In addition to the core research programme, the ERC undertakes commissioned projects that add to the knowledge base on SME development and performance. The Centre undertakes work for a wide range of organisations.

Analysis and Benchmarking of Business High-Growth Performance in Scotland – (January 2019 -April 2019)

This project for Scottish Enterprise explores further the high-growth dynamics of Scotland’s business base, benchmarking this against other regions of the UK and, where possible, other countries. The objective is to focus on the level to which Scottish businesses achieve and then sustain levels of high-growth, ultimately reaching the definition of becoming a High-Growth Firms (HGFs) as defined by the OECD, and how this compares with elsewhere.

Cavendish Micro-Business Productivity Boost Project – (November 2018-October 2019)

This project involves a trial to enable micro-businesses to embed effective productivity focused business practices at an early stage. The questions explored through the trial are: Can early-stage micro-businesses that are both willing and able to increase productivity be identified? And, are the interventions effective? The trial will focus on increasing the adoption of modern business practices, including leadership and management capabilities, with SMEs with less than 10 employees who have been in business for less than three years.

The Enterprise Research Centre will be undertaking the evaluation of the trial. This will be undertaken through a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, using randomised controlled trial methodology. The objective of the evaluation will be to evaluate the (short term) outcomes of the provision of additional, productivity-focused business support amongst micro-businesses (1-9 employees), focusing on businesses involved in the ‘Start and Grow Programme’ (S&G). It will also set in place an approach for following up the businesses after the end of the trial to undertaken longer term evaluation of impact. The research carried out by the ERC team will involve the following:

Advise on measures to be used in the baseline productivity assessments to be carried out with the firms in the trial.

  1. Design a telephone survey to be undertaken with all firms to assess the impact of business support on productivity.
  2. Undertake analysis of the survey results.
  3. Undertake follow-up qualitative work with 30 firms involved in the trial.
  4. Produce a final report detailing the outcome of the trial, lessons learnt and methods for future ongoing evaluation.

Geographical indications of origin and productivity after Brexit (November 2018 – October 2020)

This project aims to establish whether Geographical Indications of Origin for food products (GIs) are an effective policy instrument for boosting growth and productivity and, therefore, whether developing a governance system for UK GIs should be a policy priority post-Brexit. Post-Brexit, the application of the current EU system for the approval and governance of GIs in the UK will cease, and GIs in the UK will be subject to the more basic provisions of the World Trade Organisation TRIPs Agreement. As in other non-EU countries, this creates the potential for the UK to develop an independent system for the governance of GIs which may be more responsive to UK producer and consumer demands and create greater benefits for UK growth and productivity.

Our study will ,perhaps surprisingly, be the first to consider the growth and productivity benefits of GIs and will provide an evidence-base for effective policy development in this area post-Brexit. We will address the following research questions:

(1) Economic value – Have GIs improved the growth and/or productivity of the firms they cover? Have GIs led to purely local benefits (and displacement elsewhere in the UK) or national benefits in terms of growth or productivity?

(2) Governance of UK GIs – How should GIs be approached post-Brexit? Does the evidence support the development of a new UK governance arrangement? What should this look like? How can the UK best use the GI framework to maximise its productivity benefits?

The project will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches to evaluate the impact of GIs, assess international best practice and develop policy proposals for development post-Brexit.

Understanding productivity in six UK sectors – Centre for Progressive Policy, ERC & Warwick partners – (October 2018 – April 2019)

Interest in developing a more detailed understanding of the determinants of productivity change is driven by the persistence of weak aggregate productivity in the UK. To date analysis has described rather than solved the ˜Productivity Puzzle” perhaps due to a rather narrow focus on structural factors and a failure to reflect markets structure and competitiveness. Here, adopting an in-depth quantitative and qualitative approach we aim to build a rich picture of how firm-level decisions on investment and resource allocation interact with competitive pressures to shape productivity growth.

A group of six sectors have been identified as the focus of this study, each of which have experienced a significant change in the growth of their value-added per capita since the financial crisis. The chosen sectors are a mix of manufacturing and service sectors and reflect a number of the priorities highlighted in the recent Industrial Strategy. The study will be primarily qualitative, involving discussions with leading businesses, industry lead bodies and sectoral experts. We focus on four main research questions:

  1. What has happened to sectoral productivity over the period since the recession? Is this pattern common to all sub-sectors, firm types and sizebands?
  2. What has driven sectoral productivity trends over the post-recession period? How important have firm-level efficiencies been? Have trends in market competition or regulation been important? Have new entrants or exits been important productivity drivers?
  3. Is there a regional dimension to these productivity trends? To what extent is this related to the type of activity which is located in each region?
  4. What implications does this pattern have for potential policy intervention in the UK? At firm level? At economy-wide level?

The project will involve sectoral data analysis and an extensive interview programme. The project is being managed by Katherine Hathaway. Draft reports are expected to be available by April 2019.

Evaluation Framework for EMEA Small Business Initiatives (Phase 1: September 2018 – March 2019)

Small businesses are key drivers of economic mobility. They create jobs and strengthen local economies. however, starting and growing a small business can present greater challenges to entrepreneurs from underserved and marginalized communities. Since 2016, the JPMorgan Chase Foundation (JPMCF) has committed philanthropic resources to Small Business Forward EMEA, an initiative to assist around 10,000 small businesses in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, Madrid, Stockholm, Istanbul, Warsaw, Brussels, Amsterdam and Luxembourg. This newly commissioned project for the ERC will set-up the comprehensive and robust framework to both profile and monitor the performance and wider impact of the entrepreneurs supported through SBF EMEA in a range of different contexts and develop the framework, resources and tools which will help track and evaluate the impact of future philanthropic commitment.

This project will be led by Mark Hart.

How to improve Productivity in the Manufacturing Supply Chain – Diffusing Excellence across the UK Casting and Metal-forming Sectors : Innovation Fellowship. (January 2018 – January 2021)

The aim of this Fellowship is to identify key practices which can contribute to productivity upgrading in each sector and to explore potential approaches to stimulating their diffusion to lower productivity firms. Which practices have contributed to significant productivity improvements and is it possible to quantify the impacts?  Is it possible to quantify the potential productivity and performance gains from adoption of identified practices and what are the barriers to the adoption of leading-edge practices across the metals supply chain? The Fellowship is being supported by two of the leading trade associations in the Advanced Manufacturing supply chain – the Cast Metals Federation and the Confederation of British Metal-forming, and their member companies. The Research Fellow working on this project is Dr Temi Akinremi.

Data collection for the first stage of this project is now complete and the first results from the project will be presented to industry representatives on 22nd November. Discussions have also been held with industry representatives to shape research activity in Years 2 and 3 of the fellowship

Building resilient businesses among under-represented groups – JP Morgan –  (October 2017 – October 2019)

The ERC is leading a 2-year European study on SME resilience, supported by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. This is a landmark project that is focusing on the resilience of new and small firms and early-stage entrepreneurs in underrepresented communities. The study involves research in five EU economies (UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy), with research being undertaken in key cities in each of these countries (London, Paris, Frankfurt, Milan and Madrid). The study is exploring the specific challenges (and potential opportunities) facing business leaders from underrepresented groups. The aim of the research is to provide a detailed understanding of these challenges and how they vary across different groups of business owners, and to identify tailored tools and interventions that can help to build more resilient businesses.

The Design Economy – Design Council (January 2018-April 2018) 

ERC was commissioned by the Design Council to provide an up-to-date and comprehensive overview of the state of the design economy in the UK with the following set of objectives:

  • An updated economic assessment of the contribution of design to the UK
  • An analysis of the scale and scope of the design economy
  • Evidence of the impact of design across the UK
  • Evidence on the contribution design does and could make to the UK’s international standing

The study, which is now complete, extended the former (static) analysis to include some trends analysis and basic econometric modelling as well as innovative work on clusters which are not constrained by administrative geographies. The report was launched by Greg Clark at the Northern Powerhouse Summit event in Newcastle held on 5th July. A copy of the Executive Summary and the full report is available here

Global Entrepreneurship Monitor UK Project

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor is the largest single study of entrepreneurial activity in the world.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) is a not-for-profit academic research consortium that aims at making high quality information on global entrepreneurial activity readily available to as wide an audience as possible.  The GEM research programme is an annual assessment of the national level of entrepreneurial activity. Based on a harmonized assessment of the level of national entrepreneurial activity for all participating countries, the research involves exploration of the role of entrepreneurship in national economic growth. Systematic differences continue, with few highly entrepreneurial countries reflecting low economic growth. There is, further, a wealth of national features and characteristics associated with entrepreneurial activity.

Scottish Enterprise Account Managed Clients. (October 2017 – February 2018)

Scottish Enterprise (SE) commissioned the ERC to undertake an econometric economic assessment and evaluation of SE and Highland and Island Enterprise’s (HIE) Account Management (AM) support to companies in the period 2012-2016.  The aim of the Account Management service is to generate additional economic impact by supporting companies with high levels of growth ambition achieve their growth aspirations.  This 4-month assignment will consider 4,400 companies in the SE portfolio and around 700 in the HIE portfolio that have been supported by AM support.

This study is not just about analysing growth and productivity performance as SE has indicated that an analysis of the drivers that have influenced growth and productivity performance and the extent to which these drivers have contributed to growth is also required for both AM and non-AM companies.  Drivers such as investment, innovation, skills, internationalisation, ownership, competition and public sector support should be considered where possible for the analysis and they should be regarded as interdependent components.

Industrial Strategy Project – Micro-business Britain. (November 2017 – June  2018)

The ERC has been awarded  additional funding from the ESRC  to undertake a project which will be the most detailed investigation ever undertaken of the UK’s micro-businesses, their growth potential and challenges. Central to the project will be a large-scale survey international survey of micro-firms (covering c. 8-10k firms) which will provide place-based data to identify specific challenges these micro-businesses face in terms of growth and raising productivity. Survey work will take place in the UK, Ireland and the US. Publication of a draft headline report “Micro-business Britain” providing an overview of key insights from the UK and international benchmark survey datasets is likely to be April 2018.

SME Finance Monitor linking Project. ( January – June 2016)

ERC together with BDRC have been commissioned by BIS to undertake this project.

The SME Finance Monitor (SMEFM) undertaken by BDRC-Continental provides quarterly snapshot data on SME sentiment around past and future financing needs, the experience of SMEs that applied for external finance, and what (if anything) stopped those who did not apply from doing so. It also provides data on the extent to which SMEs are aware of the various forms of support available to them when accessing finance.  To date, more than 90,000 interviews have been completed since the survey was first conducted in 2011, but the longitudinal, consequential performance of SMEs cannot be determined.

BIS anticipates merit in the analytical power of linking SMEFM data to the Inter Departmental Business Register (IDBR) managed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), to add significantly to the explanatory power of the survey data.  ERC together with BDRC have been commissioned by BIS to undertake this project.

Matching datasets would allow businesses’ attitudes, behaviours and experiences of seeking finance at the time of being interviewed for the SMEFM to be related to their future (and past) performance (annual employment and turnover). For example, it could produce reliable answers to a series of ‘what happened next’ type questions, such as:

  • What were the characteristics and experiences of ‘happy non-seekers’ and would-be seekers of finance – both for the year before they were interviewed and looking forward?
  • What happened to businesses planning to apply for external finance – and how did those that did apply/did not apply subsequently perform?
  • How do ‘Permanent non-Borrowers’ perform in comparison to borrowers?
  • How does access to finance and performance of businesses planning to grow differ from those without such ambition?

Led by Mark Hart and Karen Bonner, this project will provide an initial analysis of some of these issues and create a data resource which can be used by other approved researchers.

Secondary Analysis of the Longitudinal Small Business Survey (BIS) (April 2016-17)

ERC – in partnership with BMG research – was awarded this BIS funded project related to the Secondary Analysis of the Longitudinal Small Business Survey. This project will run till April 2017 and  involves three main elements:

  • Provide survey and descriptive reports on the second wave of the LSBS. BMG will lead on this element of the project.
  • Conducting some secondary analysis of the second wave of the LSBS survey designed to explore aspects of SME growth and its drivers. ERC lead
  • Run a small grant competition on behalf of BIS for secondary analysis of the first wave of the LSBS. This has recently been launched through the LSBS user group.

From capabilities to innovation and productivity: How do professional services create value from their human resources?                   (December to March 2016)

Professional services – accountancy, architecture, legal services, IT services and specialist design – play an important role both in generating value directly but also in enabling value creation in other sectors. Enhancing these sectors ability to create value therefore has a significant two-fold benefit. This project led by Stephen Roper and Jim Love explored main three questions:

  1. How do the professional services develop their human resources capabilities to deliver value to current and potentially new customers?
  2. How do they organise staff to maximise creativity and productivity? This focuses on team-working, knowledge sharing, open innovation.
  3. How is best practice distributed across the sectors? What are the lessons within and between sectors? This has implications for strategy and potentially for skills and HR policy.

The project comprised an in-depth survey and analysis of around 900 firms in the five target sectors focussing on HR recruitment and development and high performance work practices and their role in generating innovation and productivity.

 Human resources and growth (April 2015 to Jan 2016)  

This project led by Mark Hart with Karen Bonner linked the UKCES Employer Skills Survey (2011) to the longitudinal Business Structures Database with the objective of relating HR strategies to subsequent growth. This was a new data match will yield new insights into this relationship. Initial results from this project should be available by end-October 2015.

Human resources and sustained growth (April 2015 to Jan 2016)  

This project led originally by James Hayton and then Nicos Nicolaou and Oksana Koryak involved a face-to-face follow-up of a group of around 30 firms which had sustained growth and development over the 1998-2013 period. Interviews focussed on the role of HR practices and leadership in sustaining growth in each firm.

Evaluating the effect of Account Management of Scottish firms (July to November 2015)

Led by Mark Hart, Stephen Roper, Mark Hart and Karen Bonner this research was designed to produce a report to Scottish Enterprise which will assess the growth and productivity performance of account managed companies since 1998 and identify the added value of the account management approach. This has involved matching longitudinal data from the Business Structures Database with the list of account managed businesses in Scotland and comparing their performance to control groups.

Assessment of the Performance of the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme (July to September 2015)

Led by Mark Hart and Karen Bonner ERC undertook a descriptive analysis for the EFG for the British Business Bank as part of their strategic review of the EFG scheme. The ERC analysis was included in Annex B of the published report.

SME-university interaction ( April to July 2015)

Led by Stephen Roper, Nola Hewitt-Dundas and Karen Bonner this project undertaken for HEFCE used data from the Business Structures Database and the Higher Education Business Interaction Survey to profile levels of HE engagement activity across the UK. Analysis of the UKIS provided some new insight into the value of higher education engagement as part of the innovation activity of small and medium firms.

SME-university interaction ( January to April 2015)

Led by Stephen Roper and Karen Bonner (working with Nola Hewitt-Dundas, Queens) this project was funded by HEFCE. It provided a profile of SMEs in local areas in England. The aim was to provide an information resource for higher education institutions about the potential for developing links with local SMEs and the types of demands for services which might exist.

Sociology of Enterprise ( April  2014  – February 2015)

This project undertaken for BIS uses perspectives from social theory to examine the dispositions of entrepreneurs towards growth.

There are 3 broad identifiable categories of business owners: the growth-inclined, growth-ambivalent and the growth-resistant.

This qualitative research project, under the direction of Prof Mark Hart,  was undertaken by Nick Theodorakopoulos, , Gary Burke, Ute Stephan, (Enterprise Research Centre and Aston Business School) with researchers from Policy Research Group (Durham University) and Dr Sally Jones (Leeds University) .

One hundred in-depth personal interviews were undertaken with small business owners in early 2015. The findings show that there is a spectrum of dispositions towards growth among small business owners and these are influenced by demographics (gender, socio-economic status, etc.), family background, education, cultural norms and the scale and nature of international links. Dispositions shape the ‘mind-sets’ of business owners (i.e. how they think about growth) and these are associated with different levels of ambition and different business behaviours. Within the spectrum, there are 3 broad identifiable categories of business owners: the growth-inclinedgrowth-ambivalent and  growth-resistant. Businesses run by growth-inclined owners tend to perform better than those run by growth-ambivalent, and these in turn perform better than businesses run by growth-resistant owners.

Dispositions influence whether, and how, business owners use the capital (resources) available to them and in turn how this affects their business behaviour. For example, business owners disposed to growth are more likely to think and act strategically and more likely than others to engage in growth related behaviours such as innovation. Growth dispositions, therefore, affect actual business performance.

Innovation in legal services ( September to June 2015 )

Led by Stephen Roper and Jim Love this project is being undertaken for the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Legal Services Board. Almost nothing is known about innovation in this sector and so the project aims to explore the extent and nature of innovation activity in Legal Services. Initial results from this project will be published in July 2015.

Nation of Angels Project ( July  2014 – January 2015)

Led by Mark Hart and Mike Wright this project was undertaken by the ERC for the UK Business Angels Association (UKBAA), Barclays Bank, Deloitte and the Centre for Entrepreneurs.

Qualitative interviewing and a survey of business angels provided information on the scale and success factors of UK business angel investments. Interim findings were reported the UKBAA Investment Summit in July 2014 during the International Festival for Business in Liverpool with the final report presented at the UKBAA’s Winter forum end January 2015.

Do entrepreneurs have a mindset?

Dr Kevin Mole is advising Growth accelerator and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) as they use a mixed method approach to investigate the way leaders of high growth businesses think. Thirty high growth entrepreneurs explained their approach to growth and a survey of over 110 high growth companies provided the evidence. To find out more contact Kevin at Warwick Business School.


Management & Leadership Skills/Practices in SMEs (August 2013 to June 2014)

This project, for the Department for Innovation, Innovation and Skills (BIS), was led by Professor James Hayton with support from Professors Andy Lockett and Deniz Ucbasaran. The aims of the project were to expand knowledge of the nature and extent of deficiencies in leadership and management skills amongst UK SMEs  with the ultimate objectice being to develop a systematic approach for measuring leadership and management skills in SMEs and if possible, explore and develop a composite measure of management and leadership skills that can be used in further analysis.

Small business

Discouragement Project (October to March 2014)

This project, for the Department for Innovation, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) enabled researchers in the Centre to undertake further research into discouragement and the inclusion in the study of a series of qualitative case studies of discouraged borrowers. The research was led by Dr Stuart Fraser from Warwick Business School. Link to the Final Report.

Business Clusters in the UK (May to August 2013)

This project for the Department for Innovation, Innovation and Skills (BIS) was completed by Dr Mike Anyadike-Danes with support from Karen Bonner, Cord-Christian Drews and Professor Mark Hart. The research provided an overview of industrial clusters in the UK and their spatial distribution. A report was submitted to BIS in August 2013. Find out More. Link to the Final Report.

We are able to offer a wide range of research and consultancy services in subject areas that relate to supporting SME Growth. If you would like to find out more about the work we do or how we can support you please email us.

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Further information about recently commissioned projects are detailed below: