To what extent can universities create a sustainable system to support MSMEs?
: A focus on the West Midlands region

  • Tom Williamson

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Micro, Small and Medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) represent 99.9% of businesses in the UK and they face significant challenges with regards to start-up, survival and growth. Their ability to deal with these challenges is assisted, in some cases, by the provision of business support funded by the public sector. Unfortunately, despite the volume of such businesses, there remains a significant lack of qualitative data into the MSME sector, and their use of university led business support.

    This thesis examined the business support agenda, the support needs of MSMEs, the role of universities in the provision of business support, and the needs of public funding bodies, with regards to economic sustainability and growth in the West Midlands. The choice to focus on the West Midlands region was largely pragmatic; the researcher has existing relationships with the small business community and University networks within the region allowing for a comparable study of stakeholders with similar environmental, political and economical challenges. Whilst the findings are therefore in relation to the West Midlands region, they have been compared to secondary data and theoretical frameworks in order to propose a contribution, which is applicable to a wider audience.

    The thesis adopted an exploratory, interpretivist methodology with an emphasis on the practical importance of the research results. Through an explanatory sequential mixed methods approach, surveys were used to collect data from MSME business owners, followed by in-depth interviews with university staff in order to produce institutional case studies. The surveys with MSME owners identified a need for support that was free, local, face-to-face and delivered by an organisation with a good reputation for delivering business support. The survey data also indicated confusion amongst MSME owners about the availability of support from universities, as well as questions around the quality of support provided by universities and its impact. The interviews, and case studies, revealed a significant level of interest, and a feeling of responsibility, from universities towards supporting the MSME community. However there were consistent challenges around funding, sustainability, resources, flexibility of delivery, and the longevity of any enterprise strategy. The research makes a useful contribution to knowledge through the development of multiple case studies and the development of a conceptual framework for a sustainable system of university led, MSME business support. The model, and analysis, considers the detailed experiences, challenges and opportunities from the stakeholders and proposed a sustainable support system. This contribution to literature provides a unique perspective for both practical application and for the research community to utilise further.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorJoan Lockyer (Supervisor), Gideon Maas (Supervisor) & Donald Finlay (Supervisor)


    • SMEs
    • MSMEs
    • micro enterprises
    • small enterprises
    • medium sized enterprises
    • business start-ups
    • business support services
    • universities
    • West Midlands

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