Academic journal article Irish Journal of Management

Irish Female Entrepreneurs: Mapping the Route to Internationalisation

Academic journal article Irish Journal of Management

Irish Female Entrepreneurs: Mapping the Route to Internationalisation

Article excerpt


According to Deakins and Freel (1998), it seems to be generally accepted that a vibrant and healthy economy depends highly on the competitive advantage that can be gained from a strong and dynamic small business sector. Many national governments have funded initiatives to promote entrepreneurship and the long-term development of small firms. This, alongside considerable academic inquiry, has highlighted the importance of entrepreneurial activity for future economic development and the crucial role of entrepreneurs within a small business sector that will create and build fast-growth and internationally focused smaller firms.

Further to this, the importance of female entrepreneurs and their potential contribution to both the local and global economy has now been recognised and there is increased policy and research interest in this area. Nevertheless, the extant literature on female entrepreneurs is often limited to the pre-start-up stage of business, dealing in particular with issues of discrimination in raising finance (Brown, 1995 as cited in Mukhtar, 2002;Touby, 1994) or the motivations of temale entrepreneurs in starting new ventures (Cromie, 1987).

An OECD report (2001) concludes that it is difficult to ascertain how many women entrepreneurs are involved in international trade, in what capacity and in what countries. Indeed, Koreen (2001) argues that "comprehensive studies are lacking and there exist important gaps in statistics on the small firm in international trade broken down by gender". Moreover, while it is possible to detect the level of female entrepreneurship in Ireland and other countries using the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (2002), this particular study does not indicate how many of these women trade internationally. Thus, despite the fact that the global marketplace presents a huge opportunity for women to expand their businesses internationally, there is little conclusive evidence that they are doing so or, indeed, that they have the motivation to do so. Given this gap, the present study aims to focus very specifically on the internationalisation of the small female-owned entrepreneurial firm in Ireland. It reviews the limited existing literature on the topic and explores the internationalisation processes with regard to female-owned Irish entrepreneurial firms. The aim of the empirical research is to investigate the circumstances, motivations and barriers of these entrepreneurs and to explore how they believe gender affects internationalisation issues. A secondary objective is to identify any notable differences between the experiences of internationalising women entrepreneurs in the North of Ireland and those in the Republic of Ireland.



Many of the extant models of firm internationalisation posit that firms gradually internationalise in an incremental manner through a series of evolutionary "stages". As they do so, they commit greater resources to overseas markets gradually and tend to target countries that are increasingly "psychically" distant. An underlying assumption of all these models is that firms are well established in the domestic market before venturing abroad. (For comprehensive reviews of the literature see Leonidou and Katsikeas, 1996.) However, these conceptualisations have been challenged as "much too deterministic" (Reid, 1983). Indeed, Andersen (1983) also contends that stage theories lack clear boundaries and explanatory power, and that the models do not address the reasons for moving trom one stage to the next. More recent research into "born global" firms has also contested the incremental processes oi internationalisation as these firms skip many of the stages or move straight into international markets without a period of domestic activity (Hurmerinta-Peltomaki, 2001) or without activity in the domestic market at all (Bell et al., 2001).

Ibeh (2000) highlights three alternative views on small firm internationalisation: the resource-based perspective (Barney, 1991; Grant, 1991 ; Wernerfelt, 1984) the business strategy perspective (based on the work of Young et al. …

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