Internationalization of SMEs : Analysis of Antecedents, Strategies, and International Performance in the Indian Context
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) occupy a place of strategic importance in most of the developed and emerging economies. This is primarily because they contribute significantly to employment, GDP, exports and wealth creation in many economies .In addition, they stimulate innovative ideas, entrepreneurial skills and are adaptable to the changing conditions of business environment. An important characteristic of SME growth in recent decades has been its penetration and expansion in the international market to accomplish the objective of growth. This is commonly known as internationalization. The empirical studies on SME internationalization provide several indications about different factors that can be expected to influence the strategy and the degree of internationalization. Accordingly, export behavior of SMEs is determined by the internal factors involving the characteristics of SMEs. Subsequently, SMEs with limited access to financial resources, managerial abilities, and marketing skills find it difficult to enter the foreign market. These barriers would adversely affect their potential for expansion and their survival. Such firms might hardly dare to internationalize. Further, export marketing literature has recognized and highlighted the importance of external determinants that influence the entrepreneurs to initiate the internationalization activity and in formulating the strategies that would enhance their export performance A significant volume of empirical research argues that firms need to focus upon the external situation, on the element of external forces, and on managerial perceptions about these environmental attributes that should be regarded as a significant causal element in determining the internationalization activities. Therefore, SMEs in their early export stages are likely to be determined by both internal and external forces In this respect, a “holistic” approach is required which would facilitate the understanding of the multitude of issues that influence the internationalization decision .Therefore, internationalization of SMEs has to be seen from a strategic angle determined by both internal and external settings. In this view, it is highly important to analyze the factors that affect the SME internationalization decision from a holistic approach by taking into account the influence of antecedents (drivers, barriers, and firm level factors) on internationalization strategy and performance. A consolidated assessment of literature on determinants, strategies, and performance indicates that even though considerable information about these issues are available, research gaps exist in these areas. Therefore, it is to fill this gap that we have proposed a theoretical framework which has been conceptualized around the core aspects of SME internationalization process linking antecedents, strategies, and performance. The specific objectives of this study are: 1. To ascertain the factors that differentiate internationalized SMEs from non-internationalized SMEs. 2. To identify and analyze the different antecedents and its influence on the internationalization speed. 3. To examine the influence of various antecedents on the mode of exports adopted by SMEs. 4. To probe the achievements of SME internationalization in terms of scope, degree of internationalization, and economic performance in terms of sales turnover. 5. To derive policy implications for promoting SME internationalization in India. Furthermore, we decided to confine our study to Karnataka state, since this is one of the better industrially developed states in India. Initially, we approached MSMEDI, VITC and FKCCI in Bangalore to get the lists of SME exporters in the state. Subsequently, we merged all the three databases and prepared the district-wise and industry wise distribution of internationalized (exporting) SMEs in Karnataka. We cleaned the raw data as it comprised duplications. The final database comprised 1271 exporting SMEs for 2012/13. Later, we prepared a district-wise list of SME exporters. Since the Bangalore urban district accounted for 958 SMEs (75%) of the total 1271 SME exporters in Karnataka, we decided to confine our study to Bangalore district. We prepared an industry-wise list of SME exporters (as per National Industrial Classification (NIC) 2008, and found that machinery manufacturing industry accounted for a maximum share (182 out of 920) of the total SME exporters in Bangalore. Therefore, we decided to confine our study to the machinery industry SMEs in Bangalore district. Bangalore is the capital of Karnataka state and a major industrial city in India. Bangalore has become a most attractive city for the global investment and has been recognized as the IT capital of India. The study is based on an Ex Post Facto Exploratory research using primary data collected from a sample of 102 exporting and 52 non-exporting SMEs in Bangalore. The data was collected during the period November 2013 to December 2014 using a semi-structured questionnaire followed by visiting the firms and having personal interviews with entrepreneurs/senior managers of the firms and data analysis is done using appropriate statistical packages. Initially, we decided to examine and differentiate internationalized SMEs from non-internationalized SMEs in same sector, in terms of their characteristics and economic performance. Further, to bring out the factors that distinguish internationalized SMEs from non-internationalized SMEs, we carried out a binary logistic regression analysis for their general profile, technical profile and size profile by combining all the three groups of profiles together. The dependent binary variables distinguished internationalized SMEs from non-internationalized SMEs. The overall results indicate that (i) non- internationalized firms are younger than internationalized SMEs, (ii) CEOs of internationalized SMEs are older than that of the later, (iii) internationalized SMEs accounted for a higher sales turnover than non-internationalized SMEs. The very fact that internationalized SMEs accounted for a higher sales turnover than non-internationalized SMEs indicated that internationalization would have enabled SMEs to achieve a higher sales turnover relative to non-internationalized SMEs. We analyzed a range of antecedents and its impact on the international strategies and performance of internationalized SMEs. Basically, the antecedents have been classified into drivers, barriers and firm level factors. For the quantitative measurement of different kinds of drivers and barriers, a Likert type ordinal scale which ranged from 1 to 5, was used. In addition, firm level factors were also taken into account as the antecedents to analyze its influence on the SME internationalization process. Further, an Exploratory Factor Analysis was first undertaken to explain the export drivers into a few underlying dimensions. The results of the Exploratory Factor Analysis showed that the 13 identified export drivers could be reduced to three underlying dimensions. On the other hand, firms might get discouraged to internationalize, due to the obstacles faced either in the form of internal or external sources. According to the results of the Exploratory Factor Analysis, internal barriers which consisted of variables were grouped under four dimensions. The external barriers which consisted of 14 variables were grouped under two dimensions. After identifying the different determinants to SMEs internationalization, we analyzed how these identified determinants were able to differentiate between early and late in terms of internationalization speed. Thereafter, discriminant analysis was performed to analyze how well the explanatory variables were able to differentiate the two groups or categories i.e. early entrants compared to late entrants. Among the different firm level factors, CEOs age and exclusive export marketing division had a significant discriminant coefficient. The results revealed that it is the younger CEOs and their commitment towards internationalization facilitate firms to enter the international market at any early age. Further, among the different barriers, competitive constraints significantly differed between early and late internationalization stating that lack of competitiveness was a major factor responsible for the late internationalization of SMEs. Subsequently, we looked at how various determining factors (antecedents) influence the mode of exports adopted by the SMEs. Firstly, based on the survey data the mode of exports are classified as exports through (i) a multinational company, (ii) international trade exhibitions, (iii) exports through the network of friends and export organization and (iv) E-commerce. Secondly, we looked at the factors which influenced these SMEs in choosing the four alternative modes of entry for internationalization, by means of binary logistic regression technique. Further, the results revealed that those SMEs with CEOs who are less qualified, not highly committed and smaller in size relied on local MNC customers to enter the international market. Further, if SMEs are not highly competitive, face market barriers and influenced by the unanticipated conditions preferred to use MNC route. Subsequently, SMEs with more qualified CEOs’, face operating constraints and policy barriers preferred to enter international market through international trade exhibitions. Those SMEs with CEOs’ who are younger and face finance and information barriers and policy constraints facilitate firms to depend on various sources of network. Finally, SMEs with more qualified CEOs’, smaller in size and face policy barriers have entered the international market through E-commerce route. Finally, we analyzed the role of determining factors on the scope, degree of internationalization and on the economic performance of SMEs. Initially, the different determinants that influence the scope and the degree of internationalization are analyzed. Finally, we analyzed the impact of degree of internationalization on the economic performance of SMEs by using three multiple regression models. Among the firm level factors, only CEOs’ international experience positively influenced the scope of internationalization compared to those firms with CEOs who had lesser international experience. Therefore, it is the entrepreneurs’ competency and skills acquired over a period of time which facilitated firms to expand their scope of internationalization. Subsequently, internationalization speed had positively influenced the scope of internationalization indicating that those SMEs that had entered the international market at an early age were able to diversify its international market. Generally, early exporters were more entrepreneurial in the sense they were capable of identifying, exploring and exploiting opportunities abroad by means of their proactive behavior. We analyzed the influence of speed, scope of internationalization and along with the firm level factors on the degree of internationalization. The results revealed that it was the capabilities that were acquired in terms of experience and the commitment that facilitated firms to achieve a higher degree of internationalization compared to firms that were not capable and committed to internationalization. Further, internationalization speed had positively influenced the degree of internationalization indicating that those SMEs that had entered international market at an early age were able to achieve a higher degree of internationalization compared to those firms that had entered at a later age. Finally, we analyzed the influence of scope and degree of internationalization along with the antecedents on the economic performance in terms of total sales turnover. In the present study, the degree of internationalization had positively influenced the economic performance of SMEs indicating that those firms that had achieved a higher degree of internationalization were able to achieve higher sales turnover than the firms with a lesser degree of internationalization. Therefore, by means of widening foreign markets and building room for expansion, exporting to foreign markets was considered an important route for firm progress. The results of this study underline the need for policy trust to improve the international activities of SMEs. Further, from the research perspective, results provide a significant addition to the existing knowledge about the importance of entrepreneurial competency, commitment to internationalization and an appropriate strategy in explaining the internationalization efforts of SMEs in the emerging market of India.