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Small Firm Growth


  • Davidsson, Per
  • Achtenhagen, Leona
  • Naldi, Lucia


We review and discuss the literature on small firm growth with an intention to provide a useful vantage point for new research studies regarding this important phenomenon. We first discuss conceptual and methodological issues that represent critical choices for those who research growth and which make it challenging to compare results from previous studies. The substantial review of past research is organized into four sections representing two smaller and two larger literatures. The first of the latter focuses on internal and external drivers of small firm growth. Here we find that much has been learnt and that many valuable generalizations can be made. However, we also conclude that more research of the same kind is unlikely to yield much. While interactive and non-linear effects may be worth pursuing it is unlikely that any new and important growth drivers or strong, linear main effects would be found. The second 'large' literature deals with organizational life cycles or stages of development. While deservedly criticized for unwarranted determinism and weak empirics this type of approach addresses problems of high practical and also theoretical relevance, and should not be shunned by researchers. We argue that with a change in the fundamental assumptions and improved empirical design, research on the organizational and managerial consequences of growth is an important line of inquiry. With this, we overlap with one of the 'smaller' literatures, namely studies focusing on the effects of growth. We argue that studies too often assume that growth equals success. We advocate instead the use of growth as an intermediary variable that influences more fundamental goals in ways that should be carefully examined rather than assumed. The second 'small' literature distinguishes between different modes or forms of growth, including, e.g., organic versus acquisitionbased growth, and international expansion. We note that modes of growth are an important topic that has been under studied in the growth literature, whereas in other branches of research aspects of it may have been studied intensely, but not primarily from a growth perspective. In the final section we elaborate on ways forward for research on small firm growth. We point at rich opportunities for researchers who look beyond drivers of growth, where growth is viewed as a homogenous phenomenon assumed to unambiguously reflect success, and instead focus on growth as a process and a multi-dimensional phenomenon, as well as on how growth relates to more fundamental outcomes.

Suggested Citation

  • Davidsson, Per & Achtenhagen, Leona & Naldi, Lucia, 2010. "Small Firm Growth," Foundations and Trends(R) in Entrepreneurship, now publishers, vol. 6(2), pages 69-166, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:now:fntent:0300000029

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    Cited by:

    1. Edelman, Linda F. & Manolova, Tatiana & Shirokova, Galina & Tsukanova, Tatyana, 2016. "The impact of family support on young entrepreneurs' start-up activities," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 428-448.
    2. repec:hig:fsight:v:11:y:2017:i:4:p:23-32 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Crawford, G. Christopher & Aguinis, Herman & Lichtenstein, Benyamin & Davidsson, Per & McKelvey, Bill, 2015. "Power law distributions in entrepreneurship: Implications for theory and research," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 696-713.
    4. Wolter, Hans-Jürgen & Werner, Arndt & Schneck, Stefan, 2015. "Zur Entwicklungsdynamik neugegründeter Unternehmen: Eine Längsschnittanalyse auf Basis des Umsatzsteuerpanels," IfM-Materialien 238, Institut für Mittelstandsforschung (IfM) Bonn.

    More about this item


    Small firm growth; Organizational life-cycle; Growth strategies; Entrepreneurship; Business strategy; Organizational theory; Industrial economics;

    JEL classification:

    • L26 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Entrepreneurship
    • M13 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - New Firms; Startups
    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance


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