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Internationalization of knowledge-intensive SMEs: The case of petroleum-related suppliers

The internationalization of the knowledge-intensive industries, which predominantly consist of SMEs, has received increased attention recently. However, the existing body of theories of internationalization is not adequate for our understanding of multifaceted knowledge-intensive industries. The authors aim to shed light on knowledge-intensive SMEs’ internationalization and thereafter to illuminate recent theories with a relational perspective on firms and discuss their fruitfulness regarding the internationalization of SMEs of this type. Empirical data are drawn from a case study of 10 Norwegian firms, located in Trondheim, that are connected to the petroleum industry through subcontracting technology and services. The study indicates that the firms based their internationalization processes on a complex mix of modes or strategies, none of which were mutually exclusive. Planned strategies as well as coincidental processes and events seem to have influenced the internationalization decisions. It is argued that in order to understand the contingencies that may affect the process of internationalization, the concept of ‘preactivity’ may be a useful addition to the more well-known concepts of ‘reactive’ and ‘proactive’ strategies. Moreover, it is demonstrated that a relational approach is fruitful in order to understand internationalization processes among knowledge-intensive SMEs.