International expansion of small high technology based firms : the role of external linkages in international growth and development
This thesis examines the internationalisation of small firms in high technology sectors based in England and Scotland. The conceptual stance taken is that internationalisation is part of the growth and development process of small firms and needs to be viewed holistically. Internationalisation processes are examined chronologically by tracking the external links made by the sample firms from their inception until the date of the survey. The theoretical approach is eclectic, drawing on internalisation/transaction cost, network, internationalisation and resource-based approaches to explanation of firm growth and specifically, their international development. The constructs of the research, the external links, are constructed on the dimensions of internal and external links, inward and outward links and are differentiated by strategic value chain activities research and development, production, and marketing/distribution. The findings of the research indicate that most small technolog y based firms do not internationalise in an export-based evolutionary pattern. Rather, intemationalisation processes are diverse and complex, often reflecting areas of specialisation of the firm, or its internal growth processes. The research indicated that internationalisation is accelerating for the small firm sector, at least in high technologies, with first international links occurring immediately or soon after inception. The factors influencing internationalisation tend to be firm specific and associated with the capabilities, competencies and resources of the associated firms. The major contribution of this thesis is in its development of a conceptual approach which allows the heterogeneity of small firms to be taken into account in the research design, focuses on the holistic growth and development of the firm rather than a functional perspective, and makes a significant advance towards the integration of different theoretical approaches to the development of small international firms. There are important implications in the findings, amongst which is evidence that small firms in certain sectors are subject to influences from international, if not global, industries at an early stage. These firms need to be prepared to compete at international level, and become involved in cross border activity at very eariy stages in their development. At policy level, the imperative is to provide appropriate infrastructural support and advice which goes beyond the encouragement of exports and recognises that small firms may be involved in additional or alternative internationalisation processes than to the conventional export route broadly recognised within the policy framework.