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Export duration and product innovations: do born globals learn by exporting differently?

Sui Sui (Global Management Studies Department, Ted Rogers School of Management, Toronto Metropolitan University, Toronto, Canada)
Matthias Baum (Faculty of Law, Business and Economics, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany)
Dandan Li (Department of Economics and Finance, International Business College, Dongbei University of Finance and Economics, Dalian, China)

Multinational Business Review

ISSN: 1525-383X

Article publication date: 7 June 2023

Issue publication date: 12 June 2023




This paper aims to study the learning-by-exporting effect among small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Specifically, the authors propose a dynamic perspective and suggest that learning-by-exporting is duration-dependent and contingent upon the born global internationalization strategy. In earlier phases of export activities, exporting has had a strong positive effect on SMEs’ innovations, which, however, diminishes over time. This inverted U-shape effect is even more distinct for born global firms.


The authors used longitudinal data with 1,689 Canadian SMEs to test their hypotheses. A two-stage instrumental approach is used to take into account the endogeneity of the born global international strategy on new product innovations.


Born globals learn faster at the early stages of exporting but also restrain their innovations more strongly than gradual internationalizers in the longer run, leveling out the initial learning advantages of newness. Thus, this study suggests that born globals have a significantly different learning trajectory than gradual internationalizers.

Practical implications

To maximize the benefits of exporting on innovation, managers should focus on learning during the initial years of exporting. However, once this period has passed, it is advisable for managers to invest in research and development as well as other innovation activities to complement the learning effect of exporting. Born global firms experience more rapid learning at the initial stage of exporting, but such learning effects wear off quicker later than gradually internationalized firms. For SME managers, this study helps draw their attention to the learning benefits of exporting in the initial years of export participation.


This study corroborates recent studies arguing for a “learning-by-exporting” effect. Providing longitudinal firm-level evidence, the authors also forward a dynamic perspective and show that learning by exporting is duration dependent and contingent upon the market entry strategy pursued by SMEs.



Funding: Supported by the 111 Project No. D21007 and Ministry of Education in China Project of Humanities and Social Sciences No.18YJC790074.


Sui, S., Baum, M. and Li, D. (2023), "Export duration and product innovations: do born globals learn by exporting differently?", Multinational Business Review, Vol. 31 No. 2, pp. 220-241.



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