The Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (EE) articulate concepts from various streams of literature and are formed by multiple stakeholders and relate to different levels of analysis. Although the literature shows a growing relevance on the theme of EE, most studies reveal to be conceptual, and the existence of empirical studies with quantitative methodologies is still scarce. This study attempts to contribute to filling this gap by developing a dynamic model of EE and its impact on the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) international performance by aggregating different levels of analysis. Based on a sample of 120 SMEs, the results suggest that macro (agents) and meso (different partners) level variables positively impact international performance. We also find that technology transfer has a negative moderating effect on the meso level relationship of EE with digital performance. Our study also contributes to a greater understanding of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, its internationalization and the digital performance effect.
According to the OECD (2014), an entrepreneurial ecosystem (EE) is a set of interconnected entrepreneurial actors (both potential and existing), organisations (other firms, venture capital, for example), institutions (universities) and business processes (e.g., the entrepreneurial birth rate) that formally and informally come together to connect, mediate and govern performance within the local entrepreneurial environment. In this regard, and as argued by O’Kane et al. (2021), EE is composed of several layers that coexist and evolve simultaneously; Theodoraki and Messeghem (2017) use the macro level to describe the EE, the meso-level to describe the entrepreneurship support ecosystem and the micro level to describe the business incubator.
From these considerations, we deduce that there may be several models of EE, depending precisely on the characteristics of the environment where each ecosystem is inserted. From this need to attribute a systemic approach to entrepreneurship (Acs et al., 2014), the most diverse studies on EE have emerged (Alvedalen & Boschma, 2017; Malecki, 2018; Cavallo et al., 2019; Kahle et al., 2020; Theodoraki and Catanzaro, 2021; Johnson et al., 2022). These studies have essentially focused on the interactivity of attributes and strategic multilateral dynamics among the various EE actors (Theodoraki et al., 2018), local cultural specificities (Audretsch & Belitski 2017), ecosystem evolution (Mack & Mayer, 2016); processes (Spigel & Harrison, 2018); ecosystem governance (Colombelli et al., 2019); sustainability (Raposo et al., 2021), the multi-level approach (Theodoraki & Messeghem, 2017) and the relationship of EE with regional development (Audretsch & Belitski, 2017).
Our study proposes developing a dynamic model of EE aggregating different levels of analysis (macro, meso and micro) to assess its impact on SMEs’ international performance and examine the mediating effect of digitalisation on international performance in these firms. For this purpose, we empirically explored the dimension of international EE performance and the moderating effect of digital transfer technologies.
We conclude that the support agents and the various partners within the ecosystem play a key role in better international performance. The macro and meso variables of EE positively affect SMEs’ international performance, and technology also plays a vital role, positively influencing their international performance.
Notwithstanding our results, as other studies, also have limitations. The sample used is from only one country, limiting the results’ generalisation and not comparing with other business and territorial relationships. We know of only one research (Theodoraki and Catanzaro, -2021) that considers these variables, although qualitatively.
In this sense, future research should develop new investigations on EE and international performance and involve samples from different countries in the studies so that the comparison can be broadly generalised to different territorial contexts. Another pertinent future line of research is to study the role of government through the international lens to assess the effectiveness of institutional support for the EE internationalisation.
Finally, we believe that our research brings to this academic field a rigorous and comprehensive theoretical framework for future research on SOEs and the international performance of firms.