SMEs typically account for more than 90% of the business population however a report by the British Business Bank published last year suggested that they account for less than half of all exports and imports and when it comes to other forms of internationalisation, such as foreign direct investments, participation of SMEs is even more limited. This means that many SMEs are missing out on the benefits often associated with internationalisation - higher productivity, faster growth, greater innovation and better chances of survival. A fact that has not gone unnoticed by policy makers in the UK that have made SME internationalization a key element of the Industrial Strategy that seeks to address poor productivity and generate wealth.
Compete-In seeks to strengthen the support available to small and medium-sized companies wishing to internationalise. Research underpinning the project is helping to shape policy responses in a variety of areas and I was delighted to share the emerging findings with project partners in a keynote at a recent symposium. The obstacles facing SMEs are many and varied but there appear to be three opportunities that are common across different nations. Firstly, the research points to the importance of partnership working in furthering the process of SME internationalisation. By encouraging stakeholders to work together in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way, opportunities are created that may not have otherwise be identified or realised and a strong eco-system can make a material difference to SME internationalisation. Secondly there is a need to promote the need for and encourage investment in digitisation and other technologies that can drive productivity improvements and help businesses to compete in the global economy. Thirdly, local areas can make the most of what they have in terms of quality of life and ‘liveability’ factors and to promote these both within the locality and as part of an internationalisation strategy. The options facing regional policy planners are vast and through further knowledge exchange project partners will seek to identify the interventions that can make a difference to SME internationalisation in their regions and develop some action plans to achieve positive impact in the region.