2012 Research Project Summaries

Globalising Actors’ in Small Multinational Companies: How do UK SMEs develop the capabilities to operate internationally?

A key feature of globalisation is the greater opportunities for small firms to internationalise. While academics have examined the ‘entry modes’ of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as they expand internationally, rather less is known about how small firms approach the challenges of managing their operations across borders. Once international, small firms face the difficulty of dealing with new challenges arising from the quite different national contexts in which they find themselves. The proposed research will address how small firms manage their international operations and develop the capacities and contacts necessary to meet these challenges. In particular, how do key individuals in SMEs develop the skills and networks that they necessary to become successful ‘globalising actors’?

The research will be organised around the following questions:

• How much, and what sort, of control do they seek to exercise over their operations in different countries?

• To what extent do small MNCs engage in a process of knowledge transfer or organisational learning as they internationalise?

• How do small MNCs approach the question of who will hold key positions in their international operations and who will be mobile across them?

In addressing these questions we will examine how such firms overcome (or fail to overcome) barriers to the internationalisation process and establish the knowledge and networks that they need. How SMEs overcome the barriers in this respect is central to the sustainable performance of this crucial segment of our economy.

Social capital and SME internationalisation: exploring the potential for networking for competitive advantage

This project will explore the ways in which SMEs in areas where few SMEs are engaged in international trade utilise formal and informal networks and build social capital in order to acquire knowledge about the process of internationalisation. The study will explore the proposition that enhancing local social capital networks with external sources of expertise will help to promote SME internationalisation in such areas. We will test ways in which SMEs with internationalisation potential can work together with experienced peers, with the active facilitation of business networking organisations, the higher education sector and public and private support agencies.

The research will focus on the city of Hull and its surrounding sub-region, an area that has suffered badly from the current economic recession, but for which there is potential for future growth building on emerging sectors such as renewable energy. Working with a local business membership body, the research team will explore the experiences of SMEs that have succeeded in internationalising and those that are seeking to internationalise. We will test a new model of support for SME internationalisation that builds on existing social capital while enhancing networks with the support of business organisations and other local agencies. The project will trial such an approach by establishing ‘facilitated peer learning’ groups bringing together successfully internationalised SMEs with SMEs that are considering entering international markets. This experiment will be evaluated, with the findings and recommendations being disseminated locally as well as across other areas with similar economic and business structures.

Antecedents and Glocalized Networks of Indian Transnational Entrepreneurs (TEs) in the UK

Asians from the Indian subcontinent have established a remarkable number of independent businesses in the UK since the 1970s; many of these entrepreneurs rely on the successful exploitation of links with India. The transnational linkages of ethnic minority entrepreneurs in the UK are rapidly being recognized as a key element of continued economic development. Based on approximately 60 semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with Indian transnational entrepreneurs (TEs) in the UK (and their networks in India), we seek to explore the antecedents of these entrepreneurs, and hence their propensity to engage in transnational behavior, and to discern the nature and role of TEs’ glocalized networks, that is, networks with both global and local connections, in the process through which they found and grow their ventures. In its focus on business owners of Indian origin and the processes through which they leverage their networks in India, the study draws attention to the role of network relationships in developing markets for the internationalization of SMEs in the UK, and complements recent pilot research on networks of permanent returnee entrepreneurs (from the UK) in India. We hope that the findings will enable the identification of specific types of network as a key means of transforming TEs’ networks into sustained economic development in both countries.

Small and Medium-sized Accountancy Practices Advisory Role in Small and Medium-sized Enterprises’ Internationalisation Efforts: An Exploratory Study in the UK

This project investigates the internationalisation advisory services Small and Medium-sized Accountancy Practices (SMPs) provide to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and how these advisory services equip SMEs with the adequate knowledge to assist their engagement in international expansions. Brunel  University’s academic researchers will collaborate with The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), a world-renowned association  for professional accountants. The selected members of ACCA will be interviewed for the purpose of this study.

The main objectives for the project are:

1. To explore the nature of the internationalisation advice (knowledge) SMPs provide to SMEs;

2. To determine to what extent this advice is tailored to SMEs’ individuality and business purpose;

3. To investigate the knowledge transfer process by means of which SMPs pass their internationalisation advisory services to SMEs;

4. To explore the role of trust in the knowledge transfer process between SMPs and SMEs.

The output from this research, in the form of presentations, interactive workshop activities and professional development materials disseminated through selected stakeholder channels, will improve the academic and practitioner understanding of the accountants’ advisory role in the internationalisation process for UK SMEs. The good practice guidelines for internationalisation advisory services resulting from the empirical findings of this study will thus contribute to the SME’s international business involvement and development.

Promoting International Entrepreneurship and Micro Business Internationalisation: A Study of Soft Landing Zones

The importance of entrepreneurship and SMEs to the European economy is widely acknowledged. However, in order to enhance the resilience and competitiveness of these ventures there is increasingly a need to think beyond regional and national borders, and engage in international markets. This study project focuses on those entrepreneurs and micro businesses seeking to ‘go international’. In particular, the study seeks to analyse the new forms of support infrastructure that is being utilised in certain locations to attract and nurture these ventures, especially the growing role of ‘soft landing zones’. Launched in 2008 by UKTI, soft landing zones are a network of 16 sites in key cities around the world to support the internationalisation of UK enterprise. In contrast to other support infrastructures, such as business incubators which typically have an indigenous focus, soft landing zones offer a physical presence outside of the UK intended to help businesses expanding internationally by supporting them with ‘local’ challenges (i.e.  linguistic and cultural barriers, local knowledge, legal and accounting support). This study will examine soft landing zones in four nations, which seek to facilitate imports and exports, with the aim of understanding the mechanisms, practices, value, and effectiveness they provide as portals for entrepreneurs and micro business looking to go international. The project aims to identify good practice in internationalisation and distil lessons to for policy in facilitating international entrepreneurship.