There’s a lack of understanding around the most common enterprise in the UK. Over 1.1 million microbusinesses across the country employ 18.6% of all private sector employees, and account for £1 in every £6 of turnover from employing firms.

Yet despite this economic contribution, these vibrant enterprises (each with fewer than 10 staff) rarely feature in contemporary debates on productivity, attract policy attention or access mainstream business support programmes and initiatives. This results in knowledge gaps on the meaning of productivity, the role of business support providers, and the kind of interventions that might make a difference to such firms.

With funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, we aim to develop productivity-boosting interventions to support microbusinesses in the West Midlands. The three-year-project, based at the Aston Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME), is a collaboration between three leading applied research centres as well as business and civil society partners. 

Unique in format and approach, this project is a genuine academic-practitioner collaboration with a commitment to working hand-in-hand with local businesses in neglected communities. We aim to definitively lift the lid on the challenges facing microbusiness by focusing on three key sectors: retail, catering and creative. 

With diversity and inclusion becoming ever more prominent buzzwords in local and national commerce initiatives, we aim to make a practical difference and change policy makers’ thinking to ultimately benefit the UK’s wider business community.


The project team is formed of three leading applied research centres with distinct but complementary perspectives:

  • The Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME), based at ABS.
  • The Enterprise Research Centre (ERC), based at ABS and Warwick University.
  • Aston Centre for Growth, based at ABS.

The research centres work closely with four practitioner partners:

  • ACH: An award-winning social enterprise with a keen interest in promoting employability of migrants.
  • The Bangladeshi Netowork: Four groups with local and national reach into the sector.
  • Citizens UK: A national civil society alliance.
  • Punch Records: A business with a strong social mission to promote artists from diverse backgrounds.

Together, this collaboration will create business development interventions that are rooted in the concerns of neglected microbusinesses as well as scientific principles.


Policy Change

Researchers, specialists and civil society agencies will share knowledge during the project, ensuring business support systems at a local and national level are responsive to the needs of microbusinesses from diverse communities.

Institutional Change

Project outcomes will be shared with a range of business support providers and academic partners in order to develop practical, evidence-based solutions. Outcomes will also inform the development of a customised programme of business support around productivity and performance, as well as guiding practitioners in wider business contexts.

Local Change

By engaging mainstream and non-traditional intermediaries, as well as tapping into multiple pathways of engagement, we will actively aid the development of a more responsive and inclusive business support ecosystem in the West Midlands. 

Advisory Group

Most significantly, this project it is overseen by a powerful Advisory Board that includes the National Chambers of Commerce, West Midlands Combined Authority, Birmingham City Council, the Low Pay Commission, be the business. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP Growth Hub. Federation of Small Business and the Joseph Rowntree foundation.

Project Team

Academic Partners

Professor Monder Ram, project lead and Director of CREME (Aston University)
Professor Mark Hart (Aston University)
Dr Imelda McCarthy (Aston University)
Dr Judy Scully (Aston University)
Katherine Jones (Aston University)
Dr Susan Lanz (Aston University)
Professor Anne Green (University of Birmingham)
Professor Stephen Roper (Warwick University)
Dr Luke Fletcher (University of Bath)

Practitioner Partners 

ACH (Fuad Mahamed and Richard Thickpenny)
Bangladeshi Network (Johur Uddin and Bashir Ahmed)
Citizens UK (Saidul Haque Saeed)
Punch Records (Ammo Talwar and Simon Redgrave)

Advisory Board

David Bharier (Head of Research, British Chambers of Commerce)
Tim Butcher (Chief Economist, Low Pay Commission)
Paul Edwards (Professor, University of Birmingham)
Jonny Gifford (Senior Advisor for Organisational Behaviour, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development)
Adam Hardy (Economist and Head of Evaluation, be the business)
Dave Innes (Head of Economics, Joseph Rowntree Foundation)
Ian McLaughlan (Director, Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP Growth Hub)
Madeleine Parsley (Research Portfolio Manager, Economic and Social Research Council)
Emelia Quist (Head of Policy Research, Federation of Small Businesses)
Claire Spencer (Senior Programme Manager, West Midlands Combined Authority)
Mohammed Zahir (Head of Business Enterprise and Innovation, Birmingham City Council)
Irene Ferrandiz (Adviser, Business Productivity & Growth, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)
Shruti Sardeshmukh (Associate Professor, University of South Australia)

Contact Us

For more details about the project, please contact

Professor Monder Ram
Director of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority
CREME, Principal Investigator

Dr Imelda McCarthy
Occupational Psychologist and Research Fellow