Business Inspiration was a short, action-centred leadership and innovation development programme designed for owners and managers of smaller firms to address business survival and repositioning needs arising from the UK's economic downturn. The article examines the design and delivery of Business Inspiration and the impact of the programme on participants' learning experiences. It also assesses whether there are transferable lessons to be learned for the development of small firms in general. The article contributes new insights to the debate and the literature on owner–manager development in small firms. The authors propose that there is continuing need and demand for such learning. They examine the requirements for public-sector investment and for specific approaches and skill sets in designing, marketing and delivering effective programmes of this type.