Do University Ecosystems Impact Student's Entrepreneurial Behavior?

AutorCampos, Matheus Leite


Entrepreneurship is seen by many as a cornerstone for development (Chiru, Tachiciu, & Ciuchete, 2012; Davey, Rossano, & van der Sijde, 2016; Robinson & Shumar, 2014) and the solution for many contemporary socioeconomic problems (see Bruton, Ketchen, & Ireland, 2013; Sutter, Bruton, & Chen, 2019). In this regard, entrepreneurial ecosystems have become the "holy grail" (Isemberg, 2010, p. 3) for governments to promote in-country, knowledge-intensive entrepreneurship and reap all its associated benefits (especially economic growth). However, there is no magic formula for how to properly set up this kind of ecosystem, and within the academia there is still a need for more consistent theoretical foundation and empirical evidence on the matter (Wurth, Stam, & Spigel, 2021). On the other hand, it is possible to identify the underlining structure and core components of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, among which we find universities (Isemberg, 2010).

The university is recognized as a fundamental agent for the development of entrepreneurship (Muscio & Ramaciotti, 2019; Saeed, Yousafzai, Yani-De-Soriano, & Muffatto, 2015; Turker & Selcuk, 2009). So much so that in the past few decades, be it by increased funding pressures, or by the general sign of the entrepreneurial times universities find themselves in (Freel, Persaud, & Chamberlin, 2019), their two primary roles, of teaching and researching, have given up space for a third one to emerge: to serve as a hub for innovation and business making (Durufle, Hellmann, & Wilson, 2018). In this respect, several studies were conducted in order to better understand this phenomenon, specifically about how it is that the university ecosystem (UE) affects the entrepreneurial intention (EI) of students (Al-Shammari & Waleed, 2018; Barbosa, Gerhardt, & Kickul, 2007; Barral, Ribeiro, & Canever, 2018; Kristiansen, 2004; Linan, 2004; Maresch, Harms, Kailer, & Wimmer-Wurm, 2016; Ngoc Khuong & Huu An, 2015; Saeed et al., 2015; Shirokova, Osiyevskyy, & Bogatyreva, 2016; Tiago, Faria, Couto, & Tiago, 2015; Voda & Florea, 2019).

The dynamics of each UE shapes the way in which its community produces entrepreneurial results. However, the extent of the university's mechanisms for fostering entrepreneurship among the student community is still a matter of investigation (Ahmed, Chandran, & Klobas, 2017; Alves, Fischer, Schaeffer, & Queiroz, 2019; Moraes, Iizuka, & Pedro, 2018; Muscio & Ramaciotti, 2019), with no consensus as to what policy or resource is most effective to this end (Fischer, Moraes, & Schaeffer, 2019; Moraes, Fischer, Campos, & Schaeffer, 2020). This gap seems to be wider in the context of developing countries, which usually tend to emulate practices from more advanced economies without much adaptation to their particularities (Alves et al., 2019; Fischer et al., 2019; Moraes et al., 2018).

Based on these arguments, we identify the need for further investigations on the effectiveness of university level entrepreneurship mechanisms (Alves et al., 2019; Fischer et al., 2019; Moraes et al., 2018). Therefore, our goal is to propose a conceptual model for assessing the impact of entrepreneurship supportive university ecosystems on student's entrepreneurship related behavioral characteristics: entrepreneurial intention and entrepreneurial characteristics. For that end, we empirically tested the model with a countrywide survey of Brazilian Business Administration students. Our model is largely based on the framework proposed by Saeed et al. (2015); however, its originality comes from testing the direct effect of UE and EC on student's EI, thus revealing if their willingness to develop entrepreneurial activities is context on intrinsically driven. Furthermore, by developing a comprehensive model we aim to make a theoretical and practical contribution to the better understanding of the UE's influence on student's EI and their subsequent intention to choose entrepreneurship as a career option.

There are over 290 higher education institutions in Brazil (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais Anisio Teixeira [INEP], 2018), with 43.7% concentrated on the southeastern region alone (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais Anisio Teixeira [INEP], 2019). The country's population is estimated around 210 mi people, with a GDP per capita of approximately R$ 30 thousand (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica [IBGE], 2019). Business Administration is one of the curricula with the highest number of enrolments: more than 1.2 mi students (INEP, 2018). Moreover, Brazil's overall population presents a moderate to high entrepreneurship intention level (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor [GEM], 2019). Therefore, the Brazilian background provides many opportunities for testing the model and evaluating the university ecosystem's impact on student's entrepreneurship related behavior.

From a higher education standpoint, Brazilian universities are divided between public (mostly federal or state managed) and private institutions. The Southeast concentrates 43.7% of the country's universities, leaving 16.3% for the Southern region, 21.6% for the Northeastern, and the remaining 18.4% for the Midwest and North. From the total number of higher education institutions (HEIs), there are more private institutions (89%) than public ones (11%). Furthermore, data from 2017 shows that there are more than 4,500 Business Administration (BA) courses in Brazil (INEP 2019).

On section 2, we present a theoretical discussion about the university ecosystem, entrepreneurial intention, and entrepreneurial characteristics. At the same time, we put forth the theoretical basis of our hypotheses and the antecedents of our model. On section 3, we present the theoretical model as well as the tools and methods employed during the research. Section 4, by its turn, is dedicated to the results obtained with the empirical testing of our model. Finally, sections 5 and 6, respectively, present the discussion of our findings and our conclusions.


A common, though incomplete understanding about entrepreneurship is that it is all about opening a new business (Robinson & Shumar, 2014). In itself, entrepreneurship is an activity that greatly affects society and the production of wealth. However, only successful cases are able to do so (Maroufkhani, Wagner, & Wan Ismail, 2018). And, in order to be successful, a firm must not rely solely on its strategy and capabilities, but also on the sharing of resources, network externalities, and governmental support, among other factors (Audretsch, Cunningham, Kuratko, Lehmann, & Menter, 2019). Thus, entrepreneurs benefit from elements that go beyond the firm and form what is called an entrepreneurial ecosystem (EEc).

Literature does not provide a single, unified definition for EEcs (Brown & Mason, 2017; Tsujimoto, Kajikawa, Tomita, & Matsumoto, 2018). The origins of this concept can be traced back to Moore (1993), who compared the evolutionary dynamics of firms to the natural environment. Isemberg (2010) describes it as a set of individual elements combined in complex forms. Qian, Acs, and Stough (2013) defined it as a non-linear conjunction of factors that "interactively influence the creation, discovery and exploitation of entrepreneurial opportunities" (Qian, Acs, & Stough, 2013, p. 561). Mason and Brown (2014), by their turn, add the notion of (in)formality and describe it as an interconnected set of actors, organizations, and processes that "coalesce to connect, mediate and govern the performance within the local entrepreneurial environment" (Mason & Brown, 2014, p. 5). This notion is further complemented by Stam and Spigel (2016, p. 1), who constrain the EEc to a geographical clustering of well-connected factors with the power of nurturing business ventures. Regardless of the adopted definition, literature converges on the notion that an EEc is composed of several pieces that coalesce to produce dynamic synergies. Figure 1 presents an EEc framework that summarizes these concepts.

Within this framework, we find universities (academic institutions). Given their importance to the development of EEcs worldwide (World Economic Forum et al., 2013), it is imperative to stress that its environment (Moraes et al., 2018) and faculty can exert great influence on student's willingness to actively engage on entrepreneurial activities (Neumeyer, Santos, & Morris, 2019).

One very important aspect of the Brazilian higher education scenario is that public universities, as opposed to private universities, respond for the majority of research activities (Alves, Quelhas, Silva, & Lameira, 2015). Therefore, they are primary sources of new, innovative knowledge and are important links for connecting actors across the entrepreneurial ecosystem, especially in the local context. Moreover, public universities are constantly developing their peripheral capabilities (Clark, 2003) in order to better connect with other actors within the EC. This lead to the establishment of Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs) dedicated to the management of knowledge spillovers and the establishment of partnerships with the industry. However, it is important to stress the economic impact of this information.

To illustrate, if we look at the case of Unicamp, one of Brazil's biggest public universities in terms of students, funding, and research activity, the presence of a TTO and business incubators and accelerators led to the establishment of 701 spin-off companies with a turnover of R$ 4.8 bi (INOVA, 2018). This data highlights the important part public universities play in the production of knowledge and the potential they represent for the establishment of innovative business ventures. Incubators, especially, form an environment that allows students to get hands-on experience on running a business, thus developing technical skills, product and market knowledge, and...

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