Characterizing the technology firm: An exploratory study

A. Grinstein*, Arieh Goldman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Technology firms occupy a central position in modern economies. They drive economic growth, productivity gains and have created new industries and innovative products. Many will agree that technology firms are distinguished from others in their emphasis on technological activities. Since this observation is too general, researchers suggested a variety of specific criteria and definitions. A number of definitions of technology firms appear in the literature but many are arbitrary and simplistic and none gained wide acceptance. Similarly, the number of characteristics suggested is large, reflecting a variety of perspectives and interests. In this case too no agreement exists as to which are the important ones. Also, many seem to be interrelated capturing different aspects of the same underlying concepts. This paper is concerned with the issue of definition and classification of technology firms. We demonstrate the usefulness of a different approach to the definition and classification problem. We rely on executives' evaluations of their firms' technology profile and level. An analysis of these evaluations reveals the underlying dimensions the executives used in making their judgments. We regard the dimensions we uncover as capturing the essence of technology firms and use them to classify the firms we study. The specific characteristics the executives used to evaluate their firms were derived from a systematic scan of the literature. Thus, the list represents the set of characteristics early researchers viewed as describing and defining technology firms. The connection to early work enhances our findings' validity and lends some credence to our belief that the three dimensions we uncover (R&D activities which are closely associated with a set of organizational elements and market conditions, product strategy, and corporate culture) can be used by others to define technology firms and classify firms according to their technology level. In our study we use these three dimensions to classify the firms studied. We show that the commonly used practice of classifying firms as high and low technology according to the industry to which they belong is flawed. Our goal in this study is not to offer a "new" or "better" definition and characterization of technology firms or to offer the "best" approach to the generation of the classification criteria. Rather, we demonstrate here the usefulness of a different approach to the problem. While our approach does suffer from limitations it has important advantages. We hope future studies will confirm not only the usefulness of our approach but also the general applicability of the specific criteria we identify in this study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-143
Number of pages23
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2006


  • Classifying technology firms
  • High technology
  • Technology firms
  • Technology organizations


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterizing the technology firm: An exploratory study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this