KIBS are defined as services involving economic activities intended to result in the creation, accumulation and dissemination of knowledge (den Hertog, 2000; Miles et al., 1995; Muller and Doloreux, 2009). Previous research indicates experts and professionals as the main source of knowledge and contacts for KIBS companies (Grimshaw and Miozzo, 2009; Robertson et al., 2003; Swart and Kinnie, ... [Show full abstract] 2003). These studies focus mainly on mature firms, consequently failing to describe how these resources are generated and managed throughout the firm’s life-cycle. A great deal of theoretical and empirical research (see, for instance, Shane and Venkataraman, 2000; Song et al., 2008; Unger et al., 2011) identifies the entrepreneur as a primary source of the resources (be they financial, human or social) needed for a business to succeed, especially in nascent and small or medium enterprises (SMEs). Following this stream of research, we assumed that entrepreneurs who establish KIBS firms are a major source of knowledge and relationships. Our hypothesis is that these entrepreneurs’ education and work experiences (human capital) and their contacts (social capital) will contribute differently to their firm’s performance in the various stages of the organization’s life-cycle.
We conducted a survey on a sample of 414 Italian KIBS firms. The results of econometric analyses suggest that an entrepreneur’s human capital plays a major part in sustaining a firm’s growth, especially during the early stages of the organization’s development. Later on, as it continues to expand, the entrepreneurs’ social capital replaces their human capital in sustaining their firm’s performance. Mature firms ultimately rely very little on the entrepreneurs’ personal resources for their further growth.
Our contribution to the literature is both theoretical and empirical. First, we add to the literature on entrepreneurship, investigating the changing contribution of an entrepreneur’s human and social capital to a firm’s performance during its organizational life-cycle. Second, since - despite growing interest in KIBS - few studies have focused on their performance drivers, we provide some insight on the entrepreneur’s role in contributing to a service firm’s performance. Finally, we report empirical findings relating to a country (Italy) where KIBS research has been extremely limited.