Sustainability—Sustainable entrepreneurship: beyond opportunity or necessity entrepreneurship?

When:  May 23, 2023 from 09:00 to 23:59 (CET)
Associated with  Entrepreneurship (ENT)
Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Frank Janssen
Guest Editor
Louvain Research Institute in Management and Organizations, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Interests: social and sustainable entrepreneurship; entrepreneurial motivations and entrepreneurship and society, i.e., impact of religion, culture, institutions

Prof. Dr. Katherine Gundolf
Guest Editor
Head of Doctoral College, University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria, Wels, Austria
Interests: religion; sustainable entrepreneurship; entrepreneur´s profile

Special Issue Information

The combined phenomenon of entrepreneurship with the pursuit of sustainable development goals is commonly referred to as sustainable entrepreneurship (SE) (Shepherd and Patzelt, 2011 ; Anand et al., 2021). As an increasingly important subfield of entrepreneurship research, SE is gaining importance (Muñoz et al., 2018; Gast et al., 2017).

However, there is no common ground as to whether SE is opportunity or necessity driven. While Pinkse and Groot (2013, p. 436), for instance, define SE as: “the discovery, creation, and exploitation of entrepreneurial opportunities that contribute to sustainability by generating social and environmental gains for others in society “, or Schaltegger and Wagner (2007, p.32) as “an innovative, market oriented and personality driven form of value creation by environmentally or socially beneficial innovations and products exceeding the start-up phase of a company.”. Others, such as Cavaleri and Shabana (2018, p. 9), argue that “necessity, however, may require a firm to engage in sustainability initiatives […]. This type of necessity arises from the firm’s dependence on its environment.” Climate change at large can also be seen as a necessity factor.

This lack of a common view, as well as the dichotomy between push and pull factors, may be simply due to the fact that SE is an entrepreneurial phenomenon, and that the discussion about opportunity and necessity entrepreneurship in the field of entrepreneurship in general is still not resolved (Dencker et al., 2021; O’Donnell et al., 2021).

Necessity entrepreneurship is based on the assumption that people are pushed into self-employment by negative conditions to secure their livelihood (O’Donnell et al., 2021). On the contrary, opportunity entrepreneurship is focused on the recognition, discovery, identification, or creation of market opportunities (Hansen et al, 2011). Opportunity entrepreneurship and the related processes have been deeply studied in the last decades and the word “opportunity” is often cited in the entrepreneurship literature since it has been recognized as a central component of entrepreneurship (Gaglio and Katz, 2001). In this sense, necessity entrepreneurship could be seen as a reactive behavior, while opportunity entrepreneurship is often considered as a proactive conduct.

However, recent research on opportunity and necessity entrepreneurship (e.g., Dencker et al., 2019 ; Dencker et al., 2021 ; Dheer and Treviño, 2021) call for a new discussion of this view that seems to be “oversimplified, and unable to account for the wide array of antecedents, processes and outcomes that occur” (Coffman and Sunny, 2021, p. 823). In this perspective, Coffman and Sunny (2021), using motivational theory, demonstrate that depending on the theoretical lens that has been chosen, the same entrepreneurial situation may be interpreted as opportunity or necessity entrepreneurship. Several other studies have also questioned the separateness of opportunity and necessity drivers and argued that they co-exist in entrepreneurs’ motivations (Aidis et al., 2006 ; Williams, 2008);i.e., both opportunity and necessity drivers co-exist among reasons for starting up business.

Yet, the debate on opportunity and necessity entrepreneurship is not closed and further research is needed. New contexts are especially promising to deliver new insights. In this sense, SE represents an interesting field to explore, because motivational aspects play an important role in the decision of an entrepreneur to enter that field.

The purpose of this Special Issue is to offer new research directions on opportunity and necessity behaviors in the special context of sustainability entrepreneurship. Research questions may include:

  • Is SE opportunity or necessity driven?
  • Under what contexts and/or conditions?
  • Are sustainable entrepreneurs able to transform a necessity into an opportunity?
  • When, how or under what conditions?
  • What are the processes behind opportunity and/or necessity driven SE?
  • Is climate change the most important entrepreneurial necessity driver?
  • Other related topics are also welcomed.


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Ananda A., Argade P., Barkemeyer R., Salignac F. (2021), Trends and patterns in sustainable entrepreneurship research: A bibliometric review and research agenda, Journal of Business Venturing, 36 (3),

Bacq S. C., Janssen F. (2011), The multiple faces of social entrepreneurship: A review of definitional issues based on geographical and thematic criteria, Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 23 (5-6): 373-403.

Cavaleri S., Shabana K. (2018), Rethinking sustainability strategies, Journal of Strategy and Management, 11 (1): 2-17.

Coffman C., Sunny S. (2021), Reconceptualizing necessity and opportunity entrepreneurship: a needs-based view of entrepreneurial motivation, Academy of Management Review, 46 (4): 823-825.

Dencker J., Bacq S. C., Gruber M., Haas M. (2019), Reconceptualizing necessity entrepreneurship: a contextualized framework of entrepreneurial processes under the condition of basic needs, Academy of Management Review, 46 (1): 60-79.

Dencker J., Bacq S., Gruber M. (2021), Basic Needs as the Boundary Condition for a Reconceptualization of Necessity Entrepreneurship across Contexts, Academy of Management Review, 46 (4): 830-835.

Dheer R., Treviño L. (2021), Explaining the rate of opportunity compared to necessity entrepreneurship in a cross-cultural context: Analysis and policy implications, Journal of International Business Policy, 1-27.

Gaglio, C. M., Katz J. (2001), The Psychological Basis of Entrepreneurial Identification: Entrepreneurial Alertness, Small Business Economics, 16: 95–111.

Gast J., Gundolf K., Cesinger B. (2017), Doing business in a green way: a systematic review of the ecological sustainability entrepreneurship literature and future research directions, Journal of Cleaner Production, 147: 44-56.

Hansen D. J., Shrader R., Monllor J. (2011), Defragmenting Definitions of Entrepreneurial Opportunity, Journal of Small Business Management, 49:2, 283-304.

Muñoz P., Janssen F., Nicolopoulou K., Hockerts K. (2018), Advancing sustainable entrepreneurship through substantive research, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior and Research, 24 (2): 322-332.

O’Donnell P., O’Gorman C., Clinton E. (2021), Rethinking the “Necessity” in Necessity Entrepreneurship, Academy of Management Review, 46 (4): 827-830.

Patzelt H., Shepherd D.A. (2011), Recognizing opportunities for sustainable development, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 35 (4): 631-652.

Pinkse J., Groot K. (2015), Sustainable entrepreneurship and corporate political activity: overcoming market barriers in the clean Energy sector, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 39 (3): 633-654.

Schaltegger S., Wagner M. (2007), Types of Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Conditions for Sustainability Innovation: From the Administration of a Technical Challenge to the Management of an Entrepreneurial Opportunity, in R. Wüstenhagen, J. Hamschmidt, S. Sharma and M. Starik (eds.), Sustainable Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, pp. 27–48.

Williams C. (2008), Beyond necessity-driven versus opportunity-driven entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 9 (3): 157–165.