Innovation in Small Businesses: Drivers of Change and Value Use

Innovation and firm value are key drivers for business success. Their respective roles are vital in creating and improving goods and services, developing market demand, meeting market expectations, and increasing shareholders’ wealth.

In this report we examined the drivers of innovation within small businesses. We examine what drivers affect the number of patents issued to a small business by using patent production as a proxy for innovation; these drivers include employee headcount, sales, R&D expenditures, and other factors. We also examined the factors that affect firm value: R&D expenditures, patent issuance, and others.

Our first result shows that innovation increases significantly as small businesses increase employee headcount. Using a firm’s patent activity as a proxy for innovative activity, our empirical results show that a one-hundred person increase in employee headcount increases innovative activity by 20 percent. Perline, Axtell, and Teitelbaum (2006) found similar results with respect to the survival rates of firms and the firm size. Wallsten (2000) also found that firms with more employees win more Small Business Innovation Research grants. Our analysis is consistent over every year for which research was performed (2004, 2005 and 2006), using a multivariate regression analysis dating back to 2000.

In our second result, we observe that changes in a firm’s sales have neither a positive nor negative effect on innovation. The analysis, as before, applies to 2004 through 2006, and uses patent activity as a proxy for innovative activity.

Thirdly, we observe that empirical results reveal that there is no statistical relationship between patent count and market value. Lerner (1994) found different results when he modeled the tradeoff between patent protection and a firm’s valuation. While Lerner’s study focused on patents within the biotechnology industry, our analysis uses an industry-by-industry approach, focusing on five specific industries:


  • Chemicals and Allied Products (“Chemicals”); Industrial and Commercial Machinery and Computer Equipment (“Industrial Machinery”)

  • Electronic and Other Electrical Equipment and Components, Except Computer Equipment (“Electronics”)

  • Measuring, Analyzing, and Controlling Instruments; Photographic, Medical, and Optical Goods; Watches and Clocks (“Mechanical Goods”); and

  • Business Services (“Business Services”).


Perhaps one explanation for this result is that patent count, per se, may be necessary to protect a position in an industry versus creating ground-breaking opportunities for a firm. Alternatively, patents may not create great leaps of technological capabilities, or some patents may have limited application. Therefore the market may not reward patent generation per se, even though patent generation is an indicator of innovation.

Finally, our results indicate that there may be as much as a three percent increase in market value for every ten percent increase in R&D expenditures. However, this relationship is dependent upon industry. The remainder of this paper explains some of our analysis in greater detail, and concludes with areas of further research that may be warranted.

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