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Three 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.  

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. To address these challenges, the ‘Smart and Scale’ initiative at Durham University Business School represents an interdisciplinary impact-driven research programme in smart and scale-up activities, designed to support SME innovation, resilience, and economic development in the North-East.  

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.  

The Smart and Scale initiative is underpinned by four broad research themes: New Business Models, Leadership, Emerging Technology and Supply Chains. We invite PhD applications that relate to one or more of these themes. In New Business Models, specific topics could look at, for example, alternative business models such as social enterprises and their role within community development or how new ventures form to create value in marginalised communities. 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. The suggested topics are not exhaustive, and we welcome fresh ideas and approaches related to challenges facing SMEs and start-ups in the North-East of England and the UK more broadly. 

PhD Programmes at Durham University Business School  

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. Applicants can apply for the following programmes:  


Applications for this funding are open to 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 £17,668 per year (as per UKRI). This stipend is paid to the student directly and monthly to cover living costs.  


Prof Jonathan Kimmitt, Smart and Scale Academic Lead,  

How to Apply  

The deadline for submitting applications to the Ph.D. programme is 26th May 2023 for a start in September/October 2023. In the first instance, it is expected that candidates will contact Prof Jonathan Kimmitt ( no later than 12th May 2023. This should include a CV, awards, transcripts, the first draft of a research proposal and a brief description of its alignment with the four Smart and Scale themes.  

At this point, subject level specialists will determine the quality of the application alongside the Smart and Scale team. You will then be invited to formally apply in advance of the 26th May. Successful applicants will be supervised by a subject specialist and a member of the Smart and Scale team.  

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