SMEs and the Industrial Network Approach: Theoretical and Empirical Issues

Special issue call for papers from The IMP Journal

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent a main component of economic and industrial systems. In 2015, just under 23 million SMEs in the non-financial business sector generated €3.9 trillion of value added and employed 90 million people (European Commission, 2016).The current economic scenario of increased global competition and crisis has put a great pressure on SMEs’ ability to compete and survive, forcing them to handle their weaknesses and make the most of their strengths (Soininen et al., 2012).
SMEs, in fact, show a double and complementary nature. On the one hand they suffer weaknesses in terms of limited financial, human, material and informational resources, restricted knowledge base, narrow culture, excessive product orientation (Rogers, 1990; Shrader et al., 1989; Rothwell & Dodgson 1991). On the other hand, despite these constraints, they tend to be more creative, innovative and flexible than larger ones and thus represent relevant sources of innovations in terms of product and process technologies, new organisational configurations, often led by the entrepreneurial team (Evans & Moutinho, 1999). The innovative potential of SMEs appears especially when they are embedded in local industrial districts and technological clusters, in networks around larger firms, in articulated value chains spreading internationally (Becattini, 1990; Rothwell, 1991; Rothwell & Dodgson, 1991; Chiarvesio et al., 2010).

Small firm and entrepreneurship management are important research areas in the business literature and various journals are devoted to these topics. Entrepreneurship has been associated with networking and strategic simple rules-based behavior (Carson et al., 2000; Bingham et al., 2007; Guercini, 2012) and recently to positive heuristics in strategy and selling (Guercini et al., 2014). Recent studies highlight the emergence of new entrepreneurial forms driven by consumption and passion and linked to communities of people sharing interests and values (Cova & Guercini, 2016). Moreover, Bocconcelli and colleagues (2016) observed how recent literature on marketing and SMEs has extensively stressed the positive role of relationships and networks in various marketing processes: information and knowledge acquisition, strategic marketing decisions, New Product Development, sales and distribution management.
Despite this increasing attention to the efforts of SMEs to actively exploit available resources and the relationships and networks where they are embedded via networking activities (Coviello & Munro 1995; Coviello, 2006; Johannisson, 2009; O'Donnell, 2014), the mainstream literature still partly neglects topics such as resource development, interaction processes and network interdependence with regard to SMEs (Coviello & Cox, 2006; Bocconcelli & Pagano, 2015).

The Industrial Network Approach can provide a valuable conceptual tool to investigate more in depth the emerging features of small firm creation, development and transformation. In particular, the IMP framework can help to highlight the heterogeneous nature of resources and the dynamic process of resource combination in SMEs’ marketing and purchasing activities, as well as to shed new light on the evolution of customer and supplier relationships.

While networks including also SMEs have been studied by IMP scholars for several years, SMEs have seldom been an object of investigation per se, with a specific focus on their smallness (for an interesting exception see Håkansson & Waluszewski, 1999). However, IMP scholars have recently started to recognize the particular nature and relevance of small firms when they interact in networks, leading to detailed studies of the network contexts surrounding new enterprises and start-up incubators (Ciabuschi et al., 2012; La Rocca et al., 2013; Baraldi & Ingemansson Havenvid, 2016; Baraldi et al., 2016). These authors stress that while the entrepreneurship literature has focused on the social relationships of the entrepreneur and his/her role in the networking behind starting up a business, less attention has been paid to the substantial and complex business relationships and industrial networks in these entrepreneurial processes (Aaboen et al., 2016).

We believe that understanding the interplay between SMEs and industrial networks is a fruitful and promising avenue of research, which can contribute both industrial network theory and entrepreneurship theory. Therefore this Special Issue aims to further foster research efforts which address the relevance of an Industrial Network Approach such as IMP for examining a broad series of issues related to SMEs, their birth and development, or barriers thereof.

To this end we invite both conceptual and empirically based papers providing new insights into, but not limited to, the following topics:

  • The extent to which SMEs need particular theories about their network interactions, namely theories which differ from those applying to firms in general, and the features of such SME-specific theories or constructs;
  • Asymmetric relationships involving SMEs;
  • Peculiarities of business networks composed exclusively or predominantly of SMEs;
  • The particular roles of SMEs in industrial networks, as opposed to those of large firms or other actors;
  • How "networking" influences marketing and purchasing at SMEs;
  • The patterns of growth and development of SMEs in networks, including their opportunities and barriers;
  • The importance of geography and place for SMEs operating in networks;
  • Policy implications for SMEs when viewed as embedded in industrial networks.

    Deadline for submission:

    11 June 2017

    Submissions should be made through the online submission system ScholarOne. Full details are available in the journal author guidelines. Please ensure you select this special issue using the drop down menu when you submit online.

    Guest Editors:

    Enrico Baraldi
    Roberta Bocconcelli
    Simone Guercini
    Alessandro Pagano

    For further information please contact Roberta Bocconcelli at


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