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PhD Scholarships in Small Business, Innovation and Regional Development 

Context and Focus 

Durham University Business School invites applications from prospective PhD candidates with outstanding academic achievement and research potential, specifically interested in supporting SMEs in the region (i.e., micro, small and medium sized firms, social enterprises, non-profits in the North-East of England). The selected students will benefit from joining a team of academics that has ongoing projects and connections in their topic area. This allows for the development of a rich professional network and access to fieldwork.

Supported by Durham University Business School’s Smart & Scale programme, we encourage research proposals that are academically rigorous but also likely highly beneficial to SMEs in the region. Specifically, applications involving collaboration with regional SMEs are encouraged as well as inter-disciplinary projects. Similarly, we encourage proposals related to policy debates and infrastructure support (e.g., entrepreneurial ecosystems, Local Growth Hubs, Enterprise Zones) for SMEs and start-ups. The final thesis will therefore be of academic importance and practical relevance to advancing business enterprise, innovation, and regional development in the UK. Proposals with no link or just a tangential focus on SMEs in the North-East of England will not be considered.

We invite proposals from across the following research projects:


Project 1: Academic-Industry Engagement, Science Commercialisation, and the Development of University-Centred Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (UCEEs)

Universities have become increasingly focused on commercialising their knowledge, engaging with industrial partners such as 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 boundary that support the emergence and development of 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. We invite PhD proposals to contribute to the emerging literature in the academic entrepreneurship field where our understanding of the processes, particularly at the micro-level, underlying academic-industry engagement, science commercialisation, and UCEEs remains limited.

Lead: Dr David Johnson


Project 2: A Multi-level Study of Strategic Social Entrepreneurship Practice: Linking Entrepreneur, Enterprise, and Environment

Social entrepreneurship is an impactful phenomenon that has garnered increasing scholarly attention over the past decade. During a period where societal wants have centred on businesses pursuing objectives that go beyond mere profit maximisation, social entrepreneurship represents an avenue for social and economic goals to co-exist. Despite establishing a rich research tradition, social entrepreneurship’s inherent complexity and interdisciplinary nature has resulted in a somewhat fragmented body of scholarship. An identified characteristic of the social entrepreneurship literature pertains to a tendency for existing studies to focus on one level of analysis, i.e., individual (micro), organisational (meso), or institutional (macro). Yet, social entrepreneurship is inherently a multi-level
phenomenon. We invite PhD proposals to add to the limited stock of such knowledge through integrating the strategy and social entrepreneurship research traditions.

Lead: Dr. Jeffrey Hughes


Project 3: Scaling-Up North East SMEs

In the UK, 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. The North East context is perhaps even more challenging because of plateauing start-up rates and notable decreases in innovation levels. We invite PhD proposals from themes across the Smart & Scale programme. In New Business Models, specific topics could look at, for example, SME scaling a digital growth. Leadership topics may wish to explore varying leadership practices across industry, geographic and other organizational contexts. In addition, topics could address emerging technological trends related to industry 4.0 and supply chain development as it relates to new product development, innovation processes and sustainability.

Lead: Professor Jonathan Kimmitt


PhD Programme in Management (with Integrated Studies), Department of Management and Marketing

Durham University Business School is one of an elite group worldwide to carry three internationally recognised accreditations by EQUIS, AACSB, and AMBA for the quality of our research, teaching, and environment. We are also a member of the European Doctoral Programmes Association in Management and Business Administration. Our PhD in Management and Marketing (With Integrated Studies) offers access to our vibrant academic community, cutting-edge knowledge, skills development at the doctoral level, and learning and support from internationally renowned researchers to progress successfully in their PhD studies.

Further information



Applications for this funding are open to full-time UK students only. Successful applicants will have the cost of home tuition fees covered for the full duration of their studies. The scholarship also includes a tax-free stipend, set at £18,622 per year (as per UKRI). This stipend is paid to the student directly and monthly to cover living costs.


Research Team


How to Apply

The deadline for submitting applications to the PhD. programme is 31st January 2024 for a start in September 2024. In the first instance, it is expected that candidates will contact Prof Jonathan Kimmitt ( no later than 8th January 2024. This should include a CV, awards, transcripts, the first draft of a research proposal. At this point, Smart & Scale team and PhD director will assess the quality of your application and invite you to apply. After evaluating the full application, interviews will then be arranged in February.

If you require further information about the application process, please contact the below email