By Daniel Hunter

Professor Stephen Roper believes the new £2.9m Enterprise Research Centre will not only help influence Government policy but help small and medium-sized companies power the UK economy back into life.

The Enterprise Research Centre (ERC) was launched at Warwick Business School yesterday (Monday), with the aim of producing research and data to boost the performance of the nation’s small and medium-sized companies (SMEs).

With three years of funding Professor Roper is hoping the ERC, which is being jointly led by Warwick Business School and Aston Business School working alongside a consortium of other universities including Imperial College Business School, Strathclyde, Birmingham and De Montfort, will also become SMEs first port of call for support.

Professor Roper said: “The UK’s SMEs are still hurting from the continuing weak market conditions. That is making it a very challenging climate for companies, particularly for ones who want to grow. The tough market conditions have also led to some new opportunities as some companies go to the wall and others are unwilling to take the risks involved in investing for the future.

“For companies that are prepared to invest and make the most of the market opportunities there is still growth potential out there, not necessarily in the UK, but in the export markets. It is those companies that we are excited about working with.

“We know SMEs are the source of growth and the source of new jobs in most economies around the world. If we are going to grow the UK economy we need to grow the SME base and the more effective policy, the more effective support from financing suppliers and training organisations in the UK the better chance we have got of maximising the contribution of SMEs to UK growth.

“We also want to build a robust evidence base for SME business policy in the UK. We have six research programmes planned, with three focused on the role of the entrepreneur and the leaders of business and three on the resources which small businesses need to grow - around finance, innovation and productivity.

“We hope to have a positive impact on the policy agenda in the UK, produce some world-class research focused on understanding the problems of SME growth and establish the ERC as the focal point for the small business research support community in the UK.”

Professor Roper feels having the ERC based in the West Midlands, the traditional heartland of UK manufacturing, is an advantage and befitting.

“Many SMEs are involved in manufacturing and manufacturing supply chains and some of those remain very strong in the West Midlands,” said the Professor of Enterprise at Warwick Business School, which is part of the University of Warwick.

“It is through manufacturing SMEs that many of the new exports from the UK will come from over the next few years. We have a very interesting place to run the ERC from. But it is a national body with partners in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The research and messages we will be doing will be relevant to SMEs from Truro to Wick.

“We want to try to help companies develop higher growth ambition, develop stronger management and leadership capabilities and help them to re-skill and up-skill their workforces. They also need accessibility of external finance. There are issues about how Government can help businesses to innovate to develop new products and to export. We need to get those internal and external things right if we are to maximise the value of SMEs to the UK economy.”

Funding for the centre has come from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the British Bankers Association (BBA), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Technology Strategy Board.

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