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Drivers of entrepreneurship and small business

This research programme is directed by Bob Bennett. It identifies the British population of business proprietors for the 19th and early 20th centuries, and also through to the present day. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are tracked for individuals, and for places (parishes, sub-districts, urban units, counties and upwards).

The programme focuses on the development of entrepreneurship, small business and firm-size distribution. Little has been known about business numbers and size-distribution in 19th century and its subsequent development until modern SME data become available. This project fills many of the gaps, with the main results summarised in The Age of Entrepreneurship (Routledge, 2019).

Primarily funded over 2015-2020 by ESRC project grant ES/M010953: 'Drivers of Entrepreneurship and Small Businesses', the research has also been supported by the Leverhulme Trust for pilot studies, and the Isaac Newton Trust. The ESRC project primarily utilises individual-level data from the British censuses recently released as Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM). Other suppliers of census electronic records have been used to infill gaps and truncations in I-CeM, including entrepreneurs in 1871. Other data are used for various data enrichment.

Programme databases

The programme is deposited as an open-access database at UKDS, As the British Business Census of Entrepreneurs (BBCE), with this site giving additional user downloads, User Guide and documentation. The database contains records of over 400,000 individual employers and 1-2 million self-employed for each census year 1851-1911 (including those in I-CeM, and for 1871 those not currently available in I-CeM). Documentation and other downloads are available fromworking papers on the project's webpages Feedback on working papers and use of the data is welcomed.


  • 2015-19: ESRC project grant ES/M010953: Drivers of Entrepreneurship and Small Businesses.
  • 2012-14 Leverhulme Trust grant RG66385: The long-term evolution of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs).
  • 2017: Isaac Newton Trust research grant 17.07(d): Business Employers in 1871.
  • 2019: Isaac Newton Trust Grant 18.40(g): Business proprietor succession and firm size change 1851-1881.
  • 2019: Keynes Fund: Cambridge University, Faculty of Economics: SME profitability in the nineteenth century.
  • 2019: Economic History Society, Carnevali Small Research Grants Scheme: Women in the boardroom: The early years, to Carry van Lieshout.

Hadfields, Liverpool