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Strathclyde Business School: Growth Advantage Programme [Annual Review 2020]

Leadership Capacity

Impact for scaleups


Companies supported


Increase in revenues


Increase in turnover growth after 4 years


Increase in employment after 4 years


Raised by companies


Entered new markets

Key sectors

Impact ventures / Social Impact Life Sciences & Biotech Building & Construction Manufacturing / Advanced Manufacturing Creative, digital, film, games & media Professional services Defence & security Technology & Communications Engineering / Advanced Engineering Transport & Logistics Environmental Science & Technology Farming, fisheries & forestry Finance Food & drink Healthcare

First launched in 2015 the Growth Advantage Programme provides relevant, accessible and practical learning for fast-growing Scottish businesses taking the scaleup journey.

It is aimed at existing businesses with a minimum £1 million turnover with real growth ambitions and recommended participants are the founding managing director, chief executive or principal of the business with a significant ownership interest. Businesses come from all over Scotland, from a wide range of sectors and include companies started from scratch, bought and multi-generation family businesses – all with ambitions to grow.

Invited participants are offered a programme that links high-quality executive education with the insights and shared learning that comes from peer networks.  In a normal year business leaders attend an initial one-day orientation meeting and four two-day workshops that take place over ten months.  GAP’s focus is on the practical application of research for growing businesses as well as peer learning.  Each workshop concludes with the creation of a 60-day action plan which is reviewed at the start of the next.

Strathclyde University also provides practical support with GAP cohorts having access to project support from Hunter Centre of Entrepreneurship students, product design resource from the Engineering Faculty and access to talent through the University Careers Service.  The Effective Board element helps business founders build the best leadership teams while a link with Productivity Through People helps them access relevant executive education.

The start of the pandemic impacted on the programme with the University of Strathclyde suspending face-to-face teaching.  The fifth cohort was due to join the third of their four main workshops and the disappointment among participants who had bonded well as a group was very strong.

Amid the uncertainty it was important the GAP team made it a priority to keep in touch with the cohort.  In addition to frequent one to one contact, the team created virtual get-together which evolved into “Beers with Peers” Zoom sessions hosted by the GAP Programme Director.  Run every second Thursday these sessions have provided an opportunity to drop in and share the challenges as well as the opportunities that Covid-19 is presenting to scaleup leaders.

Following the success of the light touch engagement some Zoom sessions will now be embedded into the Advantage programme.  However at participants’ request, the final workshops were suspended so they could be delivered in person rather than held virtually.  These will be held as soon as conditions allow.

As another initiative to support alumni through the pandemic, the Programme team introduced monthly online catch ups for the previous four cohorts with 40 of 64 alumni taking part on a regular basis.  Others have been followed up via email or calls. 

Towards the end of 2019 GAP and its alumni played a significant role in Strathclyde Business School being re-accredited for the Small Business Charter.  Evaluation of the programme is also being put forward for the university’s assessment under the Research Excellence Framework (REF).  

Independent researchers, in consultation with the ScaleUp Institute and Arup, have developed a methodology to provide the evidence for the REF 2021 assessment.  The first stage of research compared GAP scaleups with a control group, the analysts have found that the average annual turnover of programme participants is 15.9 percentage points higher while average growth in employee numbers 10.9 percentage points higher.  In both cases there is no evidence of this growth tailing off.

Furthermore, the first cohort of participants saw turnover growth of 17.6% one year after starting the programme. Cumulative turnover growth after four years rose to 67%.

Strathclyde Business School: Growth Advantage Programme [Annual Review 2020] website