Journal of International Entrepreneurship

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 390–417 | Cite as

Be international or be innovative? Be both? The role of the entrepreneurial profile

  • Stefano DenicolaiEmail author
  • Birgit Hagen
  • Alessia Pisoni


Be international? Be innovative? Be international and innovative? Following the logic of the upper echelon (UE) perspective, this paper studies the impact of the entrepreneur(s) demography, background, and experience on their strategic choices, i.e., innovation, internationalization, or a combination of the two strategies. We employ cluster analysis on a sample of 88 Italian Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) operating in different industries to classify the firms along their entrepreneur(s)’ characteristics. Three significantly different clusters emerge, i.e., the typical Italian family firms, a group of businesses led by solitary self-made men, and the team-founded firms. The three groups are related to differences in internationalization behavior and innovation practice. Family-led firms are mainly domestic and concentrated on product innovation, while team-founded firms combine intensive internationalization with innovative marketing and management practices. A third cluster describes the solitary founder with serial business experience, whose businesses foster product and process innovation combined with moderate levels and scope of internationalization. Furthermore, our findings reveal that internationalization tends to be related to the type of innovation, much more than to R&D intensity or other measures of novelty (i.e., radical or incremental).


Entrepreneurship SME Internationalization Innovation Upper echelon Strategy Cluster analysis 


Internationalisierung? Innovation? Internationalisierung und Innovation? Der „Upper Echelon“-Theorie folgend untersucht diese Studie Unternehmer-Charakteristika (demographische Merkmale, Erfahrung, Ausbildung etc.) als Einflussfaktoren auf strategisches Verhalten, im konkreten Fall auf die Wahl von Internationalisierungs- und/oder Innovationspraxis. Mittels Cluster-Analyse gruppieren wir 88 italienische KMU aus unterschiedlichen Branchen anhand der Merkmale ihrer Gründer. Es bilden sich drei deutlich unterschiedliche Cluster: das typische italienische Familienunternehmen, eine Gruppe von Unternehmen, die von „Selfmademan“ geleitet werden, und jene Unternehmen, die von mehreren Partnern gegründet wurden. Die drei Firmengruppen unterscheiden sich signifikant in ihrem Internationalisierungs- und Innovationsverhalten. Familiengeführte Unternehmen sind vor allem auf den Heimmarkt und auf Produktinnovation konzentriert, während Team-gegründete Firmen globale und intensive Internationalisierung mit innovativem Marketing und Management kombinieren. Die von „Selfmademen“ geleiteten Firmen verbinden Produkt- und Prozessinnovation mit mittlerer Internationalisierungsintensität auf limitierter geografischer Skala. Die Ergebnisse unserer Studie zeigen auch, dass Internationalisierungserfolg mehr mit der Art der Innovation, als mit F&E Intensität oder Indikatoren wie radikaler oder inkrementeller Neuerung verbunden ist.


Unternehmertum KMU Internationalisierung Innovation Upper-Echelon Theorie Strategie Cluster Analyse 



Stefano Denicolai and Birgit Hagen gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Cariplo Foundation International Recruitment Call “The internationalization of Italian firms: the role of intangibles, managerial resources, and corporate governance”.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefano Denicolai
    • 1
    Email author
  • Birgit Hagen
    • 1
  • Alessia Pisoni
    • 2
  1. 1.University of PaviaPaviaItaly
  2. 2.University of InsubriaVareseItaly

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