From Helices to Multiverse Theory: Exploring the diversity within entrepreneurial ecosystems

Allan O'Connor
ECIC University of Adelaide

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Gerard Reed
ECIC University of Adelaide

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This paper examines the diversity within entrepreneurial ecosystems and the complexity of helices required to sustainably maintain its health and facilitate growth. Building upon the Triple Helix (TH) model, the role of higher education institutions (HEI), industry and government relations is discussed in terms of the variance in scope and scale of the contributing entities, in differing formats and formations, to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. To appreciate the diversity and complexity of any ecosystem it is important also to explore the geography and socio-political dimensions such as the topography and constitution of the place specified entrepreneurial ecosystem. Extending the discussion on Helices, to incorporate other considerations beyond the three sectors represented in the TH, this paper explores the complement of Helices contributing to the dynamic nature of an entrepreneurial ecosystem; and introduces the perspective of multiverse theoretical positions to build upon and develop the framework of understanding currently existent in the literature and field of entrepreneurship.

Utilising qualitative research methodologies researchers from the Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Commercialisation Centre (ECIC), with the assistance of funding grants from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Department of State Development (DSD), embarked upon a study of the Adelaide Entrepreneurial Ecosystem (AEE). The research commenced with interviews of support agencies and institutions that were recent entrants and established contributors to the AEE across eight categories that had been organically determined by a small group of active ecosystem participants to create a working map of its support infrastructure. After establishing the voracity of the AEE map through sixteen individual interviews, the researchers then embarked upon a series of fourteen focus groups with a total of forty three participants. Importantly all participants of the interviews and focus groups for the study were connected to the AEE and were at arm’s length from the researchers.

The research raised awareness of the diversity of the AEE, its constituent members and the complexity beyond what can be seen as the limitation or containment of the TH, in that there are many more Helices to be considered. As the analysis developed the conceptual richness of the entrepreneurial ecosystem (and the AEE) became evident, as was the diversity required to maintain its dynamic qualities and its sustainability as with any organic entity. For the researchers the conceptual richness of the metaphor of the Rainforest (Hwang & Horowitt, 2012) was developed in consideration of Silicon Valley (and the AEE) and the foundation works contributed by Isenberg (2010). The researchers developed a metaphorical or conceptual interpretation of the AEE akin to a botanical garden, with its multiple micro-environments maintained by a curator. However, this conceptual exploration, through necessity, had to develop further the notion of Helices as this introduced diversity at a scale that needed to be informed and extended by other theoretical inputs. As would develop through the study the researchers utilised extensions of their conceptual framework with other philosophical positions to ultimately arrive at the counterfactual conditional perspective where the research was informed by multiverse theory.

From the perspective of multiverse theory, the research concluded an emergence model of new ventures that takes into account the multiple actors that inhabit a diversity of industry, government, university, geography, technologies, demography, and interest groups. The model is driven at its heart by awareness of entrepreneurship and the networks that disseminate information and assist entrepreneurs to locate resources. In assessing the strength or health of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, the multiverse perspective suggests five dimensions that include: relevance, visibility and accessibility, strength, continuity and responsiveness. Each dimension accounts for breadth of the types of entrepreneurial actors and their opportunities that are the fundaments of the entrepreneurial multiverse.