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17th July 2024
Impact Case Studies Research

Boosting SME productivity and growth through research into entrepreneurship and people management

11th July 2023

Institution: Manchester Metropolitan University Business School
Leading Academics: Jennie Shorley and Katherine Roycroft


Summary of the Impact

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are the lifeblood of the UK economy, comprising more than 99% of the nation’s business population and providing 61% of private employment. In 2013, The Witty Review highlighted the crucial role that universities must play in engaging with their local SMEs, and “injecting technology, expertise, talent and knowhow into them” (The Witty Review: 34). For 20 years, academics at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School have conducted research into entrepreneurship, leading to the development of evidence-based frameworks around the concepts of ‘strategic space’ and social capital in SMEs. Collaborative research has supported over 1000 small firms through funded projects worth over £40M.

Researchers in the Centre for Decent Work and Productivity (DWP) collaborate with the Centre for Enterprise (CfE), a specialist knowledge exchange centre, to develop partnerships with national policy organisations and regional SMEs.

Working to improve SME people management practice

Through a sustained programme of research around people management in SMEs, our researchers have created a substantial and valuable evidence base for policy-makers and businesses. Academics have focused on strengthening people management practice, including flexible working, equality, diversity and inclusion, and employment regulation.

In 2020, building on their previous research, the Decent Work and Productivity team were awarded £1M research council funding to establish the Good Employment Learning Lab (GELL). GELL adopts an engaged scholarship methodology approach to exploring good management practice in SMEs across Greater Manchester. It has already engaged with key partners (CIPD, the Institute for Small Business & Entrepreneurship, the NHS, the Federation of Small Business, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority councils, the TUC and ACAS) to co-design effective management practice interventions.

Working with SMEs to boost productivity and growth

Manchester Metropolitan research has led to the design and delivery of innovative programmes of support for small firms, based on strategic space and social capital development. These partnerships with the business community have led to significant impacts on the economic development of the region, particularly around innovation and job creation. In all programmes, business owners are supported to understand how to develop and exploit their networks more effectively to create opportunities for innovation and to explore new markets and products.

Manchester Metropolitan University Business School is a partner in the Chartered Association of Business Schools’ ‘Help to Grow’ management programme, which is providing a step change in SME growth across the UK.

In 2023, the business school was awarded two significant Innovate UK funded projects, further developing their work around Industry 4.0 for SMEs.

The Greater Manchester Greater Manchester Electrochemical Hydrogen Cluster (GMEHC) builds on the work of the university’s Manchester Fuel Cell Innovation Centre which was also developed in partnership with the Faculty of Science and Engineering to offer scientific and business model support to small firms. GMECH will also work towards achieving Greater Manchester’s Net Zero in 2038 commitment, as well as the UK Net Zero target in 2050.

The Centre for Digital Innovation (CDI) will work across artificial intelligence, cyber security, industrial digitalisation and immersive technology to support small firms to undertake R&D, develop skills and new business models, as well as providing digital skills support for the North West.  It will create a supercluster of digital innovation, expertise and skills development for the region to become a beacon in the UK for digital innovation. CDI will provide access to facilities and collaborations to create new capabilities in technologies to build digital skills for North West SMEs.