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Innovation and internationalization in family SMEs: analyzing the role of family involvement

Mikel Alayo (University of the Basque Country (UPV∕EHU), Bilbao, Spain)
Txomin Iturralde (University of the Basque Country (UPV∕EHU), Bilbao, Spain)
Amaia Maseda (University of the Basque Country (UPV∕EHU), Bilbao, Spain)

European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Article publication date: 27 January 2021

Issue publication date: 16 February 2022




The aim of this paper is to provide new evidence on the ability of family small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to develop ambidextrous innovations and their influence on the internationalization processes, showing how this relationship varies due to family involvement.


The analysis is based on a sample of 186 Spanish family SMEs. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling.


The results indicate that family SMEs' innovation activities are a stimulus for their internationalization process, and show the importance of family involvement in this relationship. Specifically, the findings suggest that family-specific characteristics such as the generation in charge of the business and the level of family involvement in the top management team (TMT) shape the relationship between innovation and internationalization.

Practical implications

Family SMEs need to focus on exploratory and exploitative innovations to obtain a competitive advantage in foreign markets, and thus, increase their internationalization level. Furthermore, the study contributes to a better understanding of the consequences of family involvement, increasing our knowledge of family firms' idiosyncratic behaviors in strategic activities. The study suggests that in order to improve the effect of innovation on internationalization, family owners should consider involving new generations and non-family managers within the decision-making structures.


To date, research on innovation-internationalization link in family SMEs has been fragmented and has not obtained conclusive results. This study provides new evidence on the relationship between these two important strategies. Furthermore, it contributes to the understanding of the influence of the family in shaping strategic decisions.



This study was financially supported by MCIU/AEI/FEDER-UE under the grant number RTI2018–097579-B-100; by UPV/EHU under the grant number GIU19/057; and by FESIDE. The authors also highly appreciate the institutional support received from the Family Business Centre of the UPV/EHU in collaboration with the DFB/BFA.Compliance with Ethical Standards: The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. This study has not been published anywhere else and it is not under consideration by another journal. All study participants approved the manuscript and agree with the submission to European Journal of Innovation Management.


Alayo, M., Iturralde, T. and Maseda, A. (2022), "Innovation and internationalization in family SMEs: analyzing the role of family involvement", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 454-478.



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