Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2020

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Leading Programmes Breaking Down the Barriers for Scaleups

The 2020 Scaleup Survey has highlighted the concerns and urgent needs of the UK’s fast-growing businesses.  In a year overshadowed by the imminence of Brexit and the existential threat posed by Covid-19, ambitious scaleup leaders have emphatically signalled for greater access to both domestic and international markets as their number one priority.

This year access to markets was ahead of all other issues when scaleups were asked to rank their most significant challenges and priorities: 7 in 10 rated it a major concern, with the second and third issues – recruiting talent and accessing growth capital – cited as significant issues by 5 out of 10 scaleup CEOs. 

Both these issues also remain significant barriers to growth; with four out of ten scaleups advising that they do not have enough external finance to meet their growth ambitions,  while finding talented employees with the right technical, social and critical thinking attributes is still a major concern. 

Last year we said we were seeing increasing evidence of programmes and initiatives that were helping to fill the gap in leadership development and peer-to-peer education. This remains the case in 2020 where this year we endorse two such programmes and highlight one for watching. As is our custom, we only endorse programmes that can provide evidence that they are making a significant impact.

Strathclyde Business School’s Growth Advantage Programme and Tech Nation’s Upscale both provided our committees with detailed evidence, over many years, of how their programmes are helping scaling businesses increase turnover, create employment and raise finance. We were pleased to be able to endorse their work.  

We were also impressed by the way the Royal Academy of Engineering is using its Fellows to inspire business-minded engineers into building growth businesses.  We highlight its SME Leaders Programme as one to watch.

We also continue to see financial institutions giving more attention to scaling businesses and their need for patient capital. This year we have endorsed a number of new institutions, covering both venture capital and crowdfunding asset classes – Amadeus Capital Partners, Envestors and Seedrs were all highlighted as leading investors in visible scaleups in the ScaleUp Index in 2019 and have been added to the growing ranks of key investors supporting scaleups around the country.  

This chapter of the 2020 Review describes all the newly-endorsed programmes, identifies Ones to Watch and reviews the progress of those endorsed between 2016 and 2019. Alongside these programmes we include a number of practical toolkits, guiding principles for peer-to-peer networks, calls to action and insights from leading ecosystem members.

The increased availability of leadership education and the work that the ScaleUp Institute, private and public sectors, and national and local areas have done, both to develop solutions and raise awareness of what is working well, may be having the desired impact. This year fewer scaleup leaders cited the lack of leadership development as a major barrier. That said, we cannot become complacent as we note a number of programmes are EU-backed or have funding for the short term – and we must have sustainable interventions if we are to close this leadership gap for the long term. This is why in 2020 we were encouraged to see the British Library programme, which was ERDF-backed and endorsed by us in 2017, getting further funding in 2020 from the Government to roll out into new areas of the UK. Getting behind proven programmes that can scale through additional funding is far better than ‘reinventing the wheel’ and should be a principle applied to future Government business support – “crowding in versus crowding out.”

The challenge now remains to mirror the work done in the field of leadership into the field of talent and, most importantly, develop more initiatives that are focused on helping to open doors for scaleups to new markets and preparing them well to succeed in very competitive environments.

Impactful programmes addressing Access to Markets remain scarce and we must see the examples being set by the Mayors of London and Manchester in supporting scaleup ambitions in overseas markets being replicated elsewhere. This is also true of corporate collaboration. In 2020 we again highlight those large corporates identified by Nesta, with ourselves, who have formally structured collaboration programmes with ambitious scaleups and scaling companies – from whom others should learn. However this really is just a start and so much more needs to be done, as we explore further in chapter 4. Importantly, from a public sector point of view, the FCA Sandbox continues to evolve and the ScaleUp Institute has been pleased to participate in the FCA Digital Sandbox initiative now being piloted with the City of London Corporation. That said, more such Sandboxes need to evolve and others in place today need to reflect impactful results with scaling firms. 

In the areas of Talent and Infrastructure it is good to witness the expansion of many of the initiatives we have previously endorsed, which can only continue to assist the closing of these gaps and challenges for our scaling businesses. How they continue to develop and shape up to the evolving needs of our scaleup leaders is now crucial.

In the rest of this chapter we describe the case studies in more detail. The ScaleUp Institute has a mission to seek out and identify the best of programmes and welcomes suggestions of further well-evidenced and high impact initiatives. 

We highlight these on our ScaleUp Support Finder which is designed to help scaleups navigate the complex business support landscape and find what truly works – which have impact and peer recommendation – for scaling businesses. This ScaleUp Support Finder service has been the most utilised on the ScaleUp Institute platform in 2020 and will continue to evolve in 2021 – particularly given our scaleup leaders’ desire for such a resource. 

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