It is widely recognized that accurately identifying and classifying competitors is a challenge for many companies and entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, it is a paramount activity which provide valuable insights that affect a wide range of strategic decisions. One of the main challenges in competitor identification lies in the complex nature of the competitive relationships that arise in business environments. These have been extensively investigate over the years, which lead to a plethora of competition theories and frameworks. Still, the concept of competition remains conceptually complex, as none of these approaches properly formalized their assumptions. In this paper, we address this issue by means of an ontological analysis on the notion of competition in general, and of business competition, in particular, leveraging theories from various fields, including Marketing, Strategic Management, Ecology, Psychology and Cognitive Sciences. Our analysis, the first of its kind in the literature, is grounded on the Unified Foundational Ontology (UFO) and allows us to formally characterize why competition arises, as well as to distinguish between three types of business competitive relationships, namely market-level, firm-level and potential competition.
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