Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2023

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Thriving ecosystems and sectoral hubs drive innovation and growth. Access to this infrastructure is key to unlocking scaleup potential. But almost a third (32%) of UK scaleups still rank access to infrastructure in their top three barriers to growth.

This year has seen positive developments for scaleups including the announcement that the UK has agreed to rejoin the Horizon Europe programme. Four in ten scaleup leaders feel it is important to their business to be able to access funding through Horizon Europe. As a wide and long-term funding framework, Horizon Europe offers many of our globally active scaleups access to patient and non-dilutive funding, as well as opportunities for high-quality research and collaboration. It will play an important part in supporting future ambitions.

The announcement of 12 new Investment Zones will create new knowledge-intensive growth clusters linking scaleups to the expertise of universities and other key research institutions, with the opportunity to leverage and learn from many of our endorsed case studies. New infrastructure support will sit alongside financial incentives, driving future innovation and growth. 

Working alongside academia and having access to state-of-the-art facilities is increasingly important and three new programmes recognise this. Co-located at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) gives tech scaleups access to objectives-based mentoring and is part of a network of 12 CDL sites spanning Europe and North America. It has supported 233 founders and created more than £1.3bn equity value so far.

SETsquared is a world-leading university-business network directly linked to the research talent and expertise of six partner universities – Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. It addresses key scaling barriers including securing investment funding for company-led R&D and innovation and supports scaleups to access its network of more than 2,000 academics to validate their technology. 

Also newly endorsed in 2023, Interface connects scaleups with Scotland’s academic knowledge base and gives them access to laboratory space, workshops and highly specialised equipment and inhouse expertise. Interface also facilitates connections with the wider Scottish innovation ecosystem and gives scaling businesses access to grant funding. 

Strong regional and sectoral ecosystems that give scaleups access to cutting-edge infrastructure and R&D expertise are critical to driving growth and innovation. In 2023, scaleups still demand better access to these environments. The Cambridge Cluster Insights tool informs ecosystem support across the region and supports scaleups to attract new talent, customers and investors from the UK and overseas. 

FCA Sandbox supports innovative financial services scaleups. Launched in 2016, it provides a testing environment for innovative products and services in the real market with real customers. Based in London’s Canary Wharf, Level39 provides innovation space to FinTech, AI, data, blockchain and cybersecurity scaleups and works partners to overcome other key scaling barriers including access to customers, ED&I, international markets and talent. These and other programmes like one to watch Digital Catapult are key drivers of advanced technologies through provision of physical and digital facilities and advanced technology labs and testbeds. Bristol’s Engine Shed gives scaleups access to flexible infrastructure and brings together investors, entrepreneurs, business leaders, academics and corporates to drive innovation and inclusive economic growth. 

Strong sectoral clusters benefit the wider ecosystem. A collaboration between BEIS, GlaxoSmithKline, Wellcome and Innovate UK, Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC) brings together academics, biotech and pharma organisations to create an internationally recognised ecosystem. This and programmes like Babraham Research CampusAlderley Park and Scale Space are pivotal to supporting connected communities that drive innovation and growth. Each of these hubs are continuously evolving and expanding to accommodate and support more scaling businesses. 

Nationwide infrastructure support is available through NatWest’s Entrepreneur Accelerator. This gives scaleups access to a network of 13 enterprise hubs and exposure to potential ecosystem partners and customers. Barclays Eagle Labs now offers a nationwide network of 32 incubators providing mentoring and co-working opportunities and office space for scaleups as well as digital skills development, rapid prototyping services and access to Industry 4.0 expertise. 

Scaleups are pioneers, breaking new ground and innovating at twice the rate of typical firms. The overwhelming majority are involved in innovative activity, with more than three quarters (77%) introducing a new or enhanced product or service in the past three years. The access to infrastructure, onsite technical expertise, research facilities and peer networks provided by programmes showcased here are critical to driving future innovation and growth, however there is more to be done and opportunities exist to enhance key sectoral clusters around the UK.