Small and medium-sized enterprises

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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are businesses whose personnel numbers fall below certain limits. The abbreviation "SME" is used by international organizations such as the World Bank, the European Union, the United Nations and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In any given national economy, SMEs sometimes outnumber large companies by a wide margin and also employ many more people.[1] For example, Australian SMEs make up 98% of all Australian businesses, produce one-third of the total GDP and employ 4.7 million people. In Chile, in the commercial year 2014, 98.5% of the firms were classified as SMEs.[2] In Tunisia, the self-employed workers alone account for about 28% of the total non-farm employment and firms with fewer than 100 employees account for about 62% of total employment.[3] The United States' SMEs generate half of all U.S. jobs, but only 40% of GDP.[4] In 2014, 170,000 American small and medium-sized businesses exported nearly $180 billion worth of goods to TPP countries. Yet while 98 percent of U.S. exporters are small businesses, fewer than 5 percent of all U.S. businesses export goods. That means there is huge untapped potential for small businesses to increase revenues and support jobs by selling U.S. goods and services to the 95 percent of the world’s consumers who live outside our borders. [5]

In developing countries, smaller (micro) and informal firms, have a larger share[of what?] than in developed countries.[citation needed][6] SMEs are also said[by whom?] to be responsible for driving innovation and competition in many[which?] economic sectors. Although they create more new jobs than large firms, SMEs also suffer the majority of job destruction/contraction.[7]


SMEs are important for economic and social reasons, given the sectors role in employment. Due to their sizes, SME are heavily influenced by their Chief Executive Officer, a.k.a. CEOs. The CEOs of SMEs often are the founders, owners, and manager of the SMEs. The duties of the CEO in SME are difficult, and mirror those of the CEO of a large company: the CEO needs to strategically allocate her/his time, energy, and assets to direct the SMEs. Typically, the CEO is the strategist, champion and leader for developing the SME or the prime reason for the business failing[citation needed].

This definition is provided in Section 7 of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006 (MSMED Act) and was notified in September 2006. The Act provides for classification of enterprises based on their investment size and the nature of the activity undertaken by that enterprise. As per MSMED Act, enterprises are classified into two categories - manufacturing enterprises and service enterprises. For each of these categories, a definition is given to explain what constitutes a micro enterprise or a small enterprise or a medium enterprise. What is not coming under the above three categories would be considered as a large scale enterprise in India.

At the employee level, Petrakis and Kostis (2012) explore the role of interpersonal trust and knowledge in the number of small and medium enterprises. They conclude that knowledge positively affects the number of SMEs, which in turn, positively affects interpersonal trust. Note that the empirical results indicate that interpersonal trust does not affect the number of SMEs. Therefore, although knowledge development can reinforce SMEs, trust becomes widespread in a society when the number of SMEs is greater.[8]

Legal boundary on SMEs around the world[edit]

Multilateral organizations have been criticized for using one measure for all.[9][10] The legal boundary of SMEs around the world vary, and below is a list of the upper limits of SMEs in some countries.



Most of Egypt's businesses are small-sized, with 97 percent employing fewer than 10 workers, according to census data released by state-run statistics body CAPMAS.

Medium-sized enterprises with 10 to 50 employees account for around 2.7 percent of total businesses. However, big businesses with over 50 employees account for 0.4 percent of all enterprises nationwide.

The data is part of Egypt's 2012/13 economic census on establishments ranging from small stalls to big enterprises. Economic activity outside the establishments – like street vendors and farmers, for example – were excluded from the census.

The results show that Egypt is greatly lacking in medium-sized businesses.

Seventy percent of the country's 24 million businesses have only one or two employees. But less than 0.1 percent – only 784 businesses – employ between 45 and 49 people.


In Kenya, the term changed to MSME, which stands for "micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises".

For micro-enterprises, the minimum number of employees is up to 10 employees. For small enterprises, it is from 10 to 50. For medium enterprises, it is from 50 to 100. no


The Central Bank of Nigeria defines small and medium enterprises in Nigeria according to asset base and number of staff employed. The criteria are an asset base that is between N5 million to N500 million, and a staff strength that is between 11 and 100 employees.[citation needed][11]


In Somalia, the term is SME (for "small, medium, and micro enterprises"); elsewhere in Africa, MSME stands for "micro, small, and medium enterprises". An SME is defined as a small business that has more than 30 employees but less than 250 employees.

South Africa[edit]

In the National Small Business Amendment Act 2004,[12] micro-businesses in the different sectors, varying from the manufacturing to the retail sectors, are defined as businesses with five or fewer employees and a turnover of up to R100,000 ZAR. Very small businesses employ between 6 and 20 employees, while small businesses employ between 21 and 50 employees. The upper limit for turnover in a small business varies from R1 million in the Agricultural sector to R13 million in the Catering, Accommodations and other Trade sectors as well as in the Manufacturing sector, with a maximum of R32 million in the Wholesale Trade sector.

Medium-sized businesses usually employ up to 200 people (100 in the Agricultural sector), and the maximum turnover varies from R5 million in the Agricultural sector to R51 million in the Manufacturing sector and R64 million in the Wholesale Trade, Commercial Agents and Allied Services sector.

A comprehensive definition of an SME in South Africa is, therefore, an enterprise with one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Fewer than 200 employees,
  • Annual turnover of less than R64 million,
  • Capital assets of less than R10 million,
  • Direct managerial involvement by owners[13]



India defines Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises based on dual criteria of Investment and Turnover. In June 2020, India has updated the definition as follows:[citation needed]

Sr No Classification Criteria (in ₹)
1 Micro Enterprises Investment <= 1 cr and Turnover <= 5 cr
2 Small Enterprises Investment <= 10 cr and Turnover <= 50 cr
3 Medium Enterprises Investment <= 50 cr and Turnover <= 250 cr

Businesses that are declared as MSMEs and within specific sectors and criteria can then apply for "priority sector" lending to help with business expenses; banks have annual targets set by the Prime Minister's Task Force on MSMEs for year-on-year increases of lending to various categories of MSMEs.[14] MSME is considered key contributor in India's growth and contribute 48% in India's total export.[citation needed]


In Indonesia, the government defines micro, small, and medium enterprises (Indonesian: usaha mikro kecil menengah, UMKM) based on their assets and revenues according to Law No. 20/2008:[15]

Type Maximum assets, Rp Maximum revenue, Rp
Micro 50,000,000 300,000,000
Small 500,000,000 2,500,000,000
Medium 10,000,000,000 50,000,000,000

An annual revenue of Rp 50 billion is approximately equal to US$3.7 million as of November 2017.


In Bangladesh, Bangladesh Bank defines Small and medium enterprises based on Fixed Asset, Employed Manpower and Yearly turn over and they are definitely not Public Limited Co. and requires these characteristics -

Serial No Sector Fixed Asset other than Land and Building (Tk)

SE (Small Enterprises) & ME (Medium Enterprises)

Employed Manpower Yearly Turn Over (Tk)

(N/A-Not Applicable)

01 Services For SE 1000,000 - 200,00,000 &

For ME 200,00,000 - 30,00,00,000

SE - 16-50 & ME - 51-120 N/A
02 Business For SE 1000,000 - 200,00,000 SE - 16-50 SE 10,000,000-120,000,000
03 Industrial For SE 7,500,000 - 150,000,000

For Me 150,000,000 - 500,000,000

SE - 31-120 & ME - 121-300 N/A


With effect from 1 April 2011, the definition of SMEs is businesses with annual sales turnover of not more than $100 million or employing no more than 200 staff.[16]


European Union[edit]

Small companies are important to the European economy as they account for 99.8% of non-financial enterprises in the European Union, and employ two-thirds of the workforce in the EU.[17][18] The criteria for defining the size of a business differ from country to country, with many countries having programs of business rate reduction and financial subsidy for SMEs. According to the European Commission,[19] SMEs are enterprises which meet the following definition of staff headcount and either the turnover or balance sheet total definitions:

Company category Staff headcount Turnover Balance sheet total
Medium-sized < 250 ≤ €50 million ≤ €43 million
Small < 50 ≤ €10 million ≤ €10 million
Micro < 10 ≤ €2 million ≤ €2 million

In July 2011, the European Commission said it would open a consultation on the definition of SMEs in 2012. A consultation document was issued on 6 February 2018 and the consultation period closed on 6 May 2018. As of November 2019 no conclusions or responses have yet emerged.[20]

In Europe, there are three broad parameters which define SMEs:

  • Micro-enterprises have up to 10 employees
  • Small enterprises have up to 50 employees
  • Medium-sized enterprises have up to 250 employees.[21]

The European definition of SME follows: "The category of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is made up of enterprises which employ fewer than 250 persons and which have an annual turnover not exceeding 50 million euro, and/or an annual balance sheet total not exceeding 43 million euro."[22] In order to prepare for an evaluation and revision of some features of the small and medium-sized enterprises definition European Union established public consultation period from 6 February 2018 to 6 May 2018. Public consultation is available for all EU member country citizens and organizations. Especially, national and regional authorities, enterprises, business associations or organizations, venture capital providers, research and academic institutions, and individual citizens are expected as the main contributors.[23]

EU member states have had individual definitions of what constitutes an SME. For example, the definition in Germany had a limit of 255 employees, while in Belgium it could have been 100. The result is that while a Belgian business of 249 employees would be taxed at full rate in Belgium, it would nevertheless be eligible for SME subsidy under a European-labelled programme.

SMEs are a crucial element in the supplier network of large enterprises which are already on their way towards Industry 4.0.[24] According to German economist Hans-Heinrich Bass, "empirical research on SME as well as policies to promote SME have a long tradition in [West] Germany, dating back into the 19th century. Until the mid-20th century most researchers considered SME as an impediment to further economic development and SME policies were thus designed in the framework of social policies. Only the Ordoliberalism school, the founding fathers of Germany's social market economy, discovered their strengths, considered SME as a solution to mid-20th century economic problems (mass unemployment, abuse of economic power), and laid the foundations for non-selective (functional) industrial policies to promote SMEs."[25] Only around 20% of European SMEs are substantially digitalized, compared to almost 50% of major businesses.[17][26] Small and medium-sized companies make up 56.2% of the non-financial sector.

Smaller companies account for more than 60% of the value contributed to the non-financial sector in Belgium, Italy, and Spain, three of the nations worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.[17][27] An estimated 50% of Europe's small firms may fail because they lack the substantial financial reserves required to weather the crisis.[17][28]


The SME sector in Poland generates almost 50% of the GDP, and out of that, for instance, in 2011, micro companies generated 29.6%, small companies 7.7%, and medium companies 10.4% (big companies 24.0%; other entities 16.5%, and revenues from customs duties and taxes generated 11.9%). In 2011, out of the total of 1,784,603 entities operating in Poland, merely 3,189 were classified as "large", so 1,781,414 were micro, small, or medium. SMEs employed 6.3 million people out of the total of 9.0 million of labour employed in the private sector. In Poland in 2011 was 36.2 SMEs per 1,000 of inhabitants.[29]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK, a company is defined as being an SME if it meets two out of three criteria: it has a turnover of less than £25m, it has fewer than 250 employees, it has gross assets of less than £12.5m.[30] Very small companies are called in the UK micro-entities, which have simpler financial reporting requirements. Such micro-enterprises must meet any two of the following criteria: balance sheet £316,000 or less; turnover £632,000 or less; employees 10 or less.[31]

Many small and medium-sized businesses form part of the UK's currently growing Mittelstand, or Brittelstand as it is also sometimes named.[32] These are businesses in Britain that are not only small or medium but also have a much broader set of values and more elastic definition.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills estimated that at the start of 2014, 99.3% of UK private sector businesses were SMEs, with their £1.6 trillion annual turnover accounting for 47% of private sector turnover.[33][34]

In order to support SMEs, the UK government set a target in 2010 "that 25% of government’s spend, either directly or in supply chains, goes to SMEs by 2015"; it achieved this by 2013.[35]


In Switzerland, the Federal Statistical Office defines small and medium-sized enterprises as companies with less than 250 employees.[36] The categories are the following:[36]

  • Microentreprises: 1 to 9 employees.
  • Small enterprises: 10 to 49 employees.
  • Medium-sized enterprises: 50 to 249 employees.
  • Large enterprises: 250 employees or more.

North America[edit]


Industry Canada defines a small business as one with fewer than 100 paid employees and a medium-sized business as one with at least 100 and fewer than 500 employees. As of December 2012, there were 1,107,540 employer businesses in Canada, of rally. Canadian Controlled private corporations receive a 17% reduction in the tax rate on taxable income from active businesses up to $500,000. This small business deduction is reduced for corporations whose taxable capital exceeding $10M, and is completely eliminated for corporations whose taxable capital exceeds $15M.[37] It has been estimated that almost $2 trillion of Canadian SMEs will be coming up for sale over the next decade which is twice as large as the assets of the top 1,000 Canadian pension plans and approximately the same size as Canadian annual GDP.[38]


The small and medium-sized companies in Mexico are called PYMEs, which is a direct translation of SMEs. But there's another categorization in the country called MiPyMEs. The MiPyMEs are micro, small and medium-sized businesses, with an emphasis on micro which are one man companies or a type of freelance.

United States[edit]

In the United States, the Small Business Administration sets small business criteria based on industry, ownership structure, revenue and number of employees (which in some circumstances may be as high as 1500, although the cap is typically 500).[39] Both the US and the EU generally use the same threshold of fewer than 10 employees for small offices (SOHO).[citation needed]



In Australia, a SME has 200 or fewer employees. Micro Businesses have 1–4 employees, small businesses 5–19, medium businesses 20–199, and large businesses 200+.[40] Australian SMEs make up 98% of all Australian businesses, produced one third of total GDP, and employ 4.7 million people. SMEs represent 90 per cent of all goods exporters and over 60% of services exporters.[41]

New Zealand[edit]

In New Zealand, 99% of businesses employ 50 or less staff, and the official definition of a small business is one with 19 or fewer employees.[42][43] It is estimated that approximately 28% of New Zealand's gross domestic product is produced by companies with fewer than 20 employees.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Compare: Fischer, Eileen; Reuber, Rebecca (2000). Industrial Clusters and SME Promotion in Developing Countries. Issue 3 of Commonwealth trade and enterprise paper, ISSN 2310-1369. London: Commonwealth Secretariat. p. 1. ISBN 9780850926484. Retrieved 18 November 2020. In most countries, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up the majority of businesses and account for the highest proportion of employment.
  2. ^ "Chile", Financing SMEs and Entrepreneurs 2016, Financing SMEs and Entrepreneurs, OECD Publishing, 2016-04-14, pp. 155–173, doi:10.1787/fin_sme_ent-2016-11-en, ISBN 9789264249462, retrieved 2018-10-01
  3. ^ Rijkers et al (2014): "Which firms create the most jobs in developing countries?", Labour Economics, Volume 31, December 2014, pp.84–102
  4. ^ United States. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (2004). Report to the President. Department of State publication, volume 11164. Colin L. Powell. U.S. Department of State. p. 233. Retrieved 18 November 2020. In the United States, small business accounts for 50 percent of jobs, 40 percent of GDP, 30 percent of exports, and one-half of technological innovations.
  5. ^ "Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises | United States Trade Representative". Retrieved 2021-11-29.
  6. ^ Compare: Antoldi, Fabio; Cerrato, Daniele; Depperu, Donatella (5 January 2012). Export Consortia in Developing Countries: Successful Management of Cooperation Among SMEs. Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media (published 2012). p. v. ISBN 9783642248788. Retrieved 18 November 2020. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are highly significant in both developed and developing countries as a proportion of the totl number of firms, for the contribution they make to employment, and for their ability to develop innovation.
  7. ^ Aga et al. (2015): SMEs, Age, and Jobs: A Review of the Literature, Metrics, and Evidence, World Bank Group, November 2015.
  8. ^ P.E. Petrakis, P.C. Kostis (2012), “The Role of Knowledge and Trust in SMEs”, Journal of the Knowledge Economy, DOI: 10.1007/s13132-012-0115-6.
  9. ^ Kushnir (2010) A Universal Definition of Small Enterprise: A Procrustean bed for SMEs?, World Bank
  10. ^ Gibson, T.; van der Vaart, H.J. (2008): Defining SMEs: A Less Imperfect Way of Defining Small and Medium Enterprises in Developing Countries", Brookings Institution website, September 2008
  11. ^ Central Bank Of Nigeria (March 30, 2010). "N200 BILLION SMALL AND MEDIUM ENTERPRISES CREDIT GUARANTEE SCHEME(SMECGS)" (PDF). Central Bank of Nigeria. Retrieved December 9, 2017.
  12. ^ "Republic of South Africa, National Small Business Amendment Act" (PDF). Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  13. ^ Du Toit.Erasmus.& Strydom "Definition of small business" Introduction to business management, 7th Edition Oxford University Press,2009, p. 49
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  15. ^ "Indonesian Government Law No. 20 of 2008" (PDF). Commission for the Supervision of Business Competition. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
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  17. ^ a b c d "Digital innovation hubs to the rescue". European Investment Bank. Retrieved 2021-07-15.
  18. ^ Anonymous (2016-07-05). "Entrepreneurship and Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)". Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs - European Commission. Retrieved 2021-07-15.
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  20. ^ European Commission, Public consultation on the review of the SME definition, accessed 22 November 2019
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  22. ^ Enterprise and Industry Publications: The new SME definition, user guide and model declaration, Extract of Article 2 of the Annex of Recommendation 2003/361/EC
  23. ^ "Consultations". European Commission - European Commission. Retrieved 2018-02-19.
  24. ^ Sommer, Lutz (28 November 2015). "Industrial revolution - industry 4.0: Are German manufacturing SMEs the first victims of this revolution?". Journal of Industrial Engineering and Management. 8 (5). doi:10.3926/jiem.1470.
  25. ^ Hans-Heinrich Bass: KMU in der deutschen Volkswirtschaft: Vergangenheit, Gegenwart, Zukunft, Berichte aus dem Weltwirtschaftlichen Colloquium der Universität Bremen Nr. 101, Bremen 2006 Archived 2017-12-15 at the Wayback Machine (PDF; 96 kB)
  26. ^ "Small and medium-sized enterprises: an overview". Retrieved 2021-07-15.
  27. ^ "Small and medium-sized enterprises: an overview". Retrieved 2021-07-15.
  28. ^ "Coronavirus (COVID-19): SME policy responses". OECD. Retrieved 2021-07-15.
  29. ^ D. Walczak, G. Voss, New Possibilities of Supporting Polish SMEs within the Jeremie Initiative Managed by BGK, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, Vol 4, No 9, p. 760-761.
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  31. ^ "Micro-entities, small and dormant companies". GOV.UK.
  32. ^ Brian Groom (1 October 2015). "Brittelstand stymied by lack of growth and skills". Financial Times. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
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  35. ^ "2010 to 2015 government policy: government buying". 20 February 2013. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  36. ^ a b (in French) Taille, forme juridique, secteurs, répartition régionale, Swiss Federal Statistical Office (page visited on 24 October 2017).
  37. ^ "T2 Corporation - Income Tax Guide - Chapter 4: Page 4 of the T2 return". Canada Revenue Agency. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  38. ^ "Equicapita May 2014 - Who Will Buy Baby Boomer Businesses?" (PDF).
  39. ^ United States Small Business Administration. "Size Standards". Retrieved 2011-08-21.
  40. ^ "1321.0 - Small Business in Australia, 2001". 23 October 2002. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
  41. ^ "AN INTRODUCTION TO FTAs (FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS)" (PDF). Small Business Association of Australia, 2015. Retrieved 29 March 2016.[permanent dead link]
  42. ^ Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (2014). "The Small Business Sector Report 2014" (PDF). Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. MBIE. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-03-12.
  43. ^ "SMEs in New Zealand: Structure and Dynamics 2011", Page 10-11, Ministry of Economic Development
  44. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-12-10. Retrieved 2018-12-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

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