Recent escalation in the internationalisation activity of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) has necessitated a reassessment of traditional internationalisation theories. The dual trends of globalisation and advancing technologies have altered the competitive landscape of international business, increasing opportunities for SMEs to enter international markets once dominated by multinationals. Despite a profusion of literature concerning the processes of firm internationalisation, a framework for SME internationalisation is lacking. Existing rationales have been criticised for their failure to adequately account for the idiosyncratic nature smaller firms' internationalisation processes, particularly those engaged in high technology industries. It is proposed in this study that institutional legitimacy theory may offer a valuable and timely complement to these existing rationales in the context of high-technology SME internationalisation.
This thesis explores the question 'does institutional legitimacy have a role in the internationalisation process of small-to-medium sized high-technology firms, and if so, what are these roles?' To examine this research question, a theoretical framework for the effect of institutional legitimacy in high-technology SME internationalisation is proposed, and tested through the analysis of four multi-level cases. Four successful Australian high-technology SMEs form the empirical basis for this study. Propositions are developed from this framework to investigate the roles of four key sources of legitimacy, as derived from the institutional legitimacy literature. Within the confines of this research, there is supporting evidence that institutional legitimacy plays an important role in the internationalisation performance of Australian high-technology SMEs.