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The born global firm: An entrepreneurial and capabilities perspective on early and rapid internationalization

Abstract

Our 2004 Journal of International Business Studies article, “Innovation, Organizational Capabilities, and the Born Global Firm” provided a framework for the phenomenon of early and rapid internationalization among young, entrepreneurial firms. This work can be characterized as an integration of marketing, entrepreneurial, and capability-based thinking around exporting, positioned as the born global exporter. The article also reported findings from a national study of start-up firms that expanded abroad early in their evolution. In the present commentary, we reflect on the contributions of the 2004 article, review the scholarship on the topic over the past decade, and offer suggestions for future inquiry. While the incidence of early internationalization by firms was a novel concept two decades ago, today such firms are found in abundance in many countries. Yet many unresolved research questions remain, including the crucial topic of what happens to “born global” firms as they grow and mature over time. Similarly, the issue of why some firms internationalize early, others late in their evolution, and still others choose to remain local, is a fundamental question for international business scholarship.

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Figure 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    In our early writings, we spoke of the phenomenon of “early and accelerated internationalizing” firms rather than “born global” firms. Yet the term “born global” – first introduced by McKinsey – had already been established and was the more prevalent terminology. Some reviewers actually asked us to switch to the use of the “born global” term. We realize, strictly speaking, “early internationalizing” firms are not exactly “born global” firms as their geographic footprint is often modest.

  2. 2.

    Our own work began in the early 1990s. In 1994, Tamer Cavusgil wrote a commentary on the rise of born global firms in the Journal of International Marketing – a journal he served as Founding Editor (Cavusgil, 1994). Our first article on early internationalizing firms appeared in 1995 (Knight & Cavusgil, 1995), where we discussed the term “born global” at length. The data for this article originated from interviews, business publications, and other sources. Through its operationalization of the concept and empirical treatment, the article opened a new direction in born global research.“The Born Global Firm: A Challenge to Traditional Internationalization Theory” appeared in 1996 in Advances in International Marketing (Knight & Cavusgil, 1996a). This article argued the widespread appearance of born global firms suggested that traditional views on the MNE as the dominant international form might be evolving. Additional related publications followed, including Knight and Cavusgil (1996b, 1997) and Knight (2000, 2001), as well as Cavusgil and Knight (2009).

  3. 3.

    We are grateful to an anonymous reviewer for this point.

  4. 4.

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this idea.

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Acknowledgements

We sincerely appreciate helpful comments received on earlier drafts of this article from three anonymous JIBS reviewers and John Cantwell, JIBS Editor-in-Chief. We also acknowledge helpful comments of Professor Seyda Deligonul of St. John Fisher College; Nicole Coviello, Betty and Peter Sims Professor of Entrepreneurship, Wilfrid Laurier University; Professor Ivo Zander, Anders Wall Professor of Entrepreneurship, Uppsala University; and Susan Freeman, University of Adelaide. Thanks are also due to Professor Ilke Kardes and doctoral candidate Jingting Liu of Georgia State University for citation analysis presented in this article.

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Correspondence to S Tamer Cavusgil.

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Accepted by John Cantwell, Editor-in-Chief, 2 October 2014. This paper was single-blind reviewed.

The original Decade Award winning paper was published in the Journal of International Business Studies (2003) 34, 586–599, doi:10.1057/palgrave.jibs.8400056.

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Cavusgil, S., Knight, G. The born global firm: An entrepreneurial and capabilities perspective on early and rapid internationalization. J Int Bus Stud 46, 3–16 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/jibs.2014.62

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Keywords

  • born globals
  • early internationalization
  • rapid internationalization
  • entrepreneurial firms
  • innovation/creativity
  • decade award