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PhD Scholarships in Small Business, Innovation and Regional Development

A student studying at a desk with books

Context and Focus

Durham University Business School invites applications from prospective Ph.D. 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 have 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 to be highly beneficial to SMEs in the region. Specifically, applications involving collaboration with regional SMEs are encouraged as well as inter-disciplinary projects. In particular, we welcome proposals focused on academic-industry engagement activities. 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 Ph.D. 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 or strategy practice as it pertains to new technologies and information systems 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.

Ph.D. Programme in Management (with Integrated Studies), Department of Management and Marketing, 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. The entrepreneurship research group leads these Ph.D. projects within the Management & Marketing Department. Our Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. studies.

Further information:


Successful applicants will have the cost of their tuition fees paid/waived for the full duration of their studies. The scholarship also includes a tax-free stipend, set at £17,668 per year (adjusted accordingly for 2023-24 depending on UKRI). This stipend is paid to the student directly and monthly to cover living costs.


Prof Pablo Muñoz, PhD Programme Lead,

Prof Jonathan Kimmitt, Smart and Scale Academic Lead,

How to Apply

The deadline for submitting applications to the Ph.D. programme is 1st March 2023 for a start in October 2023. It is expected that candidates will contact Prof. Pablo Munoz, Professor of Entrepreneurship (, no later than 20th February 2023 with CV, awards, and transcripts from previous studies, and a brief explanation of research interests and alignment with one of the four streams. Interviews will then be arranged. The aim is to explore the suitability of the candidate and whether collaboration can be initiated. At the same time, please get in touch with the Department's Ph.D. Programme Office to request further information about the formal application process via email to