Informations and abstract
Keywords: SMEs; Internationalization; Social Capital; Network; Food Industry; South Italy.
Drawing on the Social Capital Approach (SCA), this study aims at understanding the role of inter-personal social networks in the international strategies of SMEs operating in traditional industries. Indeed, existing studies focus above all on business and formal networks, but so far little has been said about the role of interpersonal networks. Moreover, prior analysis has focused mainly on organizations with the traits of «born global» and/or firms operating in knowledge-based industries or in niches of innovative products, therefore raising serious doubts about the validity of the extension of the results to more «traditional» SMEs. Social networks represent a field of research that in recent years has conveyed the interest of large portions of management literature and the streams of International Business and International Entrepreneurship are not exceptions. However, only few works have focused on social networks to shed light on SMEs' international path. Our knowledge on this topic remains partial, while the framework of SCA could add an important piece to the complex puzzle that depicts the development of a small business abroad. By relying on the SCA, this paper proposes a theoretical framework, according to which the international strategy of a small firm can be interpreted as an innovation process. To examine the validity of the suggested propositions and to refine them, an explorative multiple cases analysis has also been conducted. In-depth and face-to-face interviews have been carried out with four small firms operating in the food sector (a «low-tech» and «not knowledge-intensive» industry) in Southern Italy. Our framework suggests to interpret small firm's international strategy as a «socially embedded» process, according to which, the «structure» and the «content » of social networks at an inter-personal level affect the identification of the opportunities, and the choices made in terms of target markets, timing of entry and modes of entry. Moreover, we highlight that the «structural» and «relational » social capital can also generate negative effects on the international strategies, mainly overlooked in previous studies.