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The importance of small businesses

By Nigel Lockett - Posted on 27 March 2019

Professor Nigel Lockett, the new head of the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, looks at the importance of small businesses, both in the UK and internationally.

Why are small businesses in the UK and internationally so important and how can a large University possibly help them? 

The answer to the first part is simple - in a modern growing economy there are so many of them. In fact, 99% of all UK businesses employ less than 250 staff (small and medium-sized enterprises or SMEs) and generate more than half of GDP. What is even more important, is they created the vast majority of new jobs in the last decade and are the key to increasing UK productivity. And internationally? The need to create jobs is important the world over - be that in Europe or Africa. So, they are very important.

The second part of the question is much more complex. Of course, the experience of running a large university, like the University of Strathclyde, couldn’t be further from running a small business. However, we are very fortunate to host the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship in our triple accredited Strathclyde Business School, which is one of the UK’s leading centres. We demonstrate this to businesses in two ways:

  • Firstly, we are accredited by the Small Business Charter which considers the support for growing businesses, stakeholder engagement and encouraging student entrepreneurship as part of a rigorous assessment.
  • Secondly, we deliver several programmes specifically designed to support start-ups (iGAP), entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses (GAP) and more established SMEs developing their management teams in order to empower them to improve productivity (PtP).

So the answer to the second part is, we demonstrate our ability to help small businesses through external validation and offering the range of development programmes they want.

To be honest, this is one of the reasons I was attracted to Strathclyde. The chance to lead the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship was simply too good to miss. In the first three months since taking up the Head of Department role, I have witnessed that the reputation is well deserved and that we are ready to take on the next challenge – to grow our academic and entrepreneur community to become Europe’s leading centre for research, teaching and engagement in entrepreneurship, innovation and strategy in the context of SME development.

And, just to complete my answer to how we can possibly help small businesses, I want to highlight how important our work is in some of the world’s least developed economies. I am very fortunate to be leading a £1.7m entrepreneurship and innovation project as part of a £7m four-year UK-funded Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) RECIRCULATE project focused on driving eco-innovation in Africa by capacity-building for a safe circular water economy. For me, this is about co-creating entrepreneurial solutions that have a real impact on the quality of people’s lives. I have just returned from working with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Ghana co-developing a stimulating entrepreneurial thinking in scientists programme and head for Zambia before Easter to expand the network of partners in Africa. Of course, I share my experiences but learn so much more I can apply to my own research, teaching and engagement.

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