Purpose: Social enterprises are defined in practice in terms of one operational model generating measurable value in more than one of the economic, social and natural/ecological value denomination categories. However, entrepreneurship theory does not generally or explicitly reflect this definition, which has generated confusion about the social enterprise concept. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to social enterprise theory by delineating novel aspects of this definition and their conceptual ramifications. Design/methodology/approach: The authors review the social enterprise literature with a focus only on the most original contributions and most distinct research questions. The authors do not explicitly review research on traditional for-profit entrepreneurial ventures, not-for-profit/non-governmental organizations or mainstream social entrepreneurial ventures. Findings: The authors offer several implications for social enterprise theory based on practices that are unique to the area but not amenable other areas of entrepreneurship. The contribution is instrumental to establishing social enterprise as a distinct theoretic area. Originality/value: By focusing on novel aspects of social enterprise not easily explainable by mainstream theoretic traditions, the authors offer an original contribution to the development of social enterprise theory.