure sustainability appropriately, a tri-profit measure is required that integrates economic, social and environmental outcomes. Overall, key questions arise how entrepreneurs can balance trade-offs in pursuing more sustainable opportunities and addressing societal challenges.

(2) Value shifts on the micro level

As societal values continue to shift towards sustainability, investigating the micro-level factors that drive entrepreneurial activities in this domain is imperative. Exploring the aspirations, motivations, and goals of individuals involved in value-oriented sustainable entrepreneurship can offer valuable insights into the underlying mechanisms that enable or inhibit this type of entrepreneurial activity (Spence et al., 2011, Hoogendoorn et al., 2019). Moreover, studying the micro-level factors that shape value-oriented sustainable entrepreneurship can help identify the key competencies and skills necessary for success in this field (Kuckertz & Wagner, 2011; Shepherd & Patzelt, 2011). By investigating micro-level factors, researchers can gain a more nuanced understanding of the mechanisms that drive value-oriented sustainable entrepreneurship, and how their values change over time.

(3) Value shifts on the meso level

Value shifts may create new waves of creative destruction where established structures, networks and firms or other actors might be displaced by newcomers, not because of new technologies or cost structures but because of incongruity with a new value set. For instance, entrepreneurial ecosystems will increasingly support entrepreneurs that address pressing social and environmental issues, resulting in better resources access to purposeful ventures (DiVito & IngenHouz, 2021). At the same time, legacy firms may stifle entrepreneurial efforts (Audretsch & Fiedler, 2022a), ), or venture themselves into small niches enabled by the values shift. Succinctly put, the values shift affects how actors envisage the future, and how they interact. Therefore, it is crucial to explore the meso-level dynamics that influence value-oriented sustainable entrepreneurial activities. The meso-level refers to social groups, systems and networks relevant to entrepreneurs, and structures that either enable or impede entrepreneurial activity (Audretsch et al., 2019). Additionally, understanding the role of policies and regulations in shaping the entrepreneurial environment and the institutional factors that can influence the success of sustainable entrepreneurial activities (Mazzucato, 2015) can provide insight into how to support these activities at the meso-level (Cunningham & O’Reilly, 2018).

(4) Value shifts on the macro level

In the past, institutions in Western economies have evolved to prioritise economic growth to ensure value creation for shareholders. There is now a call for governments to carefully balance economic pressures with social and ecological goals and become more involved in entrepreneurial activities. As a result, governments gain power and influence at the expense of free markets. Uncertainty remains about how shifting policies and state involvement will impact entrepreneurship and the outlook for a sustainable entrepreneurial society over time (Audretsch & Fiedler, 2022b). The shift in societal values also creates policy challenges. Policymakers are aligning institutions to address pressing issues of our time, such as climate change, inequality and equity. Policymakers seek new ways to regulate markets and incentivize sustainable business models to lay a foundation for a transition towards a more inclusive and sustainable society (Mazzucato, 2015). In this vein, investigating the macro-level factors that drive value-oriented sustainable entrepreneurial activities is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of their emergence and the broader context in which these activities take place.
Macro-level factors encompass technological, regulatory, demographic, socio-cultural, macroeconomic, political, and ecological environmental factors that have a significant impact on entrepreneurial activity (Acs et al., 2018, Welter, 2011). Macro-environmental changes can act as external enablers for entrepreneurship, facilitating the creation of new businesses that align with societal values (Davidsson et al., 2020). For example, regulatory changes that prioritize environmental sustainability can incentivize entrepreneurs to create products and services that align with those goals (Hinderer & Kuckertz, 2022). Similarly, socio-cultural and political changes, such as increased awareness of social and environmental issues, can also foster an environment in which value-oriented sustainable entrepreneurship can thrive (Bapuji et al., 2018). Hence, by investigating macro-level factors, we can develop a more comprehensive understanding of the macro-environmental changes that trigger, shape, or enhance value-oriented sustainable entrepreneurship.


For this special issue of Small Business Economics (SBEJ), we seek contributions that focus on the relationship between sustainability, entrepreneurship, and societal value shifts. The following questions could be addressed in this call, amongst others:

  • How do sustainable entrepreneurs overcome power imbalances in established markets?
  • How can they influence policy makers to stronger balance economic goals with social and environmental goals?
  • How and why do values of entrepreneurial ventures and SMEs change during different stages of venture development?
  • How different governance forms can enable entrepreneurial ventures to sustain their purpose over time?
  • What is the unique contribution of entrepreneurs and family firms, who are freer to prioritize stakeholder value over shareholder value, create social value, and in some cases, shape societal values?
  • How does entrepreneurship contribute to sustainable development goals across contexts?
  • How do green policies impact entrepreneurial ecosystems in different contexts?
  • How might policy makers support the transition to a sustainable entrepreneurial society where entrepreneurship is entrusted to address pressing societal issues of our time?
  • How do legacy firms respond to sustainable business models of entrepreneurs?
    What entrepreneurial logics, such as effectuation, or innovation frameworks, such as frugal innovation, are best suited to build and sustain values-based ventures?
  • How do different external enablers, such as new technologies, regulatory changes, social movements, or climate change, trigger, shape or enable entrepreneurship?

We invite contributions from various research methods and techniques, interdisciplinary research at the intersection of entrepreneurship, and other disciplines, such as international business, economics, political science, sociology, entrepreneurship, management, and anthropology. We welcome qualitative, quantitative, and conceptual papers. While a wide range of papers submissions are invited, including conceptual, qualitative, and quantitative empirical work, we are looking for novel theoretical and practical contributions for entrepreneurship or small business research.


  • April 30, 2023: Extended abstracts for early-stage Paper Development Workshop (PDW)
  • May 7, 2023: Decision on abstracts for early-stage PDW
  • June 15-16, 2023: Early-Stage PDW taking place at Indiana University Europe Gateway in Berlin, Germany. The guest editors will invite prospective author(s) to join the workshop (Participation either in person or virtually).
  • November 15, 2023: Deadline to submit papers for the Special Issue
  • January 30, 2024: Decisions on the first submission
  • November 30, 2024: Deadline to submit final papers
  • December 23, 2024: Final Decisions

The guest editors will manage the editorial and review process of the SBEJ Special Issue submissions. All papers will be subject to the standard referee process of Small Business Economics, and will undergo a final review by the Editorial Board after conditional acceptance by the guest editors. Submissions must be original, unpublished works that are not concurrently under review for publication elsewhere.
Submissions to the special issue should be emailed with the subject line “Values and Entrepreneurship in the Sustainable Society” to Antje Fiedler ( on or before December 30, 2023.

All submissions should conform to the SBEJ manuscript submission guidelines.


Paper Development Workshop

Abstract submission: Authors interested in participating in the PDW should submit an extended abstract (600-800 words, excluding references, figures, and tables), outlying research question, hypothesis (if applicable), method, main findings, contribution by the 30th of April 2023 here, or email them to:

Selected abstracts will be invited to join the hybrid PDW. The workshop aims to provide an opportunity to meet the guest editors and potential other contributors to the special issue and present initial ideas and research plans. The workshop will provide an opportunity to gain feedback, refine ideas, and strengthen the theoretical framing of the proposed contributions. Participation in the PDW does not guarantee publication in the special issue. Also, participation in the PDW is not a requirement to submit a paper to the special issue.