SBRC postgraduate opportunities

Study for MPhil or PhD

The Small Business Research Centre (SBRC) welcome enquiries from students interested in postgraduate study for MPhil or PhD in all aspects of entrepreneurship and small business. Enquiries should be directed to Professor Robert Blackburn, Director, SBRC.

Current research themes

The projects listed below are our proposed topic areas for supervision of prospective research students in the SBRC. These are not meant to be exhaustive and we are open to receiving high-quality applications. The topics are outlines and should be developed by prospective students. Candidates are invited to discuss the project they are interested in with the proposed supervisor.

Business exits/transfer/closure

Supervisors: Bahare Afrahi and Robert Blackburn


The most recent national survey estimated that 317,000 UK business exits, or 6%, occurred in 2016. These businesses were closed, merged, or were taken over by another business. New reports also suggest that the number of entrepreneurs who exit is on the rise (Clegg, 2018; Sidhu, 2018).

Given the greater number of current business that leave the market, researching entrepreneurial exit adds value to the field. This project will look at the closely inter related individual/firm level antecedents of the business exit, for example, team dynamics, investors relations, crowd funding, etc., and employ the available accounts of the firm and a multi-dimensional performance measure to access the after-math of the business exit: what happens to the stakeholders.

Business incubators/accelerators and the entrepreneurial ecosystem: Fundraising sources, income generation strategies and the role of public support

Supervisors: Yannis Pierrakis and David Smallbone


This research explores the different financial viability strategies adopted by incubators/accelerators located in both high-income and medium / low-income countries. More specifically, the study focuses on three interrelated research questions:

  1. What are the most common funding sources for incubators/accelerators, paying particular attention to the balance between an incubator's tangible and intangible assets?
  2. What income generation strategies they employ to achieve financial viability?
  3. What appear to be the main influences on whether research attracts sufficient funding to be financially viable?

Creative entrepreneurship

Supervisors: Robert Blackburn and Yannis Pierrakis


This project will address the specific challenges that creative entrepreneurs encounter in the identification of opportunities and marshalling social, human and financial capital.

The project may involve a focus on specific occupations and / or industries in the arts, such as in the performing arts, music, fashion and in the sciences, such as in product design and development.

The project will be interdisciplinary in nature and identify specific types of resource constraints and opportunities facing entrepreneurs working across conventional academic and industry boundaries.

Cryptocurrencies and the role of Initial Coin Offering in the entrepreneurial process

Supervisors: Yannis Pierrakis and David Smallbone


Initial coin offerings (ICOs) have emerged as a novel mechanism for financing entrepreneurial ventures. Through an ICO, a venture offers a stock of specialized crypto tokens for sale with the promise that those tokens will operate as the medium of exchange when accessing services on a digital platform developed by the venture (Catalini and Gans 2018). According to Coin Schedule database, ICOs raised over $21 billion in 2018. Despite its explosive growth, we know very little about this new phenomenon of entrepreneurial finance and its impact in the entrepreneurial process.

This research seeks to understand the role of ICOs in the entrepreneurial process. More specifically, it aims to investigate the potential impact of ICOs in:

  1. resource commitment
  2. product validation
  3. legitimacy of the new venture.

Disability and entrepreneurs

Supervisors: Tim Harries and Elizabeth Chell


What are the practical, symbolic and social barriers that keep people who have a chronic illness from becoming entrepreneurs, or hamper their progress in entrepreneurial activities? While the idea of a chronic illness used to invoke feelings of pity and charity, portable technologies and improved treatments are increasingly allowing those with chronic illnesses to integrate into the practices of society as a whole.

To complement existing research on chronic illness and employment, and on disability and self-employment, this study will explore the experiences of entrepreneurs who have a chronic illness and the attitudes towards entrepreneurship of young people who have a chronic illness. It will do so through the lenses of social identify, social representations and/or social practices.

Entrepreneurs disengagement and exit

Supervisors: Bahare Afrahi and Robert Blackburn


While some entrepreneurs leave their business due to financial considerations, a growing body of evidence suggests that others exit the business for personal reasons. The effect of financial performance is often indirect, and it is more of an indication rather than having a direct effect.

Financial performance could inform entrepreneurs about whether their business strategies are effective or not. However, the decision to revisit the strategy and to grow or eliminate the business is a personal choice. For example, entrepreneurs may decide to disengage when their motivating factors and intangible goals decline.

This project will look at the exit from a financially viable business and suggest a U-shape relationship between financial performance and exit and a moderating effect of financial performance on the relationships between non-financial antecedents and the exit. In particular, the project uses various sources of data and a longitudinal data collection at different times to support the proposed causal inferences.

Entrepreneurial behaviour (psychology; sociological; approaches)

Supervisors: Elizabeth Chell and Hang Do


What is entrepreneurial behaviour and how may it be differentiated from other organisational behaviours? This will be the primary question shaping the direction of this research.

The work will be underpinned by a thorough examination of both sociological and psychological models of entrepreneurial behaviour and the processes and contextual variables that shape behaviour and outcomes. From this literature review, a set of hypotheses will be formulated, and a sampling frame for the testing of these designed.

Several measures of key behaviours will be identified and the results from data collection triangulated. Policy and practical implications for small and medium sized enterprises will be discussed in detail, any limitations of the research identified and proposed further work outlined.

Entrepreneurial exit

Supervisor: Bahare Afrahi


While some entrepreneurs leave their business due to financial considerations, a growing body of evidence suggests that others exit the business for personal reasons. The effect of financial performance is often indirect, and it is more of an indication rather than having a direct effect.

Financial performance could inform entrepreneurs about whether their business strategies are effective or not. However, the decision to revisit the strategy and to grow or eliminate the business is a personal choice. For example, entrepreneurs may decide to disengage when their motivating factors and intangible goals decline.

This project will look at the exit from a financially viable business and suggest a U-shape relationship between financial performance and exit and a moderating effect of financial performance on the relationships between non-financial antecedents and the exit. In particular, the project uses various sources of data and a longitudinal data collection at different times to support the proposed causal inferences.

Entrepreneurial personality

Supervisors: Elizabeth Chell, Bahare Afrahi, Hang Do and Tim Harries


After 100 years of research from different disciplinary perspectives, are we any closer to answering the question; is there an entrepreneurial personality? In other words, is there an identifiable set of traits that signifies an entrepreneur, entrepreneurial persona?

This research will present a detailed examination of the state of the art of research on "the entrepreneurial personality". The thesis will contain a thorough review of evidence for single trait, trait cluster and profiles, of the entrepreneurial persona. Literature reviews, meta-analyses and a critical examination of models of the entrepreneurial personality will be conducted.

From this a tight set of hypotheses will be formulated and tested. Measures of the purported traits will be tested and, longitudinal data demonstrating face valid entrepreneurial behaviour will be tested and included in this rigorous examination of the thesis.

Practical and policy implications will be outlined in detail, and a set of conclusions and recommendations drawn up for the use of practitioners, government bodies and academic researchers.

Entrepreneurship and climate change resilience

Supervisors: Tim Harries and Marfuga Iskandarova


Few of the businesses involved in post disaster re-building go out of their way to reinstate in a manner that prepares them for the next disaster.

This research will explore why this is so:

  • what motivates the adoption of elements of social entrepreneurship by the commercial businesses involved
  • how business models are adapted
  • how this impacts on commercial viability, and consequences for company brand and competitiveness.

One focus of the research might be flood risk in the UK. However, it could also look at other types of environmental disaster in the UK or in other countries. If in the UK, fieldwork is likely to involve data collection with businesses such as builders and loss assessors, as well as with their direct and indirect customers (e.g. insurance companies and owners of affected buildings).

How home-workers integrate the social practices of work with those of home

Supervisor: Tim Harries


The growth of home-working is blurring the material, emotional and social distinctions between home and work. While this has practical benefits, it introduces new tensions into the organisation of everyday life and has possible implications for the maintenance of strong family structures and the mental health of home workers.

This research will explore these tensions and the strategies that home-workers use to resolve them.

Impacts of entrepreneurship on well-being and mental health

Supervisors: Tim Harries and Robert Blackburn


What are the health impacts of running a small business and how can society ensure the well-being of entrepreneurs? The owners of small businesses are famed for 'muddling through' in the face of the multiple pressures that face them.

This research will look at the potential implications of this for their physical health, mental health and general well-being. It will ask what particular health and well-being challenges are faced by entrepreneurs and will identify strategies that have been successfully developed by individual entrepreneurs and civil society.

The project may involve using occupational health data and in alliance with international studies on health and entrepreneurship.

Intellectual property rights and SMEs

Supervisors: John Kitching and Robert Blackburn


Intellectual property rights (IPR) are valuable business assets. Businesses vary in the types of products they offer to the market and therefore in the types of IPR that are most suitable for them.

We are interested in supervising studies that investigate the use of formal IPR and informal methods of protecting business knowledge, and the challenges involved in doing so.

  • To what extent do small firms seek to protect their business knowledge through IPR?
  • What specific forms of IPR do they use?
  • What challenges do business owners experience in developing and protecting IPR, and how do they manage them?
  • To what extent do businesses rely instead on 'informal' methods of protecting business knowledge, under what circumstances do they do so and with what consequences for business performance?

Internationalisation; SME exports; Born globals

Supervisors: Hang Do and Robert Blackburn


Globalisation has accelerated the speed, scope, and intensity of internationalisation within small and medium enterprises. This has attracted academic interest in the so-called born global concept, which describes young, highly international, growth, and innovative oriented firms.

Despite prior investigations on born globals, there are lack of qualitative and quantitative researches examining their international pathways, behaviour, trends, knowledge learning, and governance issues, especially with regard to their global value chain partners. Thus, the thesis will investigate the born globals' behaviour, strategic management and explore different aspects of their governance in the value chain relationships, under different contexts.

Institutions and entrepreneurship in different contexts

Supervisors: David Smallbone and John Kitching


Although entrepreneurship results from the drive, initiative and creativity of individuals and groups of individuals, the context in which it occurs can have a major influence on the extent to which entrepreneurship develops, the form that it takes and the behaviour of entrepreneurs. In this regard, the role of contextual factors has increasingly been recognised particularly when a broad view of what constitutes context is adopted. Whilst a contemporary view emphasises the multifaceted nature of the concept to include economic social and historical dimensions, institutional influences are arguably the key element, particularly when Douglass North's distinction between formal and informal institutions is adopted.

Informal institutions comprise social norms and rules of the society and broader cultural influences. As the experience of transition economies in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet bloc demonstrate, informal institutions can take considerably longer to change than formal ones and are more difficult to address. The current research base leaves plenty of scope for further work on this topic to include different countries, different cultures and gender issues as examples.

Organisational creativity, storytelling and metaphors

Supervisors: Evy Sakellariou and Bahare Afrahi


Organisational creativity (the generation of novel ideas within small or establishes organisations) is enhanced from dialectic; for example, discussions based around the different perspectives, experiences and expertise of individuals within innovation teams. However, studies on organisational creativity have largely focused on individual cognitive processes and creativity techniques.

This research will examine how the use of stories and metaphors in discussions within organisational teams and/or workshops (in established firms or in start-ups) can enhance organisational creativity.

Research methods include in-depth interviews, non-participant observation, ethnography, textual and video analysis, and real time analysis of situations and events.

Policy development for SMEs

Supervisors: Robert Blackburn, David Smallbone and John Kitching


Public policy at the macro and micro level has sought to help new venture formation and development. However, the success of policy interventions is mixed. This topic area will focus on public policy for SMEs.

We are not overly prescriptive of the detailed topic but welcome attention to policy for individuals with different challenges to achieving entrepreneurship (e.g. females, migrants, disabled); types of businesses (e.g. sector studies, locations); and different challenges (e.g. internationalisation, growth).

Analyses of specific interventions or thematic areas of policy development are welcomed.

Responsible innovation in SMEs

Supervisors: Audley Genus and Marfuga Iskandarova


Responsible innovation is a relatively new term employed in, for example, the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme, to highlight the benign character of technology and technology development in society.

Much attention thus far has been on research, innovation and technology development in science and/or large organisations. However, relatively little research has been conducted on responsible innovation as it affects or might be practiced by SMEs.

Professor Audley Genus and Dr Marfuga Iskandarova are interested to hear from prospective research students who would like to investigate responsible innovation in small companies, possibly focusing on those within the energy sector.

Self-employment and well-being

Supervisors: John Kitching, Bahare Afrahi, Robert Blackburn and Marfuga Iskandarova


The self-employed often report higher levels of satisfaction with their working lives than employees, even where pay and other conditions of work appear to be less favourable.

Studies often claim that the self-employed enjoy greater autonomy than employees in deciding when, where and how to do their work. But research also shows that many of the self-employed experience work characteristics that might be expected to constrain work autonomy and satisfaction. These include: low, variable and insecure incomes, with consequences for obtaining mortgages or making provision for retirement; long hours of work, and pressures to respond to client requests at unsocial hours; social isolation, where they work alone; limited opportunities to engage in learning or skill development; and high levels of stress.

We are interested in supervising studies investigating the relationship between running a small business and any aspect of financial or non-financial well-being.

Small businesses and environmental sustainability

Supervisors: Tim Harries, Audley Genus and Marfuga Iskandarova


This research will explore the impacts of emotions on businesses' contributions to the climate change resilience of the UK's existing housing stock. In particular, it will consider how emotional reactions to first- and second-hand experiences of flooding influence companies' willingness to pursue the implementation of resilience measures in flooded homes and premises.

Fieldwork is likely to be across a number of industries and with large as well as small businesses - for example builders, loss adjusters, loss assessors, surveyors, insurance brokers and architects. It will likely draw on theories of emotion regulation and social construction and will look at the role of emotional considerations in business decision making and the benefits of businesses engaging with the emotional perspectives of their customers.

The rise of impact investing: Factors and trends that lead to a fund's success

Supervisors: Yannis Pierrakis and David Smallbone


The rise of Impact Investing is attracting particular attention by investors and policy makers. Impact Investing refers to investing capital with the intention of producing social benefits alongside financial returns.

This research aims to identify key factors associated with the performance of the Impact Investment funds.

The role of Big Data in minimising information asymmetries in Venture Capital investments

Supervisors: Yannis Pierrakis and Ivan Zupic


Venture capital (VC) finance has been the driving force behind some of the most vibrant sectors of the economy. It is an important source of funding, expertise and networks for innovative companies. Companies famous for receiving venture capital early in their development include Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. However, VC investors face major difficulties in realising the potential of an investment, mainly due to what it is widely called "asymmetric information" between entrepreneur and investor (Sorenson and Stuart 2001).

Recently, the explosion of Big Data has signalled a new era for the development of the venture finance industry based on the assumption that Big Data will assist venture capitalists in minimising information asymmetries and thus making better-informed investment decisions, which will ultimately lead to better financial returns.

According to an ongoing debate among industry practitioners regarding the importance of Big Data in investment decisions, the new model of venture capital business using Big Data is based on 'science of the deal', where data is used to inform investment decisions by predicting company performance.

Firstly, the research will consider whether and how venture capitalists use Big Data in the pre-investment and post-investment process. The study will examine:

  1. the type of VC funds involved with Big Data,
  2. the type of Big Data used by VC funds, and
  3. advantages in the use of Big Data to identify potential investment targets.

The study will also investigate whether the use of Big Data is associated with better fund performance.

Our research staff

Listed below are our research staff and their specialist area(s) of interest with respect to entrepreneurship and small business.

Professor Robert Blackburn

  • Small business management
  • Employment; growth; innovation
  • IP management
  • Environmental practices
  • Business exit
  • Regional and international dimensions
  • Public policy initiatives and evaluations
  • Mixed methods; qualitative and some quantitative approaches.

Professor David Smallbone

  • Entrepreneurship in transition economies
  • Ethnic minority and immigrant entrepreneurship
  • Rural enterprise
  • Entrepreneurship and small business policy in different contexts
  • Internationalisation as a stimulus to innovation in developing countries
  • Women entrepreneurs in a variety of contexts.

Professor Elizabeth Chell

  • The entrepreneurial personality and entrepreneurial process
  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Gender issues and entrepreneurship.

Professor Audley Genus

  • Innovation and entrepreneurship in the renewable energy sector
  • Community entrepreneurship and social innovation
  • Responsible innovation
  • Open and user innovation
  • Public and business engagement relating to the promotion of 'green' innovation
  • New approaches to understanding innovation networks.

Professor John Kitching

  • Employment relations
  • Skills, learning and training
  • Small business policy
  • Regulation and business performance
  • Intellectual property.

Professor Dirk De Clercq

  • Management of SMEs
  • SMEs and employee behaviour
  • SME innovation.

Dr Tim Harries

  • SMEs and climate change adaptation
  • SMEs, flooding and flood risk
  • Sustainable energy consumption amongst businesses
  • The management of chronic illness in the workplace
  • Maintaining healthy practices in the workplace.

Dr Marfuga Iskandarova

  • Community entrepreneurship and social innovation
  • Entrepreneurship in the renewable energy sector
  • Responsible innovation.

Dr Hang Do

  • Innovation management in SMEs
  • Business sustainability of SMEs
  • Entrepreneurial orientation
  • Small firm performance, firm growth
  • IP management in small firms
  • Born global enterprises / SMEs.

Associate Members and Visiting Professors

(those in italics are members of staff at Kingston University)

  • Professor Friederike Welter, University of Siegen, Germany
  • Professor Anne Kovalainen, Turku School of Entrepreneurship, Finland
  • Professor Jarna Heinonen, Turku School of Entrepreneurship, Finland
  • Professor Robin Jarvis, Brunel University
  • Professor David Stokes.

Contact us

Prof Robert Blackburn
Associate Dean for Research
Kingston Business School