The Process of the Growth of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs)
Zabalia-Iturriagagoitia, Jon Mikel
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Firm growth is a central topic in the literature on entrepreneurship, strategic management and industrial organization, among others. For an individual entrepreneurial firm, growth is an evidence of the return of the entrepreneur’s investment and self-fulfillment. Growth is also a condition of survival for young and small businesses, as growing firms are found less vulnerable to failure than non-growers (Stam et al., 2006). The macroeconomic importance of firm expansion was recognized in the 1980s, when the phenomenon of gazelles or high-growth firms was first described as those capable of intense size increases within a limited time span (Birch, 1981; Birch & Medoff, 1994; Birch et al., 1994; Storey, 1994; Coad, 2009; Acs et al., 2008). According to empirical research gazelles form a small fraction of business population. However, they represent a disproportionally large share in new job creation (Storey, 1994; Coad 2009; Stam et al., 2006; Acs et al., 2008). Growing firms are also more likely to generate innovations, specifically product innovations involving technological advancements (Coad, 2009; Schreyer, 2000; Storey, 1994; Smallbone et al., 1995). Both researchers and policy makers interested in expansion, focus on rapidly growing firms and on small and medium-sized enterprises. This interest in high-growth enterprises is justified by the observation that the remaining population either grows slowly or does not perform any expansion (Coad, 2009). At the same time, gazelles are predominantly young, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The dynamics and economic contribution of firms’ growth are negatively associated with age and size, which corresponds to the observation that job losses are generated mainly by the established, large and non-growth firms (Acs et al., 2008). As firm expansion and growth have proved to be a condition for competitive advantage both at the level of individual firms and at the level of the economy at large, the phenomenon of firm growth has become a focus of research. One of the main purposes of this increasingly preeminent research stream is to provide recommendations for firm management and for economic policy, undergoing the risks and challenges in achieving expansion. However, in order to provide these recommendations, we need to better comprehend the entrepreneurial motivations and the attitudes towards growth, the stimuli and impediments to company growth, the potential mechanisms to firm growth and modes of expansion. This special issue seeks to contribute to the knowledge base on the growth process of entrepreneurial firms, which is an emerging stream of research on firm growth. This emerging stream complements the existing perspectives on expansion, which are more focused on: 1) companies’ internal adaptation mechanisms, as reflected in life cycle models, and on 2) determinants and predictors of firm growth (Dobbs & Hamilton, 2006; McKelvie & Wiklund, 2010). We present the focus provided in this special issue as complementary to existing approaches, aiming also to contribute with new findings in addressing some yet underexplored areas. The emerging stream of growth process refers to why and how growth is implemented through proactive entrepreneurial actions and decision-making processes, which are presented in complex organizational and environmental contexts, including cause-effect mechanisms in the history of company development. This holistic approach is a constituent feature of studies on the growth process. It differentiates from the currently dominating focus on the determinants of individual firm’s growth and from the earlier stage models of internal adaptation to the challenges imposed by expansion. In the following sections of this introductory paper, we discuss first the stream of research on the growth process in connection with the extant literature on firm growth. Then we highlight the contribution of the individual papers included in this special issue as well as the contribution aimed at by the entire issue as a whole. Finally, the conclusion delineates some potential pathways for further research as a result of the findings provided by the special issue.
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