PhD title

Entrepreneurial success in London’s micro design businesses: a study of organisation size and non growth


This thesis recognises that some design entrepreneurs purposefully limit the size of their companies, as opposed to reaching a maximum size threshold over time (Cliff 1998), and reveals how they do this successfully. This finding runs counter to entrepreneurship literature concerned with size where success is linked to growth in size (Davidsson 1989, 1991, 2006, Wiklund 1998, Shepherd and Wiklund 2005). The investigation explains the entrepreneur’s intention with regard to design, size threshold and strategy, their judgement of success, the operation of the firm and how the entrepreneur and firm interact externally.

Grounded theory was used to investigate the size limiting behaviour of designers in London by examining successful micro architecture and designer maker jewellery businesses (Glaser and Strauss 1967, Glaser 1978, 1992, 1998, Strauss 1987, Strauss and Corbin 1990, 1997, Locke 2001, Goulding 2002). The disciplines chosen illustrate the two core processes of design, with architecture representing the commission process as found in graphic, interior and landscape design, and designer maker jewellery representing product design businesses, such as fashion, interior accessories, furniture and craft. The research generates results which explain strategy for successful micro design businesses across disciplines, whether commission or product based.

The research shows that successful micro design entrepreneurs size limit as a strategic choice from the outset and regard this as beneficial to their firm, optimising operations for this size through the organisation of internal and external resources. Their objectives are to achieve design quality and to exploit their own specialist skills within the work of their studio. Examination of their environment demonstrates the benefits of a clustered location, especially for start-up businesses, although more established businesses are less reliant on proximity due to the strength of their networks. Policy and general business support organisations are not crucial to the success of these firms as they can find support from their trusted network and prefer industry relevant sources.

PhD completed at Birkbeck, School of Management and Organizational Psychology, University of London in 2008