Internationalization processes of small and medium-sized enterprises: Entering and taking off from emerging markets

Abstract: The high economic growth of formerly closed markets such as China, Russia, Poland, and the Baltic states has created vast business and growth opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Although this international business expansion of SMEs occurs in highly dissimilar business contexts and fierce international competition, it remains overlooked by research. Therefore, the main aim of this thesis is to contribute to an enhanced understanding of internationalization processes of SMEs by studying the overarching research question: What are the main features of internationalization processes of SMEs in an emerging market context? Three sub-problems are researched with regard to SMEs entering and taking off from emerging markets, as well as differences and similarities between these processes, in order to identify what features characterize them. Empirically, two surveys of 116 and 203 Swedish SMEs, respectively, with experiences of entry into emerging markets were conducted through standardized questionnaires via mail and on-site visits. In addition, case studies were conducted through interviews and observations of five internationalizing Chinese SMEs and four Chinese wholesale and retail market platforms. Five essays are compiled within the thesis and major findings and conclusions provide theoretical and empirical contributions to research on the internationalization processes of SMEs. With regard to the overlooked internationally experienced manufacturing SMEs from mature markets such as Sweden, theoretical advancements are made identifying the main concepts of their entry into emerging markets: entry node (the establishment point into the foreign business network); market-specific experiential knowledge; and perceived institutional distance. With regard to the internationally novel Chinese SMEs, these were seen to diverge from traditional internationalization paths. Indications were found of a parallel expansion abroad and at home, even using foreign markets as a springboard for further growth at home. The take-off node concerns the departure from an emerging home market, where a paradox of knowledge was found: the use of indirect export via a domestic intermediary facilitates the take off, but hinders further international expansion since no international experience or relationships are built up. Moreover, institutional distance was reduced due to collective internationalization through co-locating abroad. Generally, degree of maturity of the home market; as well as degree of internationalization and type of firm; are the main features behind differences between internationalization processes of SMEs in an emerging market context.