Sub-theme 49: Necessity Entrepreneurship: Inclusion, Identity, and Ingenuity

Sophie Bacq
IMD Business School, Switzerland
Katrin M. Smolka
Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, United Kingdom
Pursey P.M.A.R. Heugens
Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, The Netherlands

Call for Papers

The purpose of this sub-theme is threefold. First, it aims to expand our collective understanding of necessity entrepreneurship as a key social and economic process, while recognizing the agentic powers of necessity entrepreneurs. Second, it encourages scholars to move beyond overly individualistic accounts of necessity entrepreneurship and theorize it as an emergent property of social systems as well as a source of novel social structures. Third, it challenges participants to break new theoretical and methodological ground for the study of necessity entrepreneurship, to prepare for a next generation of necessity entrepreneurship studies.
Therefore, in this sub-theme, we encourage the exchange between scholars from different specializations within the broader management field (e.g., entrepreneurship, organization theory, innovation studies) using a variety of methodological approaches (e.g., ethnographies, experiments, intervention studies, micro-census approaches) and theoretical frameworks (e.g., effectuation theory, social identity theory, social-cognitive career theory, endemic and grounded theories). We are open to both empirical and conceptual contributions, provided that they enhance our understanding of how necessity entrepreneurs start their ventures, assess opportunities and risks, deal with setbacks, and seek to enhance their own lives and livelihoods and that of their dependents.
The sub-theme’s scope centers on several possible topics for discussion that include (but are not limited to) the following:
Topic (1): Defining Necessity Entrepreneurship and Its Boundaries

When it comes to defining necessity entrepreneurship, our theoretical understanding remains limited. The predominant conceptual account of necessity entrepreneurship is grounded in the push–pull framework (Brockhaus, 1982; Evans & Leighton, 1989; Shapero & Sokol, 1982); it contrasts necessity entrepreneurs who are pushed into entrepreneurship owing by need or despair with opportunity entrepreneurs who are pulled into entrepreneurship by its attractiveness (cf. Dencker, Bacq, Gruber, & Haas; 2021). Furthermore, the imagery of necessity entrepreneurs stands in stark contrast to most depictions in entrepreneurship, especially the “heroic” entrepreneur. However, necessity entrepreneurs may not only create businesses that have limited growth potential and replicate what other businesses are already offering.
Additionally, the phenomenon of necessity entrepreneurship occurs in many, highly diverse contexts (Puente, González Espitia & Cervilla, 2019). Yet our views of necessity entrepreneurs border on the universalistic. There is a clear need for more comparative and contextualized work (Dencker, Bacq & Gruber, 2021). A broader conceptualization and stronger nomological web are needed to not only account for individual-level necessity entrepreneurship and how it affects entrepreneurs themselves, but also for the dynamics in the social world around the necessity entrepreneur. Necessity entrepreneurship is likely one of several possible ‘career’ or labor options, even for people operating on the margins. Eventually, rarely addressed, but important to investigate is whether necessity entrepreneurship indeed alleviate an individual’s basic needs.

  • What kind of businesses do necessity entrepreneurs create? Can necessity and innovation go together?

  • Can we imagine conceptualizations that transcend the necessity vs. opportunity dichotomy?

  • What kinds of contingency, configurational, or contextualized theories are needed to capture necessity entrepreneurship properly?

  • Which social factors affect the necessity entrepreneur, and how are their social environs affected by them?

  • What makes individuals choose necessity entrepreneurship over other options?

  • To what extent does engaging in necessity entrepreneurship better the lives of the individuals involved?

  • Which institutional preconditions are necessary for necessity entrepreneurs to thrive?

Topic (2): Understanding Necessity Entrepreneurs

Necessity entrepreneurs are almost universally depicted as low-skilled individuals creating small or even marginal businesses (Nikiforou, Dencker & Gruber, 2019). However, necessity entrepreneurs are more than the product of their circumstances, and we do not yet fully understand how and why they engage in entrepreneurship (Coffman & Sunny, 2021; O’Donnell, O’Gorman & Clinton, 2021). The aims of necessity entrepreneurship can go beyond the mere creation of economic wealth (Weber, Fasse, Haugh & Grote, 2022). Therefore, we need to give agency back to necessity entrepreneurs, even though their understanding of agency is likely to differ from the Silicon Valley style, Western entrepreneurs, from which too much of our current theorizing derives. Eventually, differences may also pertain to the entrepreneurial decision-making approach that necessity entrepreneurs use.

  • How can we theorize the key variations that exist within necessity entrepreneurs’ skillsets?

  • How do these individuals come to choose entrepreneurship, which alternatives do they forego, and how do they seek to control their external environment?

  • Can necessity entrepreneurship be a source of non-material wealth, including civic wealth, or positively impact entrepreneurs themselves?

  • What does agency mean for necessity entrepreneurs and what is a valid theorization of agency under conditions of necessity?

  • Are there differences in the decision-making logics that necessity entrepreneurs are prone to and how do these impact the outcomes of their businesses (e.g., between controlling logics such as effectuation and predictive logics such as causation)?

  • Is there a conceptual link that connects necessity entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial processes such as bricolage and bootstrapping?

Topic (3): The Process of Organizing Necessity Entrepreneurship

Exciting opportunities exist to better understand the organizational processes behind necessity entrepreneurship. Given the observation that necessity entrepreneurs often mimic each other’s business models, we need more insights into the process behind organizing necessity entrepreneurship (Block, Kohn, Miller & Ullrich, 2015). We could also use an evolutionary theory of necessity entrepreneurship and their ventures, as well as dive deeper into the resource mobilization process that necessity entrepreneurs employ. Lastly, the vast majority of necessity entrepreneurial ventures presumably operate in the informal economy, are not incorporated, and pay no taxes (Webb, Bruton, Tihanyi & Ireland, 2013). Moreover, they might be more numerous and more likely to survive in contexts in which informal institutions trump formal ones.

  • Is optimal distinctiveness different for necessity entrepreneurial ventures?

  • How do necessity entrepreneurs partition markets and mutually divide business opportunities?

  • How do necessity entrepreneurial ventures differ organizationally from other types of entrepreneurial ventures? Do they have different structures, processes, routines, and capabilities?

  • Even if these ventures do not scale, how do they mature? Can we devise a stage model? Do some ventures still manage to grow over time? Can they transition out of necessity?

  • How does the resource mobilization process work for necessity entrepreneurs? Where do they find the resources to build and sustain their ventures?

  • How does this ‘dual informality’ impact the organization of necessity entrepreneurial ventures?

Topic 4: ‘Tools of the Trade’ or Ways of Studying and Theorizing Necessity Entrepreneurship

A good number of research methodologies could be scrutinized for their fit with necessity entrepreneurship as an empirical phenomenon: intervention studies and randomized controlled trial; micro census data; ethnography; action research; set-theoretic methods, and others. Several theoretical frameworks hold promise for theorizing necessity entrepreneurship: decision-making logics (such as effectuation; Sarasvathy, 2001); resource-assembling approaches (such as bricolage or bootstrapping; Baker & Nelson, 2005); career theories (such as social-cognitive career theory; Lent, Brown & Hackett, 1994); (social) identity theories; endemic and grounded theorizing, and others. In addition, necessity entrepreneurship as a phenomenon and research object falls at the intersection of many other themes, but relationships are rarely clarified. Hence, necessity itself is often the product of intersectionality (Bacq, Toubiana, Ruebottom, Ormiston & Ajunwa, 2023), as it materializes along the fault lines of gender, ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, education, and (dis)ability.

  • How can different research methodologies foster our understanding of necessity entrepreneurship?

  • In which ways are established theoretical frameworks help us explain and understand necessity entrepreneurship?

  • Does necessity entrepreneurship emerge from these intersectional fault lines?

  • Does necessity entrepreneurship help necessity entrepreneurs to neutralize the disadvantages they incur from intersectionality, and to capitalize on the rare opportunities that intersectionality offers?



  • Bacq, S., Toubiana, M., Ruebottom, T., Ormiston, J., & Ajunwa, I. (2023). Entrepreneurship Out of Shame: Entrepreneurial Pathways at the Intersection of Necessity, Emancipation, and Social Change. Organization Theory, 4, 26317877231153185.
  • Baker, T., & Nelson, R. E. (2005). Creating something from nothing: Resource construction through entrepreneurial bricolage. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50, 329-366.
  • Block, J. H., Kohn, K., Miller, D., & Ullrich, K. (2015). Necessity entrepreneurship and competitive strategy. Small Business Economics, 44, 37-54.
  • Brockhaus Sr., R.H. (1982). The psychology of the entrepreneur. In C. A. Kent, D. L. Sexton, & K. H. Vesper (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Entrepreneurship (pp. 39–71). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. Inc.
  • Coffman, C. D., & Sunny, S. A. (2021). Reconceptualizing necessity and opportunity entrepreneurship: A needs-based view of entrepreneurial motivation. Academy of Management Review, 46, 823-825.
  • Dencker, J. C., Bacq, S., & Gruber, M. (2021). Continuums and Dichotomies in Necessity Entrepreneurship Research. Academy of Management Review, 46, 825-827.
  • Dencker, J. C., Bacq, S., Gruber, M., & Haas, M. (2021). Reconceptualizing necessity entrepreneurship: A contextualized framework of entrepreneurial processes under the condition of basic needs. Academy of Management Review, 46, 60-79.
  • Evans, D. S., & Leighton, L. S. (1989). The determinants of changes in US self-employment, 1968-1987. Small Business Economics, 1, 111-119.
  • Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45, 79-122.
  • Nikiforou, A., Dencker, J. C., & Gruber, M. (2019). Necessity entrepreneurship and industry choice in new firm creation. Strategic Management Journal, 40, 2165-2190.
  • O’Donnell, P., O’Gorman, C., & Clinton, E. (2021). Rethinking the “necessity” in necessity entrepreneurship. Academy of Management Review, 46, 827-830.
  • Puente, R., González Espitia, C. G., & Cervilla, M. A. (2019). Necessity entrepreneurship in Latin America: it’s not that simple. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 31, 953-983.
  • Sarasvathy, S. D. (2001). Causation and effectuation: Toward a theoretical shift from economic inevitability to entrepreneurial contingency. Academy of Management Review, 26, 243-263.
  • Shapero, A., & Sokol, L. (1982). The social dimensions of entrepreneurship. In C. A. Kent, D. L. Sexton, & K. H. Vesper (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Entrepreneurship (pp. 72–90). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. Inc.
  • Webb, J. W., Bruton, G. D., Tihanyi, L., & Ireland, R. D. (2013). Research on entrepreneurship in the informal economy: Framing a research agenda. Journal of Business Venturing, 28, 598-614.
  • Weber, C., Fasse, A., Haugh, H. M., & Grote, U. (2022). Varieties of necessity entrepreneurship–New insights from Sub Saharan Africa. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 10422587221111737.
Sophie Bacq is Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at IMD Business School, Switzerland. Her research program centers on entrepreneurial action aiming to solve intractable social and environmental problems. More specifically, Sophie examines and theorizes about social entrepreneurship and societal impact at the individual, organizational, and civic levels of analysis. Sophie’s research is published in top-tier management and entrepreneurship journals such as ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice’, ‘Journal of Business Venturing’, and ‘Journal of Management Studies’.
Katrin M. Smolka is Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, United Kingdom. Her research interests are multi-disciplinary, bridging topics in organization theory with entrepreneurship. This includes necessity entrepreneurship (e.g., social inclusion through entrepreneurship in deprived contexts); institutional work (e.g., entrepreneurial efforts in the emergence of proto-institutions), and craft (e.g., tenacity among creative craft workers). Katrin’s work is published in journals such as ‘Journal of Management Studies’ and ‘Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice’.
Pursey P.M.A.R. Heugens is Professor of Organization Theory at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, The Netherlands. His research interests include the strategy and governance of organizational forms like family firms, professional service firms, business groups, and state-owned enterprises. He is also passionate about using research methods like meta-analysis and ethnography as a generative force for theory elaboration and development. Pursey’s research appeared in leading journals such as ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Organization Science’.