David Smallbone obituary

Other lives: Scholar of entrepreneurship whose research took him all over the world

My husband, David Smallbone, who has died aged 73 of pneumonia and Parkinson’s disease, started his career as a geography teacher and went on to become one of the leading scholars on entrepreneurship in the UK, with a specialism in transition economies, particularly eastern Europe and China.

He founded the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development at Middlesex University in 1993, helping to establish small business research as a distinct area of academic study. He was president of the European Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship from 2005 to 2007, and worked with academics, practitioners and policymakers all over the world.

From 2004 he was associate director of the Small Business Research Centre at Kingston University, Surrey. When I met David in 1997 (we married in 2002) he had just returned from Kiev, full of news about demonstrations in front of his hotel following Ukraine’s faltering steps towards democracy after decades of Soviet domination.

I later accompanied him to Riga and Tallinn. He built up a network of research partnerships with colleagues across the region, in Belarus, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, supporting the transition to an enterprise economy following years of centralised control.

On one occasion in 1998, getting ready for a trip to Minsk, he put a package of several thousand US dollars in his suitcase. Was he really a drug dealer? No – with the scarcity of salaries and lack of trust in the banking system his colleagues wanted their research funding in cash. His travels sometimes took him to the edge of danger. He was held at gunpoint in Lagos and in 2011 was on one of the last flights out of Cairo as the Arab Spring protests escalated.

David was born in Basingstoke, Hampshire, the oldest of five children of Mary (nee Ferguson), a hairdresser, and Peter, a production engineer, who designed and built the family home. After attending Queen Mary’s grammar school in the town, and an economics degree at Portsmouth Polytechnic (now the University of Portsmouth), he taught geography at the Nobel school in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, from 1968 to 1974.

He then became a lecturer at Middlesex Polytechnic (later Middlesex University), where he was made professor of small and medium enterprises in 1997. He wrote three books, co-edited several more and published some 200 articles and chapters, on topics including enterprise in rural areas, ethnic minority businesses, social inclusion and women’s entrepreneurship.

In recent years he brushed off the burden of Parkinson’s disease and continued to travel (with wheelchair and a carer) across Europe, the former Soviet Union, India, China, New Zealand and South America. He held visiting professorships in Wuhan, China, and Ventspils, Latvia, and received an honorary doctorate in 2005 from the University of Łódź in Poland.

David’s other great passion was New Orleans jazz and we spent many happy years as part of the “jazz family” that circles around bands and festivals arranged by the promoters Pete and Heather Lay.

He is survived by me, his children, Stephen and Debra, from his first marriage, to Josephine (nee Nicholls), which ended in divorce, his stepchildren, Seth and Natascha, and six grandchildren.

Margaret Smallbone

The GuardianTramp

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