The Embeddedness of e-Entrepreneurship: Institutional Constraints and Strategic Choice in Latin American Digital Start-ups

  • Gerardo Quinones

Student thesis: Doctor of Business Administration


The so-called digital economy has been growing exponentially in the emerging economies and it is expected to continue growing around the globe. For this reason, many governments are funding support programmes (e.g. Start-up America in the USA, the UK’s Tech City, and Brazil Startup) to both encourage and facilitate the creation of Digital Start-ups (DSs), defined here as recently-created enterprises that produce solely digital products or services. Whilst in some regions there is some evidence that these efforts are starting to pay off, the majority of DSs that have grown to become global digital enterprises remain concentrated in the United States and Europe. In the case of Latin America, the digital economy already accounts for between 2-3.2% of GDP. Nonetheless, most e-commerce transactions occur through platforms based in the United States, with a scarcity of examples of Latin American DSs (LADSs) that have grown to become large digital firms. Despite this, the literature has paid little attention to the relationship that exists between the institutional environment and LADS’s agency. The few extant studies that do exist have focused on either institutional or infrastructure constraints and public policies, or business models and resource analysis. To address this knowledge gap, this research studied LADSs in the four largest Latin American countries (Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia), representing three-quarters of the region’s GDP, in order to answer the following questions: How do environmental pressures influence the development of LADSs? How do LADSs respond to these pressures and seize potential business opportunities? The research followed a critical realist philosophical foundation and was operationalised through a qualitative exploratory field study of forty organisations, including DSs, accelerators, investors, government agencies, and not-for-profits. Geel’s (2014) Triple Embeddedness Framework (TEF) was chosen as the theoretical framework to guide this research and integrates constructs from the Lean Start-up method (LSM), which was widely adopted by the LADSs to develop their business models. This study provides empirical support for the constructs outlined in the TEF, identifies crucial shortcomings in LSM, and uncovers new constructs that are necessary to accommodate the DSs’ digital properties, which result in tensions between their embeddedness in the institutional environment, their hybrid embeddedness in a product-sector industry and a digital industry, and their embeddedness in a multi-level organisational field that creates a core-periphery relationship between Latin America and the United States. Therefore, a new framework, entitled DIME, is proposed to assist e-entrepreneurs when developing digital business models to achieve the right firm-environment-fit in Latin America. The findings of this study will also contribute to future research, and to guide policy makers interested in fostering the development of the digital economy in emerging economies.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRichard Heeks (Supervisor) & Brian Nicholson (Supervisor)


  • institutional theory
  • lean startup
  • digital multiple embeddedness framework
  • tripple embeddedness framework
  • strategic choice
  • critical realism
  • Latin America
  • digital entrepreneurship
  • digital ventures
  • digital economy
  • digital start-ups
  • e-entrepreneurship
  • emerging economies
  • field study

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