Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2020

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Northern Ireland

Trusted business partners challenge entrepreneurs to go further and faster


332 account managed scaleups

>3,100 jobs created

81% of businesses reported increased confidence in leadership and management

150 companies received support to train staff, 91% reported an increase in skills levels

Participating sectors

Creative, digital, film, games & media Defence & security Environmental Science & Technology Finance Food & drink Manufacturing / Advanced Manufacturing


Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI) has adopted a trusted business partner approach to understand the aspirations of scaling businesses and support those with the potential to create jobs, innovate, grow their exports and attract new inward investors.

To encourage a pipeline of companies Invest NI has established a Scaling Team to work closely with fast-growing businesses. Each business is given an experienced dedicated relationship/account manager to work with them and challenge the business leaders to drive higher levels of innovation, increase competitiveness and grow faster, creating more, higher-value jobs. Targeted programmes help businesses to meet the challenges of scaling and help them to identify new trade opportunities and to expand financing horizons.

ONS data for 2017 shows that there are 940 scaleups in Northern Ireland: 290 are classified as scaleups due to rapid growth in their employees, 795 are classified as scaleups due to rapid growth in their turnover and 145 are scaleups that are increasing both employment and turnover simultaneously.

The ONS data reflects that across the four-year period from 2014 to 2017 the density of scaleups has increased by 5.52 per 100,000 of population per year, which is above the median of +3.90 per 100,000 of population.

We found the Leadership Team Programme to be invaluable and a fantastic way for both myself and my team to develop our skills to lead our company into the next level of growth. Since starting the programme the company has made an additional £5m in sales.


Invest NI is working with partners on two new supplementary early-stage scaling programmes: The Way to Scale and Ambition to Scale.

The Way to Scale works with cohorts of 10 companies to enhance CEO confidence as well as leadership and strategic skills, create a lifetime cohort of peer support and deliver an effective sales and marketing strategy and resource. Businesses are also supported to make initial contacts within target export markets.

Ambition to Scale focuses on companies with turnover between £3-10m. Combining academic learning with coaching and peer networking, the programme helps senior management teams to create a scaling focus, build top team cohesion and a transformational culture and develop the right company structures to support international growth. It also enables more time for businesses to concentrate on strategy and business development.

It has been transformational for our business and is something I would happily do over and over again.


Working closely with a portfolio of 18 ambitious scaling companies over the last 3 years has delivered 32% growth in sales each year across the cohort, with 40% of sales being exported and employment increasing by 20% each year.

In order to be able to analyse impact and identify areas for support, Invest NI collects information from supported companies and has launched a portal access to allow them to upload annual performance directly.


The main cultural differentiator between scaling companies and growth companies is the ambition and commitment of the MD to scale within a timeline. Providing access to wider networks of advice and support helps to sustain that ambition and drive over the longer term. Invest NI has recently commissioned a report to identify any gaps in support options that will enable more targeted support for scaling companies.

Another area of challenge is access to finance and gaps in business leaders awareness of the best funding avenue for their scaling company. Invest NI is working with the ScaleUp Institute and the British Business Bank to overcome this and held a scaleup growth finance roundtable in May 2019 as well as an Access to Funding Conference in June. Working with the London Stock Exchange and building on the listing of two NI companies on AIM within the last 18 months, Invest NI held a “Road to IPO” event in September.


Invest NI is leading on the development of a new Innovation Accreditation Programme for NI businesses on behalf of the Department for the Economy.

We highly rate the Access to Finance programme. It has allowed us to step up our presence and become a real global player.


According to ScaleUp Institute analysis of data received directly from ONS for years 2014-2017, the following picture emerges on the local environment.

Due to the ONS changing the boundaries of Local Authorities within Northern Ireland, it is not possible to examine the figures at a local authority level. The analysis below examines the scaleup density and growth trends for Northern Ireland as a whole.

Scaleups by Density: Moderate

Northern Ireland has a marginally below median density of scaleups measured by employment growth (15.5 scaleups per 100k population compared to the UK median of 17.3) and a marginally above median density of scaleups measured by turnover growth (42.5 scaleups per 100k population compared to the UK median of 41.9).

Scaleup Trends Over Time: Good

Northern Ireland is above the median in terms of improving the density of scaleups by employment in their community (+0.9 scaleups per year per 100k population on average compared to the UK median of -0.7) and above the median for scaleups by turnover (+5.9 scaleups per year per 100k population on average compared to the UK median of +5.0).

The ScaleUp Institute will continue to monitor this closely in the coming years to track whether local initiatives move the dial in the right direction for increasing the density of scaleups.

Page URL: https://www.scaleupinstitute.org.uk/articles/northern-ireland/

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