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Clustering social enterprises: an empirically validated taxonomy

Philipp Erpf (Institute for Research on Management of Associations, Foundations and Co-operatives (VMI), University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland)
Rebecca Tekula (Department of Public Administration, Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship Pace University, New York, New York, USA)
Julia Neuenschwander (Community Builder, Dietikon, Switzerland)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 31 May 2019

Issue publication date: 7 August 2019




This study aims to develop an empirically validated taxonomy. Typologies of social entrepreneurship are primarily based on conceptual considerations and case studies. There is a need for quantitative approaches and empirical testing of this emerging organizational form and its characteristics.


First, an item scale was developed that emerged from frequently mentioned elements in social entrepreneurship literature. Next, social entrepreneurs rated these items. Finally, the authors conducted a cluster analysis to derive a taxonomy with three distinguishable types of social enterprises.


Based on a cluster analysis (N = 70), an empirically validated taxonomy is provided with three social enterprise types: social service providers, social change makers and social philanthropists.

Practical implications

Although this research has an exploratory character, it makes a clear contribution by complementing existing typologies, which tend to be conceptual in nature, with a taxonomy that is empirically grounded. This study defogs the blurry understanding and limited knowledge about different social enterprise forms and provides insight into meaningfully similar groups across the sector as a whole.


This article fills a void of empirically grounded taxonomies by analyzing which definitional aspects of social entrepreneurship literature correspond to the perceptions of social entrepreneurs regarding the nature of their organizations.



The authors would like to thank the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative and Foundation (SEIF), Switzerland, for their collaboration on this project.

Funding: Helene T. and Grant M. Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Pace University.


Erpf, P., Tekula, R. and Neuenschwander, J. (2019), "Clustering social enterprises: an empirically validated taxonomy", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 397-420.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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