The concept of innovation ecosystems has become popular during the last 15 years, leading to a debate regarding its relevance and conceptual rigor, not the least in this journal. The purpose of this article is to review received definitions of innovation ecosystems and related concepts and to propose a synthesized definition of an innovation ecosystem. The conceptual analysis identifies an unbalanced focus on complementarities, collaboration, and actors in received definitions, and among other things proposes the additional inclusion of competition, substitutes, and artifacts in conceptualizations of innovation ecosystems, leading to the following definition: An innovation ecosystem is the evolving set of actors, activities, and artifacts, and the institutions and relations, including complementary and substitute relations, that are important for the innovative performance of an actor or a population of actors. This definition is compatible with related conceptualizations of innovation systems and natural ecosystems, and the validity of it is illustrated with three empirical examples of innovation ecosystems.
Published in Technovation, Vol. 90-91, February–March 2020, 102098.