Digital Entrepreneurship

When we think about a digital entrepreneur, we might imagine a single person making millions of dollars through a fully automated website or app. That seems very different from the traditional view of entrepreneurship as a process of organization-building. Where is the organization in digital entrepreneurship?

Zaheer et al. (2019) review the literature and find that focus on 'digital entrepreneurship' is relatively new, starting in 2013. Before that, the research attention was on the transformation of business models due to the spread of the internet and the rise of e-commerce. It only became a big topic when entrepreneurs in the digital space started making waves with digital business models that have very small human organizational footprints.

There has been a growing movement to distinguish digital entrepreneurship from traditional types of entrepreneurship. For example, Kraus et al. (2019) stimulate attention to digital entrepreneurship by suggesting that we need new theory to guide entrepreneurs in the 21st century. They found 35 papers about digital entrepreneurship and identified six research themes highlighting the role of business models, entrepreneurship process, platform strategies, ecosystems, entrepreneurship education, and social digital entrepreneurship.

One of the most distinguishing features of digital entrepreneurs is that they operate in an digital entrepreneurship ecosystem (Elia et al., 2020). Digital ecosystems comprise the accelerators, investor networks, open source repositories, research institutes and university research networks. The first two sources of information and know-how are critical for digital entrepreneurs, especially since many of them do not have a business education, but often hail from technical fields or the arts. The last three are key for access to the latest developments which can fuel business model innovation.

Scholars have started to apply a theoretical lens to digital entrepreneurship. For example, Sahut et al. (2021) propose that digital entrepreneurs generate "digital value" through digital information acquisition, processing and distribution. The concept of digital value is underdeveloped and might help to better understand what differentiates the digital entrepreneur. Some definitions of digital value include many new ways to store and trade value; like crypto-currencies inside of games and apps.

It will be interesting to see where this research stream takes us in this new world of AI. If a digital entrepreneur can get to the point where their entire business can be run by software or  AI, then one can imagine a future nightmare where a proliferate but family-less tech entrepreneur dies and their rogue fully autonomous businesses continue to maximize profits in perpetuity. 

Digital entrepreneurship has intersections with generativity theory, which explain a source of new value creation coming from the evolution of technology. It may also intersect with the born open startup concept, and other technological theories.


Elia, G., Margherita, A., & Passiante, G. (2020). Digital entrepreneurship ecosystem: How digital technologies and collective intelligence are reshaping the entrepreneurial process. Technological forecasting and social change, 150, 119791.

Kraus, S., Palmer, C., Kailer, N., Kallinger, F. L., & Spitzer, J. (2019). Digital entrepreneurship: A research agenda on new business models for the twenty-first century. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 25(2), 353-375.

Sahut, J. M., Iandoli, L., & Teulon, F. (2021). The age of digital entrepreneurship. Small Business Economics, 56, 1159-1169.

Zaheer, H., Breyer, Y., & Dumay, J. (2019). Digital entrepreneurship: An interdisciplinary structured literature review and research agenda. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 148, 119735.



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