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The impact of innovation and digitalisation on the development of regional entrepreneurial ecosystems


   Ulster Business School

  Prof Sandra Moffett  Monday, February 27, 2023  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

A vast amount of research to date has focused on entrepreneurial ecosystems within larger urbanised regions (Wei, 2021; Spiegel and Harrison, 2017) however, less is known on the multi-dimensional, contextual related factors that impact the development of entrepreneurial activity and business growth in less developed, peripheral and rural regions (Bonfiglio et al., 2017; Bosworth and Venhorst, 2019; Xu and Dobson, 2019). Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation and shown how location may not be as important as it once was. It has reduced the importance of distance and borders for economic interactions and is attracting companies and talent to locate to more rural regions. Therefore, changes in modes of working may present opportunities for smaller regional innovation ecosystems, often located in peripheral and rural regions. These regions have traditionally faced disproportionate challenges due to their less diversified skill bases and accessibility (Haris et al. 2015).

Research suggests that benefits can be accrued from developing rural-urban dependencies (Caffyn and Dahlstrom, 2010; Bosworth et al. 2017) where knowledge spill-overs and value can be accrued for both regions when highly mobile and skilled workers live in rural regions. Furthermore, research has attempted to unravel the key success factors in developing rural innovation ecosystems (e.g. Miles and Morrison, 2020; Xu and Dobson, 2019; Munoz and Kimmitt, 2019). However, much remains unknown on how rural and peripheral regions can overcome perpetuating location, skills and institutional challenges.

This PhD will broadly explore the multi-dimensional and contextual related factors that can stimulate the development of effective entrepreneurial ecosystems within rural and peripheral regions. The prospective PhD candidate can shape the project to suit their particular interests and background, however tentative topics are (but not limited to):

How can smaller towns and cities in more rural and peripheral regions overcome perpetuating challenges associated with their location, what opportunities can leveraging trends in remote and hybrid working bring;

What mechanisms and platforms can aid knowledge flows and spill-overs within peripheral and rural regions to foster business growth and innovation;

How can industrial clusters develop and grow in rural and peripheral regions;

What business support mechanisms are needed to assist firms in peripheral and regional regions scale up, expand and develop;

How can innovation and collaboration be stimulated across peripheral border regions;

The impact of infrastructure and logistical enhancement support regional development. 

This PhD is part of a wider body of research connected to the Atlantic Innovation Corridor (AIC) project, a £4m project funded by Shared Island HEA.  The AIC action research project explores cross border co-ordinating capacity and well-being across the North West of Ireland to create opportunities to stimulate economic development, business start-up and scale-up and infrastructure enhancement to include logistics and digitalisation. The supervisors supporting this project are all connected to the AIC project, leading various work packages. It is expected that the project will undertake a qualitative or mixed methods approach, where this project will seek to not only advance theory but to have policy implications relating to how to stimulate economic development in less developed and disadvantaged regions.


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