The abbreviation SME occurs commonly in the European Union and in international organizations, such as the World Bank, the United Nations and the WTO. The term small and medium-sized businesses or SMBs is predominantly used in the USA.
EU Member States traditionally had their own definition of what constitutes an SME, for example the traditional definition in Germany had a limit of 500 employees, while, for example, in Belgium it could have been 100. But now the EU has started to standardize the concept. Its current definition categorizes companies with fewer than 50 employees as "small", and those with fewer than 250 as "medium". By contrast, in the United States, when small business is defined by the number of employees, it often refers to those with less than 100 employees, while medium-sized business often refers to those with less than 500 employees.
Both US and EU generally use the same threshold of fewer than 10 employees for small offices (SOHO).
In most economies, smaller enterprises are much greater in number. In the EU, SMEs comprise approximately 99% of all firms and employ between them about 65 million people. In many sectors, SMEs are also responsible for driving innovation and competition. Globally SMEs account for 99% of business numbers and 40% to 50% of GDP.
In India, the Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) sector plays a pivotal role in the overall industrial economy of the country. It is estimated that in terms of value, the sector accounts for about 39 per cent of the manufacturing output and around 33 per cent of the total export of the country. Further, in recent years the MSE sector has consistently registered higher growth rate compared to the overall industrial sector. The major advantage of the sector is its employment potential at low capital cost. As per available statistics, this sector employs an estimated 31 million persons spread over 12.8 million enterprises and the labour intensity in the MSE sector is estimated to be almost 4 times higher than the large enterprises.
In South Africa the term SMME, for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises, is used. Elsewhere in Africa, MSME is used, for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. Size thresholds vary from country to country.
The lack of a universal size definition makes business studies and market research more difficult.