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Social Entrepreneurship: Theoretical Antecedents and Empirical Analysis of Entrepreneurial Processes and Outcomes

Shaw, Eleanor and Carter, S.L. (2005) Social Entrepreneurship: Theoretical Antecedents and Empirical Analysis of Entrepreneurial Processes and Outcomes. In: Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research 2004:Proceedings of the Twenty-Fourth Annual Entrepreneurship Research Conference. Babson College, Wellesley, pp. 637-651.

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This paper addresses 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 by drawing on 80 depth interviews with social entrepreneurs. 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 depth interviews with social entrepreneurs from across the UK was identified as an 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 with 80 social entrepreneurs revealed five key themes within which the practice of social entrepreneurship could be compared and contrasted with for-profit entrepreneurship. These include: 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. Findings suggest that while the contemporary practices of social enterprises share many similarities wit 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.