1. Understand the constituent elements of the entrepreneurial process.
2. Gain appreciation for how the elements fit together to form a whole.
In this chapter, we examine the ways in which entrepreneurial ventures combine the classic
entrepreneurial process with sustainability concepts. This combination encompasses design
approaches and corporate competencies that generate new offerings that achieve revenue growth and
profitability while enhancing human health, supporting ecological system stability, and contributing
to the vitality of local communities. This chapter shows the interconnections across sustainability,
innovation, and entrepreneurship to give the reader greater understanding of a current global
phenomenon: the search for new products, technologies, and ways of conducting business that will
replace the old with designs intended to help solve some of society’s most challenging issues.
When products are designed and business strategies are structured around systems thinking that is
associated with sustainability, the outcome, as in any system composed of interacting and
interdependent parts, emerges as larger than the sum of its constituent elements. So we should keep
in mind, as we dissect the entrepreneurial process into its core elements, that we do so for analytic
purposes—first to understand the individual parts and then to see how they come together. Once that
picture is clear, the reader will have gained new insights into what entrepreneurs active in the
sustainability innovation space actually do. The Walden Paddlers case discussed in Chapter 4
“Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Innovation Analysis”, Section 4.5 “Adaptive Collaboration
through Value-Added Networks”, is a representative example of this approach.
Bear in mind that sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship are terms used to represent a wide
range of ideas, depending on the context. However, just because they have come into common use
and have been interpreted broadly does not mean they cannot be defined in focused and practical
ways to help guide entrepreneurial individuals in business. Individuals and companies are, in fact,
implementing sustainability designs and strategies through the use of innovative initiatives. At the
present time, these three terms—sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship—are our best and
most accurate descriptors of what is happening in the marketplace. No one term covers all the ground
required. In the following sections, we examine entrepreneurial process and then discuss
sustainability concepts to explain how the necessary parts merge to create a holistic picture.
Entrepreneurial activity can seem mysterious for those not familiar with the phenomenon. US culture
has created heroic myths around its most famous entrepreneurs, reinforcing the idea that
entrepreneurship is about individuals. As a consequence, many people believe those individuals are
born entrepreneurs. In fact, it is more accurate to talk about entrepreneurship as a process. More
frequently than not, a person becomes an entrepreneur because she or he is compelled to pursue a
market opportunity. Through that activity—that process—entrepreneurship unfolds. A typical story of
entrepreneurship is one in which the entrepreneur is influenced by his or her engagement with
favorable conditions, circumstances in which an idea comes together successfully with a market
opportunity. An individual has an idea or sees a problem needing a solution and generates a way to
meet that need. A new venture is initiated and, if successful, an ongoing business created. Thus
entrepreneurship—the creation of new ventures as either new companies or initiatives within larger
organizations—is about the process of individuals coming together with opportunities, resulting in
specific customers being provided with new goods and services.
For purposes of this discussion, entrepreneurship is not constrained to starting a company. While
that definition is commonly assumed, entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial innovation can occur in
a variety of settings including small or large companies, nonprofit organizations, and governmental
agencies. Entrepreneurship emerges under widely diverse circumstances, typically in response to new
conditions and in pursuit of newly perceived opportunities. We focus here not on the average new
venture set up to compete under existing rules against existing companies and delivering products or
services comparable to those already in the market. Rather, our focus is on entrepreneurial
innovators who forge new paths and break with accepted ways of doing business, creating new
combinations that result in novel technologies, products, services, and operating practices—that is,
In that regard, our approach is aligned with entrepreneurship as defined by twentieth-century
economist and entrepreneurship scholar Joseph Schumpeter, who pointed out that change in
societies comes as a result of innovation created by entrepreneurs. His emphasis was on innovation
and the entrepreneur’s ability through innovation to generate new demand that results in significant
wealth creation. Peter Drucker, a twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholar of entrepreneurship,
echoed similar ideas many decades later. Entrepreneurship is innovative change through new venture
creation; it is the creation of new goods and services, processes, technologies, markets, and ways of
organizing that offer alternatives with the intention of better meeting people’s needs and improving
their lives. Innovation encompasses the creative combination of old and novel ideas that enables
individuals and organizations to offer desired alternatives and replacements for existing products and
services. These innovative products and ways of doing business, typically led by independent-thinking
entrepreneurial individuals, constitute the substitutions that eventually replace older products and
ways of doing things. Sustainability entrepreneurship and innovation build on the basics of this
accepted view of innovation and entrepreneurship and extend it to encompass life-cycle thinking,
ecological rules, human health, and social equity considerations.
Understanding entrepreneurial processes and the larger industrial ecosystem at work requires that we
break down the subject matter into separate pieces and then recombine them. The pieces need to be
examined on their own merit and then understood in relation to one another. We start with
understanding the entrepreneurial process and move to examining the elements of sustainability
innovation. Each piece is a necessary, but not sufficient, part of the puzzle. By examining the pieces
carefully, we can see in Chapter 4 “Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Innovation Analysis”, Section
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