Research Overview

ERC was established in January 2013 with a focus on the drivers of SME growth and productivity. Our new core research programme runs from February 2016 to January 2018 (see Figure 1 below) and has three main elements.

  • The first three months of the programme will involve two cross-cutting synthesis projects. The intention is that these will provide a ‘state of the art’synthesis and baseline for the future research projects.
  • Months 4 – 21 will involve 13 individual ‘projects’ focussed on specific issues. Each of these projects will be led by a senior academic from a partner institution working with other ERC reseachers and our team of Research Fellows;
  • The last three months of the programme will be used for two cross-cutting ‘cap-stone’ projects intended to synthesise the key policy lessons from the individual research projects.

Below we provide an overview of each of the primary research projects which we plan to undertake. Each project will begin and end with a workshop bringing interested people together to shape the research scope and questions at the beginning and to share results and insights at the end. More information on ERC or any of the individual research projects is available from either Stephen Roper  or Mark Hart 


Feb – May 2016
(3 months)
June – November 2016
(6 months)
December to May 2017
(6 months)
June to October 2017
(6 months)
Nov to Jan 2018
(3 months)
Drivers and Enablers of
Growth and productivity
in SMEs: What do we
Revised Project 1
SME-University links and their
innovation and productivity
Nola Hewitt-Dundas
Project 6
Productivity and
internationalisation in SMEs
Jim Love
Project 10
Measuring the spillovers from publicly funded R&D activity.
Nola Hewitt -Dundas
Drivers and Enablers of
Growth and productivity
in SMEs: What have we
SMEs: Their contribution
to national growth and
productivity: What do we
Project 2
Do firms with an aspiration to
expand into international markets
find finance more difficult to
Nicos Nicolaou
Project 7
Finance barriers to growth and
Stewart Fraser
Project 11
Leadership, Management and
Networks – an activity based
Kevin Mole
SMEs: Their contribution
to national growth and
productivity: What have
we learnt?
Project 3
Growth heroes and the wider
Jun Du
Revised Project 8
Linking SME data to the Science
Base – An exploratory study of
growth and productivity effects
Bettina Becker
Project 12
Accessing and using alternative
Mike Wright
Project 4
Entrepreneurial ambitions: The
role of place versus the role of the
Sara Carter
Project 9
Firm Heterogeneity and Local Job
Michael Anyadike Danes
Project 13
Micro-Businesses, SMEs,
Business Support and UK
Michael Anyadike Danes
Project 5
Team size and entrepreneurial
Jonathan Levie

Projects Overview

1SME-University links and their innovation and productivity benefits This study will provide a robust assessment of the value of Higher Education Institute (HEI) – SME innovation linkages and their implications for enhanced innovation and productivity. This will inform HEI policy and specifically measures designed to influence the pattern of HEIs working with SMEs.
2Do firms with an aspiration to expand into international markets find finance more difficult to access?International expansion is critical for firm survival and growth.
However, lack of finance can significantly hinder firms’ ability to develop export markets. Do firms with an aspiration to expand into international markets find finance more difficult to access?
3Growth heroes and the wider economyOur previous research finds that a small proportion of UK ‘growth hero’ firms generate revenue growth faster than jobs growth, enhance productive efficiency and demonstrate resilience in crisis. This follow-up project explores in greater detail the characteristics of these growth heroes and examines their wider impact in the local economy.
5Team size and entrepreneurial ambition in the UKThis project explores the impact of the number of owner-managers in a business and its ambition, measured in a variety of ways, including growth expectations, export propensity and intensity, and innovativeness, and the impact of owner-manager education level and business complexity on this relationship.
6Productivity and internationalisation in SMEsIt is widely recognized that internationalisation is important to fulfil and sustain growth potential, especially for SMEs. Yet, evidence suggests that for many SMEs, exporting is often a rather opportunistic and episodic activity, rather than a continuous process. Building on previous ERC work on the determinants of intermittent exporting and learning by exporting this project examines how different patterns in export volume, product and destination impact on SME learning-by-exporting and productivity change.
7Finance barriers to growth and productivityWhat is preventing SMEs from investing and accessing external finance? Using SME Finance Monitor data, the research going forward will look at the varying extent to which lack of needs and/or perceptions dissuade different types of firm from seeking external finance. We are particularly interested in innovators and exporters.
8Linking SME data to the Science Base – An exploratory study of growth and productivity effects Extensive administrative data exists on the publicly funded science base in the UK in databases such as ResearchFish. This exploratory study will look at the potential to link these datasets to longitudinal small business data to enable us to examine the growth and productivity benefits of SMEs engagement with the science base.
9Firm Heterogeneity and Local Job GrowthIn previous research we showed that, popular opinion
notwithstanding, there is no correlation between firm birth rates and net job creation rates across England’s LEPs. In this project, we propose to investigate in more detail the association between spatial variation in the proportions of different categories of firms and spatial variation in rate of job growth.
10Measuring the spillovers from publicly funded R&D activityMuch of the argument for publicly funding R&D activity either in universities or companies rests on the assertion that the knowledge created is a public or quasi-public good, i.e. it has the potential to generate benefits for society at large. This suggests the potential for two types of spillover impacts – on innovation and local growth. We know from current ERC research that publicly funded R&D activity has a positive impact on business growth. Here, we use matched data from the Gateway to Research (GtR) database and UK Innovation Survey to explore growth and innovation spillovers. The results will be relevant to current thinking about the IS and questions about the allocation of IS Challenge Fund resources between industries.

11Leadership and management: an activitybased perspectiveLeadership is central to understanding the growth of entrepreneurial ventures since growth opportunities cannot be identified and exploited without individual and collective efforts of business owners and their teams. We aim here to examine the interactive effects of skills and
networking in influencing growth by utilizing an activity-based perspective.
12Accessing and using Alternative FinanceNew financing alternatives, notably crowd-funding, microfinance and peer-to-peer lending, are becoming increasingly influential funding mechanisms for start-ups. This project will examine the following questions: What determines a firm’s ability to access and use alternative sources of finance? How aware are entrepreneurs of alternative sources of finance? What is the role and nature of social networks in a successful alternative finance campaign? What is the impact of alternative funding sources on ventures receiving this funding?
13Micro-Businesses, SMEs, Business Support and UK ProductivityThe UK’s productivity performance is currently seen as ‘poor’ and ‘puzzling’, and in urgent need of treatment. This project will extend and deepen our recent investigation of the performance of a rather simpler productivity measure — turnover per job. This measure is both readily computed for data which is typically collected from scheme participants and their performance can then be straightforwardly compared to that of other firms by drawing on the large-scale population data available from our Longitudinal Business Structure Database.