By Elyse Pitkin

Dr. Morgan Clevenger, associate professor of management at Hiram College, reminisces about his five-year journey of research to complete Entrepreneurial Communities and Ecosystems: Theories in Culture, Empowerment, and Leadership, and Empowering Entrepreneurial Communities and Ecosystems: Case Study Insights. The books provide a compilation of current scholarship, emerging frameworks, and case studies about how to build an effective entrepreneurial community in places that are overlooked by the mainstream entrepreneurship literature. The goal of producing such work is to allow anyone, with any background, to take meaningful steps to launch an entrepreneurial ecosystem at any time.

“There are at least twenty contributing authors between the two books,” says Clevenger. “It is exciting to see the final project as it’s a representation of the tapestry of the creators and the diversity of the writers.”

Dr. Michael W-P Fortunato, co-editor, and co-author of both books is a community and economic development practitioner with an academic background working in primarily rural areas and small towns. His background includes entrepreneurship development, community development, and applied sociology. Interest in the Silicon Valley or “Austins of the world” holds no real interest for Fortunato. “For people in rural areas, or cities with declining populations, or who lack traditional business support services — that’s where I’m most interested in seeing how entrepreneurship can transform the future of these communities. Otherwise, we’re just celebritizing success stories in any environment.”

After reading the current literature on entrepreneurial ecosystems, Clevenger and Fortunato were discouraged that the knowledge in current literature cannot be implemented in communities where entrepreneurship may seem “typical.” For example, applying general statements like “create relationships with your local research universities” or “leverage local corporations as mentors,” are not going to assist the communities Fortunato has worked with. Such as a Pennsylvania small city of 6,000 where the manufacturing base died forty-five years ago, and the most entrepreneurial group is the Amish. Or a town in the Australian Outback where the agriculture and textile base is disappearing, and they have no plan for transitioning their local economy of about seventy-five, large family farms. “We were hunting for some less researched and measured environments,” said Clevenger. “Economic development people talk about entrepreneurs needing access to finance, access to workers, and basic infrastructure. We believe those are all true, but less tracked and studied issues deal with culture and leadership. That’s what we wanted to focus on.”

Because of this lack of awareness and lack of resources, Clevenger and Fortunato set off to revolutionize the current literature on entrepreneurial ecosystems. “Our goal was to show that entrepreneurship is alive and well in rural areas and that these places are indeed fertile ground for building small-scale entrepreneurial ecosystems grounded in local culture, assets, and capabilities,” states Fortunato. “We wanted to take the best of the entrepreneurship literature and apply it in new ways to places that don’t have much access to this literature.”

Clevenger is proud of the diversity of the seven case studies both books discuss. The areas covered in these case studies include a faith-based community in Abilene, Texas, a music and art community in Madison, Indiana, multi-level entrepreneurial ecosystems in Northeastern Pennsylvania, three rural towns in Nebraska, the Red Lake and White Earth Nation from Minnesota, a study on the underemployed and unemployed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a tech community that illustrated nonprofit foundations and local governments in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He says, “The work in the case studies aimed at looking at the difference in the environments and the history was important to understand how modern-day entrepreneurs and businesses came to be.” Clevenger furthered that the complexity of these regional entrepreneurial communities is overlooked and understudied. “It’s like a bowl of spaghetti, it’s complex and there are a lot of different dynamics. Each entrepreneur has their own entrepreneurial ecosystem and then multiple ecosystems make up the entrepreneurial community with their support organizations. Multiple entrepreneurial communities then create a regional entrepreneurial ecosystem. I think entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, but their support system is a little bit hidden.”

Clevenger is an advocate for the ‘underdog’ and his dedication to assisting “resource-challenged” areas is deeply rooted because of the work his family did. “Our family encouraged helping everyone,” says Clevenger. His family owned a real estate, data-processing, construction, and clothing company, and a computer training school. “It was normal to be in entrepreneurship and family-owned businesses.” Because of his background and the opportunities given to him, Clevenger has strived to make a difference through his education and research. “Growing up, just being around business and politics and being exposed to a wide range of people gave me perspective,” he says. “I was given a lot of opportunities that saw me as an underdog and invested in me, so I think that’s really why I have the same outlook.”

Both Clevenger and Fortunato hope that the publication of these books encourages anyone interested in entrepreneuring to feel like they can take the next step in their pursuit. Clevenger is eager to see the response from the readers once the books are published. “I think this will be mildly controversial just because we have a different opinion. So many people that study entrepreneurial ecosystems just have overlooked this community level of analysis. I think we have made a strong case for that.”

Eventually, Clevenger is looking toward taking the study completed in Northeastern Pennsylvania and replicating it in Northeast Ohio. In the future, he also looks toward organizing a global cross-country analysis to potentially research communities in China, Egypt, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

For more information on Dr. Morgan Clevenger, click here.