The Internationalization of SMEs: An Interactive Perspective of Firm-Level Entrepreneurship and Network Structure
Sammanfattning: The positive relationship of firm-level entrepreneurship and performance has received much attention in recent years and has become an attractive title in the entrepreneurship literature. This popularity encourages researchers to study the role played by the phenomenon on other organizational outputs such as internationalization. Until now, the majority of international studies have put their attention on the conceptual explanation of the interaction, and the number of empirical studies on the subject is few. Furthermore, almost all the empirical studies have been performed in developed and emerging markets, and developing areas such as the Middle East are nearly ignored.In the real context of Iranian business, policymakers support entrepreneurship as a proven way to improve the internationalization of smaller companies. Following this assumption, several supportive plans have been designed and executed which aim to increase the entrepreneurial status of SMEs as a way to enhance their internationalization. A question worth answering here is: Does having a better entrepreneurial stature mean better internationalization for Iranian SMEs? To answer this question and to fill the gap in the literature on the subject, this research explains the relationship of firm-level entrepreneurship and the internationalization of Iranian SMEs.To resolve the current conceptualization problem of firm-level entrepreneurship and to respect a broad conceptualization of entrepreneurship, a profile measurement model was employed in which companies are classified into four different groups: non-entrepreneurial, forced entrepreneurial, latent entrepreneurial, and actual entrepreneurial. This profile model incorporates the two popular constructs of entrepreneurial orientation and corporate entrepreneurship to determine the entrepreneurial stature of a company. Surprisingly, while the literature predicted the highest level of internationalization for actual entrepreneurial companies, the forced entrepreneurial firms showed the best internationalization in reality. The only exception was when the environments became very hostile, in which the actual entrepreneurial SMEs suppressed the forced entrepreneurial, showing better internationalization. These unexpected conclusions led the researcher to consider the complementary role of business networks. A case study approach was applied. The results revealed the importance of actor type in the decision to enter a foreign market, structural holes in identifying international opportunities, and network closure in realizing the opportunities. In simpler words, the forced entrepreneurial company held a better position to receive the information about international markets because most actors who dealt with them where international companies. In addition, it enjoyed an external network rich of structural holes and a dense internal network, which respectively facilitated the exploration and exploitation of subsequent international opportunities.All in all, however, firm-level entrepreneurship seems an important factor of companies’ internationalization that could somehow justify why entrepreneurial companies show better international activities than nonentrepreneurial firms, it is not able to explain how different types of entrepreneurial companies could hold different levels of internationalization. This is the mutual interaction of entrepreneurial status and the network structure that presents a powerful explanation of the difference in internationalization among companies. Therefore, researchers are invited to focus more on a configurational analysis of firm-level entrepreneurship, network structure, and internationalization, and policymakers are recommended to see both entrepreneurship and business networks when they design a supportive plan to improve the internationalization of SMEs.
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