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Social entrepreneurship: Theoretical antecedents and empirical analysis of entrepreneurial processes and outcomes

Eleanor Shaw (Department of Marketing, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)
Sara Carter (Centre for Entrepreneurship, Department of Management and Organization, Faculty of Management, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK)

Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development

ISSN: 1462-6004

Article publication date: 14 August 2007




The purpose of this paper is to address the emerging practice of social entrepreneurship by exploring the historical and theoretical antecedents of social enterprise and its contemporary practice. By exploring key theoretical concepts, the paper draws comparisons between “for‐profit” and social entrepreneurs. The paper seeks to discuss the contemporary practice of social entrepreneurship. Discussion of the theory of entrepreneurship and contemporary practice of social entrepreneurs seeks to create a more nuanced view of social entrepreneurship and develop greater theoretical insights into this phenomenon and its recent expansion.


A phenomenological research approach was adopted, and 80 in‐depth interviews with social entrepreneurs from across the UK identified as the most appropriate data collection tool. Data analysis sought to identify and understand similarities between the more understood and studied behaviour of “profit‐seeking” entrepreneurs and those of an emerging group of social entrepreneurs.


In‐depth interviews revealed five key themes within which the practice of social entrepreneurship could be compared and contrasted with for‐profit entrepreneurship. These included: the entrepreneurial process, in particular, opportunity recognition; network embeddedness; the nature of financial risk and profit; the role of individual versus collective action in managing and structuring enterprises; and creativity and innovation.

Practical implications

Findings suggest that while the contemporary practices of social enterprises share many similarities with their for‐profit counterparts, significant differences can be found when comparing these practices with extant entrepreneurship research.


The paper addresses an emerging phenomenon within the practice and theory of entrepreneurship and offers insight into similarities and differences between entrepreneurship in the profit and not‐for‐profit sectors.



Shaw, E. and Carter, S. (2007), "Social entrepreneurship: Theoretical antecedents and empirical analysis of entrepreneurial processes and outcomes", Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 418-434.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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