27 Nov

Geographical Review Preview: University-Led Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Building in Underserved Communities: From a Network Perspective

 

This study examines university-driven partnerships that promote entrepreneurship in underserved communities, drawing from the experiences of NCGrowth, an economic development center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We address the following questions: Who are the central stakeholders? How do they interact? What do their challenges and experiences imply for policymaking and practice in nurturing entrepreneurship ecosystems in underserved communities? We employed social-network analyses of NCGrowth’s projects spanning 2013–2019, supplemented by document analysis of archival data and in-depth interviews. The study uncovers highly asymmetric connections among stakeholders, with universities and government agencies emerging as dominant entities, leveraging universities’ specialized knowledge and community relationships. Nevertheless, challenges surface due to overlapping roles as facilitators, the absence of consistent community carriers of development plans, and a dearth of financial institutions. Our findings advocate for an ecosystem-focused approach to economic development in underserved areas, emphasizing the involvement of additional anchor institutions such as hospitals, major corporations, and philanthropists. Furthermore, policies and practices should integrate the objectives of entrepreneurship, economic growth, and social equity to cultivate inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystems.

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