Phoenix Initiative: Reignite SME Competitiveness and Growth

Phoenix Initiative: Reignite SME Competitiveness and Growth

I like things to happen, and if they don’t happen, I like to make them happen

Sir Winston Churchill


The paper outlines a new scalable model of support for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) with growth ambition to survive and thrive in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The focus of the Phoenix Initiative is firms that were on a growth trajectory prior to the crisis, with a view to providing actionable insights to foster resilience and promote growth in what are unprecedented times. Working with ActionCOACH, the world largest coaching company, the Phoenix Initiative extends the Business Growth Programme – the UK’s oldest owner-manager programme – delivered by Cranfield University, and represents the missing link between government support and business transformation – a current implementation gap.

SMEs are widely regarded as the backbone of the UK economy. However, a particularly important subset is those with employees, which account for 24% of UK private sector businesses but 43% of UK employment and 45% of GDP. In many respects this group is the nearest that the UK hasto the infamous ‘Mittelstand’ firms in Germany, and is critical to the economic wellbeing of the UK now and in its future recovery. Given the vital importance of these SMEs it is right that recent Government interventions have sought to sustain and stabilise these firms. There is now a need to support their future as the engines of economic recovery and growth as well as retaining existing jobs and creating jobs in the future.

This proposal outlines the rationale for the Phoenix Initiative as a structured programme designed, developed and tested by Cranfield University in conjunction with ActionCOACH that could be scaled and rolled out in collaboration with Government support.


Research has shown that businesses with a plan have higher chances of survival and tend to outperform non-planners. This is very important in the current times, although the focus on survival and uncertainty of the current climate is particularly challenging for firms to implement and action. The Phoenix Initiative will give these key group of SMEs the tools and support to take action in line with the national emergence plan. Together Cranfield University and ActionCoach, with Government support to lead the scale up and rollout of a programme designed to support SMEs to take the opportunity to reignite growth.

The Government has an ‘adaptive strategy’ based on tracking other nations that are ahead in the COVID-19 cycle, providing clear goals based on real time intelligence in order to adjust activity to suit the current reality. SMEs require the same. The “UK Job Retention Scheme” helps SMEs to protect their cash flows, but in combination with the Phoenix Initiative can also ensure they form the foundation for not only bouncing back but also bouncing forward. This approach resonates with the wider strategy in government and particularly the approach of UKRI, and Innovate UK specifically, who seek to ensure innovation-led growth moving forward.

Programme outline

The Phoenix Initiative is planned as a one-year government initiative with a 90-day long business re-boot for each SME to accelerate business planning and the development of the business models to promote business resilience and growth.


  • The programme is based on a proven executive SME programme at Cranfield University and interventions from ActionCOACH to encourage SMEs to pursue a more strategic and action led approach.
  • The programme will firstly assess priorities for business survival and resilience with a view to establishing a 90-day action plan for upgrading and implementing business model innovation, identifying new markets, customers, offerings as well as opportunities to upskill staff and improve business processes.
  • Government funding will be used to provide this specialist support and SMEs will need to contribute a small proportion of the costs to have some ‘skin in the game’ to ensure commitment and accountability.
  • The programme is aimed at owner-managers of SMEs that were on a growth trajectory pre-crisis with employees due to their importance as engines of economic recovery and growth.
  • After the initial programme focused on SMEs with employees a further tailoring of the offering for micro businesses can be applied to enhance the reach of the programme.


  • Government will encourage UK SMEs to take a proactive and hands-on approach empowering them to redeploy resources to ensure the resilience and future growth of their businesses.
  • Business owners receive training, mentoring with a dedicated business advisor/coach and peer-to-peer support in order to create and deliver against the 90-day action plan, the outcomes of which will be mapped and tracked over a 12 month period in the first instance.
  • The Phoenix Initiative can be deployed almost immediately online using the latest technology and learning experience platforms to deliver a structured programme, create peer-to-peer and one-on-one support and ensure the work is undertaken.
  • The programme can be adapted in the future to suit micro businesses, as the principles of designing a new business are the same.

Example of how it works

  • SMEs who qualify are assessed by a business advisor and categorised according to the state of the business and mind-set of the owner-manager.
  • The Government gives £5,000 per company and the SME contributes between £500 and £1,000 depending on the size of their business to the programme.
  • SMEs will join the programme and be grouped according to the categories starting with a group session to allow a larger intake and peer-to-peer learning.
  • Businesses will follow a clear structured online programme of activities over the period (an intensive 90-day kick-start process).
  • A standardised report has to be completed by the SME at various points throughout the programme to track outcomes and lessons learned of the Phoenix Initiative. This will continue beyond the 90-days of the programme with check in points after 180 and 360 days.


Appendices: Background of key stakeholders

Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate UK university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and Management. Cranfield School of Management, one of the four schools within the University, is triple- accredited putting them into an elite group of business schools worldwide. Entrepreneurship has played a key part at Cranfield since its inception and is led by the Bettany Centre of Entrepreneurship. The flagship programme is the Business Growth Programme (BGP), the oldest owner-manager programme in the UK, founded in 1988 with an alumni community of more than 2,600 growth businesses from all sectors and industries. Past participants have made huge contributions to the UK economy, including companies like Livity, Go-Ape, Cobra Beer and AIM-listed Hotel Chocolat. The ScaleUp Institute Review showed that companies who joint BGP substantially improved their performance in terms of jobs creation, revenue and profit growth.

In response to COVID-19, the Bettany Centre has created the BGP Response Programme to help alumni and the wider UK SME community to understand and process the challenges they are facing through online workshops, webinars and masterclasses. To date the BGP Response Programme has had more than 1,000 participants. For more information about Cranfield University, please visit:


Founded 26 years ago and now in more than 1,000 offices in 80 countries, ActionCOACH delivers its proven business development systems to tens of thousands of business owners every week. We also help owners who turn to business coaching to get the freedom and lifestyle they sought when they first went into business.

Our simple and systematised approach to business has benefited business owners around the world. With more time, better teams within their companies, and most importantly – more money. Over the past two decades, ActionCOACH has served thousands of businesses and their owners around the world. In every category imaginable.

In the UK we have 220 Business Coaches that support business owners from all sectors in the SME market. We focus on profit growth but also building the business to be an asset. This creates more robust firms that are sustainable, create jobs and tax revenue for the UK.

Additional content to download:

Cranfield SME North Star Programme

Cranfield's SME North Star Programme

Business support to navigate the unprecedented times of COVID-19 to strengthen SME competitiveness and growth.

Cranfield University
Action Coach