2014: Year of the Creative SME
At the start of the year we are beginning to see the green-shoots of recovery in the UK economy and around the world. GDP forecasts for 2014 have been upgraded by the International Monetary Fund, CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce among others, expecting economic growth at a faster rate than any other major European economy and latest reports predicting that unemployment will fall by around 7% in the next quarter.
With this recovery we are seeing an increased recognition of the importance of establishing an environment that fosters and nurtures creativity, innovation and enterprise in supporting businesses of all sizes to create jobs, attract investment and boost exports.
SMEs play a vital role in supporting economic growth. 85% of employment creation worldwide between 2002 and 2010 came from small and medium sized enterprises. In the UK SMEs account for 99.9% of all private sector business, 59.3% of all employment in the private sector and 48.1% of all private sector turnover thus having a significant contribution to the country's GDP.
SMEs also have a critical role to play in innovation either individually or through collaboration with larger organisations. The ability to innovate is one of the key issues linked to growth for smaller companies i.e. having the capacity to supply customers with new products, processes or services which are novel, competitive and valued. However, the latest figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills suggests that just 37% of SMEs are innovative, falling behind larger corporates and international competition.
There are a number of barriers facing SMEs when it comes to innovation. For example, the ability to identify business opportunities; a lack of managerial time; a lack of skills or training in the workforce; and, a shortage of working capital to finance growth.
At Salford Business School we are celebrating 2014 as the year of the creative SME. By that we don't just mean businesses operating in the creative sector, but rather businesses that take a creative and innovative approach to whatever sector they are operating in and advocate the importance of creative ingenuity to business growth.
With the expertise from our industry-engaged, academic global thought-leaders and the fantastic facilities we have available at our MediaCityUK Campus we are able to provide support and resource in overcoming the barriers to innovation. Businesses that use external advice at key stages in their development grow faster than those that do not but, as identified in Lord Young's 2013 report, too few businesses are currently taking external advice and taking advantage of the wider range of business support services and acceleration infrastructure available through Universities.
As a top 5 UK University in SME engagement (HEBCIS, 2013), throughout the next year our programme of activities will focus on supporting SMEs through innovation as part of our commitment to support economic regeneration regionally, nationally and internationally. We will do this by: working with SMEs in providing specialist help on expanding their workforce, marketing a business and growing online; providing advice and access to start-up loans and growth vouchers; increasing the flow and flexibility of highly qualified graduates into SMEs; and facilitating research partnerships to increase resources available for innovation within SMEs.
For quick knowledge bites, our blog platform provides food for thought http://blogs.salford.ac.uk/business-school/  and our free MOOC series provides cutting-edge Search and Social Media Marketing advice for SME international business growth http://www.salford.ac.uk/business-school/business-management-courses/mooc-search-social-media-marketing-international-business 
For more information or to find out how Salford Business School can help your business to innovate and grow please visit http://www.salford.ac.uk/business-school/business-services 
Professor Amanda Broderick
Dean, Salford Business School