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Drivers of entrepreneurship and small business

This research programme is directed by Bob Bennett. It aims to reconstruct the British business population mainly for the 19th and early 20th centuries, and also through to the present day. It will also provide large scale 'samples' of entrepreneurs and small businesses that can be used in statistical analysis: for individuals, and for places (parishes, sub-districts, urban units, counties and upwards).

The programme focuses on estimating, analysing and interpreting 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 aims to fill many of the gaps.

The focus on population data allows the characteristics of individual entrepreneurs to be established. This opens opportunities to link census and other records to gain richer information about business owners in the past, and to interpret how entrepreneurship evolved during Britain's development as 'The First Industrial Nation'.

Primarily funded over 2015-2019 by ESRC project grant ES/M010953: 'Drivers of Entrepreneurship and Small Businesses', it has also been supported by the Leverhulme Trust for pilot studies, and the Isaac Newton Trust. A pilot paper outlines the main methodological approach used for data extraction from the early censuses. 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. Other data are being used for various data enrichment.

Programme databases

The programme will be depositing an open-access database at UKDA, expected early-2019. The database will contain records of over 400,000 individual employers and 1-2 million self-employed for each census year 1851-1911 (including 1871 not currently available in I-CeM). Elements of the database with documentation and downloads are available from these webpages through working papers as they are developed. Feedback on these 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.

Hadfields, Liverpool