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Supporting SMEs 

Smart & Scale (S&S) is an interdisciplinary impact-driven research programme in smart and scale-up activities, focusing on innovation and business development of SMEs in the North-East of England. SMEs have faced extraordinary challenges over the past few years because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit, and the soaring cost of business. SMEs in the UK are said to be going through a “triple transition” (Enterprise Research Centre, 2021) that brings together three interrelated challenges of digitalisation, net zero and productivity.

At Durham University Business School, S&S is designed to support SME innovation, scale up, resilience, and economic development in the North-East. It is underpinned by four key research themes that represent key challenges in the region: New Business Models, Leadership, Emerging Technologies, and Supply Chains.

Specifically, S&S provides support through research projects with expert academics designed to enable SME innovation (Smart) and the development of growth focused business models (Scale). We also offer a Visiting SME Fellows programme, SME Summer School, and opportunities to incubate new ideas through our Entrepreneurs in Residence programme. For researchers, we offer opportunities to work with business in the North-East of England, post-doctoral researcher positions and PhD scholarships.


Our Team 

Jonathan Kimmitt, Professor of Entrepreneurship, S&S Academic Lead

Katherine Kirby, S&S Business Development Manager

Jeffrey Hughes, Associate Professor of Strategy & Entrepreneurship, S&S Associate

David Johnson, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship, S&S Associate



Call for Participants

We invite enquiries from: Prospective Ph.D. candidates in Small Business, Innovation and Regional Development. And individuals leading and working within SME interested in our fellows programme.

Explore PhD scholarships available
SME Fellows group of people

Visiting Fellows

Our visiting fellows programme is aimed at individuals leading and working within SMEs in the North-East of England who wish to pursue continued professional development in their area of expertise.

Find out more

Current Projects 

Global Smart Hub project summary:

The Global Smart (GS) Hub is a Durham University Business School research hub for small and medium enterprises situated in the North East of England. Its mission statement is “To be a catalyst for research and innovation, building capacity, capability and market access for entrepreneurs”. The Hub conducts in-depth research with participating SMEs for identifying the barriers and enablers to sustain their scaling-up initiatives with the Global South marketplace. The primary beneficiaries are North-East SMEs, who participate in the various activities of the Hub. This includes engagement forums, training sessions and knowledge transfer talks, in-depth research to underpin business decisions, and networking opportunities with peers and partners in UK and the Global South. The Hub catalyses research-led marketplace developments and provides SMEs with the opportunity not only to consider expanding their business with the Global South, but also to understand the risks and opportunities to sustain any scaling-up initiatives. Thus, the Hub contributes to the levelling-up initiative of SMEs in the North-East in a significant way.

Project Lead(s): Professor Dennis Philip


Grid Smarter Cities project summary:

Kerbside spaces have long been deemed a critical resource in urban areas. Finding kerbside parking in congested areas is frequently tricky, stressful, and uncertain for drivers. This results in traffic congestion, that then leads to air pollution, use of drivers’ time, which could be employed more effectively, and illegal parking, which has been shown to decrease road safety. Grid Smarter Cities (GSC) is an innovative solution to prevent these problems. The company developed app allows for the timing of bookable loading bays, facilitating vehicle holding areas, and prescribing entry routes for construction sites. GSC is running pilots for various councils such as Sunderland. Logistic operators, such as DPD and Amazon Logistics, have already expressed their interest in using their service. Our project team works closely with the company to provide a future proof solution and to develop a context-aware kerbside application framework that will enable GSC to better understand users’ behaviour and other important contextual information. To achieve this goal, the team uses a combination of empirical methods such as field studies and experiments, and operational research techniques such as dynamic programming. The framework and synergy created by collaboration of academia and practitioners is leading to a compelling business case that could be readily tailored for different local authorities and other key stakeholders, allowing GSC to scale up their business.

Project Lead(s): Professor Karena Yan, Dr Riccardo Mogre


Who engages and why? Facilitating university-industry engagement activities within university-centred entrepreneurial ecosystems

Universities have become increasingly focused on commercialising their knowledge, engaging with industrial partners such as small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and diversifying income streams. At the same time, resource constrained SMEs have realised the opportunities afforded to them in mobilising resources and scaling their ventures by engaging with universities. It is these entrepreneurial/commercial activities at the university-industry (U-I) boundary that support the emergence and development of university-centred entrepreneurial ecosystems (UCEEs), and lead to potential pathways to impact, including regional innovation and economic development. However, whilst academics are encouraged to behave entrepreneurially, this poses several challenges. Likewise, despite industry partners having much to gain from engaging with university academics, they too face challenges in doing so. Unfortunately, despite a broad and emerging literature in the academic entrepreneurship field, our understanding of the processes, particularly at the micro-level, underlying U-I engagement, science commercialisation, and UCEEs remains limited. Accordingly, this research project will investigate U-I engagement activities and science commercialisation at the U-I boundary, and how these activities contribute to UCEE dynamics.  Study findings, which will be disseminated via multiple scholarly and practitioner-based outputs, will reveal the underlying micro processes driving entrepreneurial/commercial activity at the U-I boundary. At the same time, findings will impart critical knowledge to SMEs, intermediary organisations such as university technology transfer offices, and university and governmental policy makers across the globe, who are tasked with encouraging U-I engagement and science commercialisation activities and fostering the development of UCEEs.

Project Lead: Dr David Johnson


Sweating it out for a good purpose: Scaling up mass participation sports events in sustainable ways

Mass participation sports events have been historically celebratory events with mass media coverage, having a great social impact on the health and wellbeing of participants. However, runners are largely from specific age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds, reducing the overall diversity of these events and challenging their health benefits for all. In addition, the use of huge amounts of plastic bottles during these events poses significant environmental challenges, creating a pressing need for sustainable practices. To respond to these challenges, Durham University uses a combination of empirical methods such as field studies and experiments, as well as qualitative research techniques. The project team examines both the causes and consequences of participating in running events, such as motivation, wellbeing, resilience and others’ biased judgements at the workplace and beyond. In doing so it works closely with Great Run Company – the lead company partner – around core company scaling challenges. Thus, the project contributes to the levelling-up initiative of SMEs in the North East in a significant way.  

Project Lead: Dr. Maria Kakarika


Scale with a Purpose (SwaP)

The project establishes the “Scale with a Purpose (SwaP)” initiative which aims to “To catalyse the start-up and scaling activities of purpose-led SMEs in the North-East”. SwaP partners with Junction Point CIC to develop a research informed training programme and accredited qualification for purpose-driven SMEs in the North East. Specifically, this research will lead to the creation of an accredited Level 2 and Level 3 qualification which is co-produced with the sector. The Level 2 training focuses on how to start a purpose-driven venture with Level 3 looking at sustainability and scaling.

The primary beneficiaries will be the recipients of the training programme who will undertake a total of 12 modules across the two qualification levels, as well as Junction Point CIC who deliver the training. These modules will be informed by the latest academic research into social entrepreneurship and enterprise education. The research will build an understanding of what currently exists in the literature and the direct tensions purpose-driven organisations face when dealing with issues (e.g., impact measurement). The outcome of the research process will be specific tools that participants can use in their own practice.

SwaP has a particularly important role in galvanising action for economic recovery, resilience and development across the North East. In particular, it informs the emergence of new business models and helps develop skills of the next generation of leaders of transformational change.

Project Lead: Professor Jonathan Kimmitt


Evaluation of Space Debris and Its Potential Usage for a Circular Space Economy

There are thousands of satellites orbiting the earth, which have reached the end of their lives. Many of these satellites have run out of fuel but the individual parts in the satellites as well as the material used in them may be used in various other ways in a sustainable way. Thousands of more satellites are expected to be launched in the coming years. These satellites have not been designed to be serviced or disassembled for reuse and recyclability.  There are also debris from rocket bodies and satellites, which had been involved in collisions. There is limited research on the material value of the non-functional satellites and debris in Space, the economic value in reusing the parts, recycling the materials and using those for remanufacturing and repair of other satellites and Space objects.  There is also limited work related to manufacturing in Space and bringing some of the high value and rare material back to earth for use in different applications. This research will determine the material value of end-of-life satellites and Space debris and the economic value associated with the reuse of parts or recycling the material from these objects for different applications in Space or on earth. It will also outline the services around Space Circular Economy which can be developed by the partnering company, 3S Northumbria Limited, and will develop appropriate business models which the company and potential partners can use to commercialise those services.   

Project Lead: Professor Atanu Chaudhuri

Social Science Enterprise Lab

The Social Science Enterprise Lab aims to scale up the impact of social science research through commercialisation. The Lab is a 10-month research incubation programme that supports teams of researchers and practitioners in conducting solution-oriented research. Each team will comprise three Durham University-based social scientists and three practitioners/ SME founders in the North-East of England. These teams will receive training, conduct joint problematisation, engage in research activities, explore solutions through prospection, explore markets for research solutions, and engage in commercialisation activities. Social scientists receive training and support to develop their research into scalable and sustainable impact. Participating practitioners/SME founders will become Entrepreneurs-in-Residence at Durham University Business School for the duration of the programme. In the next three years, the Lab aims to support ten social science research project teams.

Find out more at Durham Enterprise  


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Interested in finding out more?

If you would like to find out more about our Smart & Scale programme send us an email.

Email our team