The development of international opportunities by knowledge-intensive firms from a small, peripheral economy

Schembri, Joe (2020) The development of international opportunities by knowledge-intensive firms from a small, peripheral economy. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.


While the internationalization of knowledge-intensive (KI) firms is important for Europe’s competitiveness, its extent remains below expectations. This is a challenge especially for firms from small peripheral regions. Research in International Business (IB) and International Entrepreneurship (IE) converges around the opportunities which firms identify and develop over time. What is known on opportunities has grown but understanding the underlying mechanisms of opportunity development remains inadequate, just as knowledge of the organisational changes necessary for opportunity development.
This thesis addresses these gaps by investigating the internationalization of KI firms through the opportunities they develop. Grounded in the literature on entrepreneurial opportunities, it asks how firms develop international opportunities over time and how such opportunities shape the international trajectory of such firms. It also explores the role of organisational structure and daily routines in the process of opportunity development.
The research adopts a qualitative, process-based design, studying seven KI-firms based in Malta. Using a longitudinal approach, collecting data retrospectively and in real time over a two-year period, it develops a deep understanding of changes in opportunities, organisational structure and routines. Adopting the opportunity-firm nexus as a unit of analysis, the investigation iterates between data and theory in an abductive fashion, seeking to explain the development of key opportunities in their context. Data collected from 55 interviews, documentation and performance surveys was analysed using thematic and time-series analysis.
Findings suggest that the development of international opportunities over time follows three broad phases in a cyclical and iterative process. In the first phase firms clarify the opportunity space they want to occupy, as they learn from early opportunities. The early development of opportunities with a strategic consequence leads firms to a second phase, characterised by learning and growing. During this phase, firms seek to replicate opportunities, introducing routines and an element of organisational structure to do so. In the third phase, firms develop new opportunities while replicating older ones. Stepping up their market presence they commit to more organisational set-up as the uncertainty of the initial phases is reduced. Opportunity development is found to be dependent on firm and founder history as well as on networking, both having a path-dependent character. The study finds that early opportunities are discovered while the process of replicating opportunities on an ongoing basis is characterised by active search. Later opportunities are developed by a combination of discovery and search. The process is an uncertainty-reduction one with Psychic Distance (PD) being an important consideration in subsequent opportunities but close to irrelevant in early ones when management discretion is low. The type, intensity and sequence of opportunities determines the international trajectory of the firm, and it commits resources when key opportunities are in sight. A degree of formality, in governance, knowledge collection and sharing may improve the firm’s opportunity development capabilities.
Based on the findings, the thesis attempts to reconcile ideas from International Process Theory (IPT) and the Opportunity Based View (OBV) and discusses the implications for theory, management and policy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Funding from the Malta Government Scholarships (Endevour)
Keywords: Opportunity development, internationalization, international entrepreneurship, organisational structure, organisational routines.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Management
Supervisor's Name: Dimitratos, Professor Pavlos, Buck, Professor Trevor and Fletcher, Dr. Margaret
Date of Award: 2020
Embargo Date: 5 August 2022
Depositing User: dr JOSEPH SCHEMBRI
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81560
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 02 Oct 2020 14:12
Last Modified: 02 Oct 2020 14:12

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