Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2021

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Supporting Scaling Businesses - The journey since 2014

As the head of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses UK programme, and as chair of the Expert Advisory Council for the new government funded Help To Grow: Management programme, Charlotte Keenan provides her unique perspective on the progress that has been made in building leadership capacity among the UK’s high-growth firms.

In just over a decade the UK has made phenomenal progress in the development of leadership support for high-growth companies.

The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses UK programme started in the UK in 2010, just following the financial crisis. At the time there was increasing support for start-ups but nothing of significance for faster-growing companies. 

With our programme, we took the long view. One of the single most important things that you can do for a founder or CEO of a high-growth business is to give them the skills, opportunity and the headspace that they need to step back – so that they can then step up and take their business through the next phase of growth. 

The founding of the ScaleUp Institute following the publication of the 2014 Scaleup Report was an important moment. At Goldman Sachs, we were pleased to see a new organisation focusing on this agenda, recognising the very significant economic contribution made by scaling businesses and their need for specific support.

In 2016 and 2018, in partnership with the ScaleUp Institute and Innovate UK, we held three Driving Economic Growth programmes for 130 local ecosystem leaders from 31 LEPs, Growth Hubs, universities and economic development agencies. This programme helped to underline the economic and societal importance of high-growth businesses at a local level – and how to facilitate access to the support that they needed within that local infrastructure. 

We have made great strides since then. At local and national levels, government, policymakers and the private sector now fully acknowledge the innate value that high growth businesses and scaleups bring – and our need to support them. This was initially expressed in the creation of the Scaleup Taskforce chaired by Sahar Hashemi.

This year’s launch of the Help To Grow: Management programme is another major step forward and I was delighted to be asked to chair the Expert Advisory Council. It is a £500m programme focused on building leadership capacity among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Delivered in partnership with the Chartered Association of Business Schools, it is a 12-week programme which combines online sessions with face-to-face learning and is 90% funded by the government.

Help To Grow is a major – and very timely – initiative between government and the private sector. It’s the first such initiative of its kind anywhere in the world. It is exciting to see the government recognising the role that it can play in helping businesses scale. 

It’s designed to support businesses as they flourish and grow to the next level – so it has the potential to fill the nation’s pipeline with greater numbers of scaling businesses. For the scaleup agenda, it’s fantastic that the programme is now in place.

Both programmes are highly complementary. Both take the best of what works; the difference lies in the scale. The 10,000 Small Businesses programme will help up to 300 of the UK’s fastest growing business leaders each year in an intensive, high-touch programme. Help To Grow is targeting a wider population of 30,000 businesses over three years. Together they are able to support entrepreneurs on every rung of the productivity ladder.  

Peer networks are a signature element of the 10,000 Small Businesses programme. We know that business leaders want to connect with peers who are facing similar challenges. It’s incredibly important and the Help To Grow programme is building on this learning while never losing sight of how hard it can be to foster a functioning, meaningful peer network. Each peer group must be based on mutual trust, values and ambitions and be constantly nurtured. 

It’s very exciting to see how many business schools have stepped up to the plate and registered to play a part in Help To Grow. Business schools are recognising their role not just in educating the next generation but the importance of being directly in touch with businesses in their local community. 

Of course, some business schools have been excellent at that for a while, such as Aston University and the Oxford Saïd Business School – with whom we have worked for some time – and there are numerous others. But there is much more work to be done. 

We’re still in the first months of the Help to Grow programme but it is now beginning to ramp up. There is more to be done to make businesses aware that this programme is out there for them and helping them see the benefits that it can bring to the revenues and profitability of their business.

Fast forward three years and there will have been a community of 30,000 businesses whose leaders have been supported by this programme – and who will have gained connections to a local business school and discovered the power of peer networks. That’s a sizeable group of businesses with the potential to scale up.

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