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

Eric Costa, António Lucas Soares, Jorge Pinho de Sousa

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    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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1182-1202
    Number of pages21
    JournalJournal of Business and Industrial Marketing
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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