In order to promote sustainable entrepreneurship, it is necessary to understand the sustainable entrepreneurial process. To address this gap in the literature, this study aims to investigate how entrepreneurs generate ideas, as well as recognize, develop, and exploit opportunities in the context of sustainable development. A case study was carried out with eleven organizations in six different countries, from different sectors, including not-for-profit and for-profit businesses. The findings address a series of mechanisms that occur prior to the process of generating an idea and are relevant to the positive impact of these businesses on society. Entrepreneurs’ previous experiences and skills, as well as the knowledge of similar initiatives, strongly relate to motivation and idea generation. In the analyzed cases, prior experience seemed to be related to a sensitivity towards a social or environmental problem. Previous experience in entrepreneurship was not determinant. The quality of the initial idea was relevant, once little changes occurred throughout the entire process. In most situations both dimensions of sustainability were integrated at the same time and before venture launch. Despite this, the focus of the entrepreneurs was on only one dimension. The inclusion of positive impact measurement on society, as part of the sustainable entrepreneurial process model, is another relevant finding. First, it is necessary to differentiate the sustainable entrepreneur from the regular and the social entrepreneur. Secondly, in some situations, the dimensions of sustainability are not integrated at the same time and before venture launch, and therefore considering that the process is finished in the phase of venture launch can lead to misclassifications. The results also led to the recognition of triggers that can stimulate sustainable entrepreneurship, such as educational practices more aligned with sustainability problems faced by local communities, stronger dissemination of successful business cases related to sustainability in other countries and contexts, integration between universities and businesses, and the inclusion of practice-based learning in curricula. A contribution to the literature was achieved by providing a systemic perspective on sustainable entrepreneurial process. This study also contributes by presenting empirical evidence of the phenomenon of sustainable entrepreneurship. The holistic knowledge of this process provides new information that supports academics, policy makers, government, and individuals with a more appropriate understanding of the conditions that help to stimulate new business activities dealing with economic, social, and environmental problems faced in society, helping to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
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