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Institutional networks for supporting the internationalisation of SMEs: the case of industrial business associations

Eric Costa (INESC TEC – INESC Technology and Science and FEUP – Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal)
António Lucas Soares (INESC TEC – INESC Technology and Science and FEUP – Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal)
Jorge Pinho de Sousa (INESC TEC – INESC Technology and Science and FEUP – Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Article publication date: 2 October 2017

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to study and explore the activities and the use of institutional network resources by industrial business associations (IBAs) to support and facilitate internationalisation processes of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Other goals are to understand the internationalisation follow-up process and the future vision of IBAs to improve this internationalisation support.

Design/methodology/approach

Based on empirical evidence and following an abductive approach, this paper presents a qualitative exploratory field research, providing insights from interviews performed with 20 IBAs based in Portugal.

Findings

The findings suggest that the current institutional network support to internationalisation is mainly provided through promotional activities; counselling, training and technical and legal support; information sharing; and cooperation with other institutional entities. Each support category is explored and explained and a new conceptual model is developed to represent these findings. Regarding the internationalisation follow-up, IBAs provide a continuous support for the international operations by using some instruments and mechanisms to assist SMEs after an internationalisation initiative. Finally, collaboration and the use of new information technology are the main aspects to improve IBAs’ support in a near future.

Research limitations/implications

The qualitative methodological approach adopted in this work can imply a larger difficulty to obtain a generalisation of the findings. Another limitation is that the participating IBAs are based in only one country.

Practical implications

Findings can help SMEs to understand the functioning and the benefits of using the institutional network resources of IBAs in overcoming their lack of resources to operate in international markets. IBAs can also understand their current position in terms of internationalisation support and think about new ways for improving this support.

Originality/value

This paper contributes to a better understanding of the influence of institutional networks in SME internationalisation by exploring the specific role of one of the institutional actors rather than focusing on the institutional network as a whole. Therefore, this study details the current activities and uncovers other types of support provided by IBAs that are not based on export promotion programmes. New knowledge is also obtained about the specific information content, information sources and means and channels of information sharing used by IBAs for supporting SME internationalisation.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This manuscript has benefited greatly from the contributions, constructive criticisms and suggestions of the insightful reviewers and editor of this journal. This research was funded by the Portuguese funding agency, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), through the PhD Studentship SFRH/BD/110131/2015. It was also supported by the Project “TEC4Growth – Pervasive Intelligence, Enhancers and Proofs of Concept with Industrial Impact/NORTE-01-0145-FEDER-000020” financed by the North Portugal Regional Operational Programme (NORTE 2020), under the PORTUGAL 2020 Partnership Agreement, and through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Citation

Costa, E., Lucas Soares, A. and Pinho de Sousa, J. (2017), "Institutional networks for supporting the internationalisation of SMEs: the case of industrial business associations", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 32 No. 8, pp. 1182-1202. https://doi.org/10.1108/JBIM-03-2017-0067

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited