Governments and policy makers often look to small and medium-sized enterprises to drive growth in developing economies. These SMEs are held up as incubators of creativity and entrepreneurship, pushing the market to change, expand, and better meet consumer needs. But perhaps SMEs aren’t the only category to applaud. Research has shown that certain firms, regardless of their size, create jobs, export goods, and generally grow faster than others. We think these are the firms to watch.
To explain, we use an animal analogy developed by David Birch. Birch classified firms into “mice,” small firms that tend to stay small; “elephants,” large firms that do not grow rapidly; and “gazelles,” firms that both grow rapidly and account for a large share of employment or revenue growth. These gazelling firms are key to nascent, growing economies. As Caroline Freund and Martha Denisse Peirola show in Export Superstars, a World Bank Research Policy Paper, it is often a few big firms that account for the lion’s share of national exports. Not only are these few good firms responsible for the largest growth in exports, they also contribute most of the export diversification. In fact, countries’ relative comparative advantage is defined by these large, well-performing firms.