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Research and Knowledge Exchange (RAKE) Fund

First Call for applications 2024

The interlinking roles of innovation and entrepreneurship in SMEs in promoting ‘levelling up’ in left-behind places

The ISBE Research and Knowledge Exchange (RAKE) Fund provides financial support to new research activities from academics, third sector organisations, businesses, consultants and practitioners. The fund was created with the aim of assisting the exploration of issues, challenges and opportunities surrounding entrepreneurial activities and small firm performance and to encourage and promote cutting-edge research which is relevant to both the development of policy and practice.

Collaborative bids are invited which draw together any combination of third sector organisations, academic researchers, consultants and practitioners. The Principal Investigator must be employed within a UK institution which is an ISBE organizational member but may be partnered with an international team – indeed this is encouraged. Research teams which demonstrate capacity building through collaborations between experienced and early career academics will be favourably considered; applications which demonstrate ‘in-kind’ contributions from partner organisations are welcomed as are those jointly funded from other sources.  Applications presented as pilot studies, with the aim of generating future funding from other sources, are also encouraged. As such, we wish to promote engagement with all who have an interest or stake in generating further insight and understanding into contemporary entrepreneurial activities, behaviours and practices. Dissemination of impact from the project is a critical issue and should be clearly articulated. Where possible, project dissemination should include academia, policy makers and the small business community. As a minimum successful applicants will be expected to present at least one paper arising from the project at a future ISBE annual conference.

Sponsored by the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) and first launched in 2009, this year the Institute seeks to deploy the RAKE fund to support applications for research aiming to uncover and address inequalities in relation to entrepreneurial activities and small firm performance. 

The interlinking roles of SME innovation and entrepreneurship in promoting ‘levelling up’ within left-behind places

In the UK the devolved policy landscape, which informs government financed funding streams, has increasingly incorporated a place-based perspective. Academics globally are also increasingly considering inequalities tied to different geographical contexts which inform entrepreneurial innovative opportunities for SMEs, including a decolonialist perspective in non-Western geographies (Adam and Alarifi, 2021), the differential impacts of digitisation (Kreiterling, 2023) in a range of different regions, and the roles of different regional ecosystem actors such as universities in supporting start-ups (Pricopoaia et al., 2023). Expósito et al (2023) identified that, in exploring the impact of an entrepreneur’s gender on SME performance, innovation has a mediating effect but that the impacts of regional location must also be taken into account. Indeed, Cowling and Dvouletý (2023) also identified regional location as an important factor when exploring the gendered impacts of government loan schemes on business start-up.

This dynamic interplay between place, innovation and entrepreneurship therefore plays a pivotal role in shaping the growth trajectories of SMEs. As we strive for more inclusive and equitable economic development, however, it also becomes more important to also explore whether and how the twin forces of innovation and entrepreneurship within SMEs contribute to supporting the “levelling up” of localities and regions that have historically been left behind. We seek to extend the contribution of work such as that by Amini Sedeh et al (2022), who found that higher ability, opportunity-focused entrepreneurs were not only more likely to focus on innovative entrepreneurship but do so in more unpromising locations. This informs the theme of the ISBE 2024 is ‘Entrepreneurship research, policy and practice for a more equitable world’, aligned with which, the focus for this year’s RAKE call is, “The interlinking roles of SME innovation and entrepreneurship in promoting ‘levelling up’ within left-behind places”.

ISBE is committed to advancing knowledge, contributing to relevant debate and assisting members to influence policy through the development of an evidence base and knowledge exchange activities. We, therefore, invite RAKE Fund applications that can assist in this task while also informing our theoretical understanding of the role of place in entrepreneurial opportunities, experiences and outcomes. This call invites original research proposals that delve into the intricate connections between innovation, entrepreneurship, and regional development, with a specific focus on SMEs operating in underserved areas. By better understanding the interplay between these roles and activities, we can help foster more sustainable growth, create employment opportunities, and bridge the gap between prosperous and left-behind places. Potential submissions may therefore consider, but are not limited to:

  • Strategies for nurturing effective Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystems in Marginalized Regions:
    • Investigating collaborative networks among SMEs, research institutions, and local communities, that support knowledge spillovers and technology transfer as catalysts for regional development.
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurial-Driven Resilience and Adaptation:
    • How SMEs in marginalised regions successfully and resiliently adapt to changing market dynamics to foster sustainable growth in their businesses and enhance the resilience of their localities.
  • Policy Interventions and Incentives:
    • Assessing government policies aimed at promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in their impacts on the incentives for entrepreneurial SMEs to invest in research and development and innovation in disadvantaged regions, and the long-term implications of such SME-led development.
  • Measuring Impact and Outcomes:
    • Metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of entrepreneurial innovation-driven initiatives, in terms of socioeconomic indicators reflecting progress in left-behind areas

All proposals must clearly demonstrate and describe relevance to the RAKE Fund Call theme, specify data collection, handling and analysis techniques and dissemination plans.

For this round of funding, we envisage awarding up to three grants of around £2,000 – £4,000.  Awards will not support full economic costing given ISBE’s position as a registered charity. Applications for smaller, seed corn funds would not be discounted; however, we will not consider bids which:

  1. Exceed £4,500
  2. Exceed 1200words in total (including references/notes/tables/appendices)
  3. Appear to be funding postgraduate students’ course of study
  4. Seek funding for conference attendance and travel.

Successful grant holders will be required to fulfil the following conditions:

To be in membership (either as an individual or through Institutional membership) of ISBE for the duration of the award

To complete the entire research project within 12 months of confirmation of the award.

To complete a final project report within 12 months of confirmation of the award.

To present their work at an annual ISBE conference, not later than the one immediately succeeding the completion of the final report.

Make summary findings available on the ISBE website, as a blog or news item.

To recognise the ISBE RAKE fund in any presentations or publications arising from an award.

To report to the RAKE fund management board if requested to discuss research progress.

Failure to meet any of the above conditions will results in non-payment of the RAKE grant.

Please click here to download the application form. Deadline for all applications is 5pm on Thursday 23rd May.

Please click here to download the application form. Deadline for all applications is 5pm on Thursday 23rd May.


Please click here to download the FAQ’s.


Adam, N.A., Alarifi, G. Innovation practices for survival of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the COVID-19 times: the role of external support. J Innov Entrep 10, 15 (2021).

Amini Sedeh, A., Pezeshkan, A. & Caiazza, R. Innovative entrepreneurship in emerging and developing economies: the effects of entrepreneurial competencies and institutional voids. J Technol Transf 47, 1198–1223 (2022).

Cowling, M., Dvouletý, O. When a non-gendered start-up policy delivers for female entrepreneurs: Evidence from the UK start-up loan scheme. Int Entrep Manag J (2023).

Expósito, A., Sanchis-Llopis, A. & Sanchis-Llopis, J.A. Entrepreneur’s Gender and SMEs Performance: the Mediating Effect of Innovations. J Knowl Econ (2023).

Kreiterling, C. Digital innovation and entrepreneurship: a review of challenges in competitive markets. J Innov Entrep 12, 49 (2023).

Pricopoaia, O., Busila, A.V., Cristache, N. et al. Challenges for entrepreneurial innovation: Startups as tools for a better knowledge-based economy. Int Entrep Manag J (2023).