Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2021

Select a section to expand and explore this year's review.

Leading programmes breaking down the barriers for scaleups

The 2021 Scaleup Survey has turned the spotlight on the challenges identified by the leaders of the UK’s fast-growing companies. As scaleup leaders survey the world with the pandemic still underway and with new trading relationships being developed they have highlighted access to markets and the need to recruit the right talent as their major challenges.

As in 2020 scaleup leaders recognise access to markets at both home and abroad as their biggest hurdle; 78% state that it is a vital or very important factor in their future growth. And although at 66% access to talent was rated lower as a growth factor than markets, like markets 3 in 10 scaleups went on to nominate it as their top priority for 2022 – particularly our larger scaleup firms.

Among the senior leadership team, there is also a clear demand for strategic and business development skills to support future growth and a commitment to training beyond the CEO or founder so the local support offered by networks of peers, mentors and non-executive directors remains vitally important. 

In previous years we have seen increasing evidence of programmes and initiatives designed to help to fill the gap in leadership development and peer-to-peer education. In this Review we highlight two new endorsed programmes and one for watching in this area. As is our custom, we only endorse programmes that can provide evidence that they are making a significant impact.

In 2020 we were impressed by the way the Royal Academy of Engineering was using its Fellows to inspire business-minded engineers into building growth businesses and highlighted its SME Leaders Programme as one to watch. This year thanks to a significant donation the Academy has continued and enhanced its focus on scaling up, including by rebranding the SME Leaders Programme as the Shott Scale Up Accelerator, and instituted robust evidence gathering. We are pleased to endorse it fully in 2021 given the impact it has generated. 

Another newly endorsed programme is BizSmart whose structured system and strong peer to peer focus is helping growing businesses primarily in the Worcestershire area. While we have identified Scale Up Scotland as One to Watch.

With access to markets being identified by business leaders as such a significant challenge for scaleups it is disappointing that impactful programmes to open markets up to them remain scarce. However, this year we have highlighted the Greater Manchester Global Scale-up Programme as one to watch and will monitor its development with interest. We must start to see the examples being set by the Mayors of London and Manchester in supporting scaleup ambitions in overseas markets being replicated elsewhere. 

We also continue to see financial institutions giving more attention to scaling businesses and their need for patient capital. This year we have endorsed several new institutions, in the venture capital asset class: Cambridge Innovation Capital, Frog Capital and MMC Ventures. And highlight the role that can be played by government in providing access to capital combined with growth support, and enabling scaling businesses to leverage private investment, the Scottish Enterprise Growth Investment Team is an exemplar of this in the Scottish ecosystem. 

In the areas of Talent and Infrastructure it is good to witness the expansion of many of the initiatives we have previously endorsed. This year we have been impressed how Debate Mate has helped develop many of the specific skills scaleups are seeking through its debating clubs in schools. We have endorsed its work in building the pipeline of future talent.

While we have seen much progress in recent years, we remain vigilant about future provision. It is important not to be complacent as we warned last year because a number of programmes particularly in the leadership area have been backed by EU funding or are funded short-term. And the challenge is even now greater to mirror work done in the field of leadership into the field of talent and markets which so many scaleup leaders recognise as major obstacles to their growth.

This chapter of the 2021 Review describes all the newly-endorsed programmes in detail, identifies Ones to Watch and reviews the progress of those endorsed between 2016 and 2020. Alongside these programmes we include several practical toolkits, guiding principles for peer-to-peer networks, calls to action and insights from leading ecosystem members.

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 on the ScaleUp Institute’s website remains a very popular resource and we will continue to develop it in 2022.

Previous Looking forward
Next Access to Talent and skills