I read a book about Finnish entrepreneurship stories (Yrittäjän Taivas+Helvetti Vol. 3, The Heaven and Hell of an Entrepreneur Vol. 3 in English), which includes a story about Risto Käkelä and his family firm Avant Tecno, a manufacturer of loaders, located in Ylöjärvi, Finland. Risto tells how in 1992 Jorgen, a Danish man having a small firm in their barn with his wife importing agricultural machinery to Denmark, happened to walk at the exhibition stand just when Avant Tecno started the machine of their loader on the last day of the first foreign trade fair of the firm in Germany. Jorgen tried the loader and eventually his firm started to import the machines of Avant Tecno to Denmark. Since the start of the relationship, Avant Tecno has sold machines to Denmark with 70 million euros, and in 2017 Risto gave Jorgen a gift for “the first 25 years” at the open house at Jorgen’s firm in Denmark.
“It was a lucky event for both of us. If we had started the machine ten seconds later, Jorgen would have walked by so far away that he wouldn’t have turned back”.
This story about the significance of a coincidence in the internationalization of Avant Tecno made me go back to the findings in my Master’s Thesis. Having interviewed 10 Finnish family SMEs, I also found that the network relationships created through coincidences (and often in the context of trade fairs) boosted the internationalization of many case firms. I phrased the title of the paragraph dealing with coincidences as “Give coincidences a chance,” which was inspired by the quote of the entrepreneur from one case firm:
“Well of course, if you have resources, it [internationalization] can be done by the book, but I would generally say that give coincidences a chance”.
This case firm was not one of the most active ones in international networking due to limited resources, and partially because of that the significance of coincidences was raised, but the significance of coincidences was also true for some case firms who actively pursued internationalization. Risto from Avant Tecno also implies the correlation between activity and coincidences:
“Here [the Danish case] you can see the significance of luck, but it has also been studied that if you are everywhere, see, hear, experience, and intuition is improved… Then you will have successes – and outsiders say that you had a good luck”.
Can we talk about the term “by chance” in the context of internationalization and business in general, or rather “by chased chance”? The more actively you pursue coincidences, the more likely you encounter them. There is a word for this lucky coincidence in English, “serendipity,” which refers to finding valuable things by chance. Israel Kirzner, a renowned economist in entrepreneurship, saw that due to never-existing market equilibrium, entrepreneurs discover entrepreneurial opportunities through serendipity, alertness for surprises, and flexibility rather than opportunity-seeking behavior and activities (Kirzner, 1973, 1997). However, I would say these lucky coincidences could also be approached through strategies emphasizing the active chase and orientation towards increasing the likelihood of encountering fruitful coincidences. Rather than passively waiting for calls for offers like a subcontracting firm, we should throw nets into the sea of opportunities even if we weren’t sure about the catches.
Hämäläinen, K. (2015) Yrittäjän Taivas+Helvetti Vol. 3. – Riko Rajasi. Helsinki: One on One Oy.
Kirzner, I. M. (1973) Competition and entrepreneurship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kirzner, I. M. (1997) Entrepreneurial discovery and the competitive market process: An Austrian approach. Journal of Economic Literature, 35(1): 60–85.