Business, Improvement and Growth (BIG): Applying research to support SMEs

Institution: Birmingham City University, the University of Kent and the University of Calgary

Business School Lead: Dr Mark Gilman


Kent Business School - BIG works with research-intensive institutions to deliver research identifying the drivers of growth and performance for SMEs in their local context. BIG helps to translate this new knowledge into practice for business owners, leaders and entrepreneurs, whilst engaging with and offering insights for policy. BIG began at the University of Kent, and has since been spun out into its own entrepreneurial venture. BIG now works with the University of Kent, Birmingham City University and The University of Calgary. It has piloted a study with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and is in talks with international universities.

Understanding growth: The journey begins with Promoting Sustainable Performance (PSP), a research programme translated into practical tools and techniques that owner-managers can use to gain clarity on future goals and actions. PSP provides an impartial perspective of growth for informed decision making, capturing essential knowledge to help raise levels of productivity and performance. The PSP project promotes a multi-disciplinary approach and has an integrated set of diagnostic tools for businesses, including the BIG Ten. PSP collects data on an ongoing, longitudinal basis to track change.

Delivering growth: BIG offers a secure and confidential environment to share and learn, with the aim of helping those leading and running SMEs to achieve greater levels of growth. The BIG suite of programmes provides facts about business improvement and growth, and the techniques and approaches use the latest in management thinking. Many business owners and leaders have chosen to remain part of BIG since its conception in 2006.

The BIG Journey™ is a business growth and development programme for business owners and leaders who would like to work “on” the business and not just “in” it. By the end of the programme participants transition to strategic leaders and thinkers, while developing a comprehensive and robust strategic plan for the future. The programme works with the constraints of everyday business priorities through a set of six practical two-day modules bound together by in-company coaching support. The BIG Futures Network™ is a business growth and development network developed alongside BIG.

A recent independent study of The BIG Journey™ found that participants experienced an average increase in revenues of 18.8% and in employment levels of 13.6%. One cohort alone added £2.8m to the regional economy, and 111.5 new jobs, driving up the competitiveness of SMEs in the region. Here is what participants say about this programme:

 “The BIG Journey™ has massively influenced the way we build our business. As a result, we are bringing four times as many customers on board compared to the same period last year”.     Tim Ralph, Founder and CEO, Adaro Optics

“The BIG Journey™ has helped us to build stronger, deeper relationships with new clients and our existing network.”     Helen Fairley, Co-Founder & Director, 62 Design

“The BIG Journey™ has quickly driven us to expand internationally. Following attendance at the first module I attended a trade fair in Germany and secured 25 new customers”.  Rob Cooper, Founder & CEO, Fabricsmart

Contact: Dr Mark Gilman, Professor of SME Growth &Development