Building communities of SMEs

Practical SME engagement strategies for business schools

13:30-16:30, 3 March, online

The interactive workshop will explore the practical ways in which business schools can engage with small businesses and build ongoing, mutually valuable, relationships. It is an opportunity for those responsible for delivering SME engagement strategies in business schools to share best practice, reflect on common challenges and identify new opportunities.

Particular attention will be paid to how business schools can:

  • Identify and strategically map which small businesses and sectors to target for engagement
  • Deliver an effective targeted marketing and PR strategy that reaches the intended SMEs
  • Support direct marketing strategy with related business development activity such as events, network marketing and thought leadership

Full programme and guest speakers to be announced shortly

Workshop Facilitator

Paula Whitehouse
Associate Dean for Enterprise, Aston Business School; Director, Aston Centre for Growth; Fellow, Chartered Association of Business Schools

Preliminary programme

13:30   Welcome and introductions from the Chair

Paula Whitehouse, Associate Dean for Enterprise, Aston Business School; Director, Aston Centre for Growth; Fellow, Chartered Association of Business Schools

Part One: Engaging small businesses: what works

In this opening session we will hear a number of case studies from SBC award holding schools showing a variety of ways in which to engage with small businesses.

13:40   Case study 1: Engaging and building a SME community through institutional collaboration

Angela Tooley, University of Derby

13:55   Case study 2: How design thinking could help create partnership with SMEs

Bahare Afrahi, Kingston Business School

14:10   Case study 3: Using information sessions to get people signed up to H2G

Sunaina Mamgai, Brunel University

14:25   Case study 4: Building engagement through a network of referral partners

Kate Angel, Aston University

14:40   Case study 5: Using an Innovation Hub as a focus for SME engagement

William Darler, University of Leicester


14:55   Q&A with case study speakers


15:15   15-minute break


15:30   Part Two: Breakout group discussions

In the second part of the workshop participants split into breakout groups in which to drill-down into the specific issues emerging from the earlier session. Each group will be led by a facilitator who will set out the framework for the discussion.

2 topics:

1) What challenges do you face in your business school in building a community of SMEs?

2) What techniques do you use to sustain a network and continue relationships with businesses that have been involved in activities such as SBC programmes or ERDF projects?


16:00   Feedback and summation

In the closing part of the workshop each breakout group will feedback including the actions that were discussed; and there will be time for open discussion about next steps.

Led by the Chair

16:30   Close

Paula Whitehouse
Associate Dean for Enterprise, Aston Business School, Director of the Aston Centre for Growth; Fellow, Chartered Association of Business Schools

Paula Whitehouse is Associate Dean for Enterprise at Aston Business School, and Director of the Aston Centre for Growth which she co-founded in 2014. Paula leads on the development of growth programmes and other business support initiatives at the Centre which have provided targeted support to over 700 SMEs since its inception. These have included the European funded Aston Programme for Small Business Growth which has accelerated the growth of over 160 early stage businesses in the Midlands region since 2015, and the Midlands programme of Productivity through People, a national initiative with Be the Business which welcomed its first Midlands businesses in 2018.

She also takes a strategic lead on Aston’s start-up support for students and graduates and chairs Aston’s Enterprise Educators Group, a cross-School initiative that she founded in 2016.  As a Section Lead for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses UK programme Paula has supported hundreds of entrepreneurs through intensive leadership and management education since 2011.

Paula is a member of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP Growth Hub Management Board, and a founder member of the Venturefest West Midlands Steering Group. She has led a collaboration with BizzInn at the University of Birmingham and Minerva Business Angels at the University of Warwick to create the West Midlands Pitchfest competition for entrepreneurs which has been a key feature of Venturefest West Midlands since 2015.

In 2014, Paula led Aston’s successful application for Small Business Charter status, and in 2018 she gave evidence on behalf of the Small Business Charter to the House of Commons BEIS Committee Small Business and Productivity Inquiry.  In 2018, Paula became a board member and trustee of Ex Cathedra, a leading UK choir and early music ensemble based in Birmingham. Previously, Paula was the founder of a consultancy business providing services to arts and cultural organisations, specialising in project management, fundraising, audience development and communications.

Dr Will Darler

Dr Will Darler is a marketing and data science professional specialising in marketing analytics, machine learning and AI. He is currently Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Leicester School of Business after holding positions as a Marie Curie Research Fellow and Research Assistant at Nottingham University Business School. Will’s PhD was focused on the digital economy.

Within the School of Business Will leads on knowledge exchange and the strategy for engaging with businesses, applying for third-sector funded and is the academic lead for the School at the Leicester Innovation Hub. In addition he is the Programme Lead for the Help to Grow Management programme.

Currently Will is Principal Investigator for a Fintech project with a financial software company, a £185K Innovate UK funded project managing the development of AI software for a credit-chasing tool.

Will is interested in talking to businesses who are interested in carrying out technology-focused projects in the areas of artificial intelligence, big data, smart or connected projects and augmented reality technologies.

Dr Bahare Afrahi

I help cultivate thinking around planning, designing, and executing forward-thinking ideas and innovations. My thinking and practice are rooted in design thinking, adaptive planning, and light weight processes.

My innovation experience has been shaped through great various roles, working as an entrepreneur, co-founder, and employee in various industries and markets including retail, tech, publishing, higher education, and engineering.

I am curious to understand and write about entrepreneurs’ personal experience and reality of running a business and growth and their emotions around their people and relevant decision they make.

Sunaina Mamgai

Programmes and Operations Manager for Brunel Business School, Sunaina leads on the operations of growth programmes and other business support initiatives at the Brunel Business school and Brunel For Business.

Sunaina is a qualified accountant with 6+ years of experience as the Business Development Director within the coaching and mentoring industry. She is passionate about helping SMEs and supporting them with their growth journey.

In addition to her role at Brunel University London, Sunaina runs a successful restaurant business that recovered from bankruptcy and is now a profitable business that is planning to expand.

During the pandemic Sunaina took on a strategic lead on the initiative to help SMEs in London to recover from covid 19 which resulted in over 1000 hours of complimentary coaching sessions local business owners.

Angela Tooley

Angela joined the University of Derby after over 20 years in industry and professional services including a period running her own small business. Her diverse career has given her a unique insight into how businesses work and what makes them successful.

She is responsible for driving the enterprise and entrepreneurship framework across
the university and was instrumental in Derby Business School achieving the Small Business Charter in recognition of its work with small businesses and supporting entrepreneurship.

Angela is responsible for the Business School’s portfolio of programmes and services delivered to small and medium sized businesses which includes Help to Grow: Management. An important element of her role in the Business School is leading engagement activity with business, public sector bodies and strategic partners to inform our curriculum, research, government policy and create work experience and employment opportunities for our students and graduates.

The event pricings are as follows:

Members of the Chartered ABS: £30
Non-members: £40

Paying by invoice? Make sure you provide a valid Purchase Order Number when you make your booking.

If you have any questions please contact:

Naomi Horsford
SBC Administrator

"Today over 98% of the UK business population consists of micro and SME businesses"

"Increasingly, universities have an appetite to work with businesses to test concepts, develop research partnerships and provide vehicles for training staff"

"Business and management schools, as the bridge between theory and practice are well placed to lead the way in the range and scale of SME engagement"