Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2023

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

Northern Ireland

1,800 businesses provided with guidance, expertise or funding

£73m financial support provided to 1,100 businesses

Forecast to deliver £489m of investment in the local economy and 3,800 new jobs


Northern Ireland’s 10X Economic Vision, a strategy for growth, underpins all activity across the devolved nation. The 10X vision seeks to address productivity, innovation, sustainability and inclusivity. It focuses on key areas including advanced engineering, AI and cybersecurity along with life sciences and the green economy.

Business support is primarily delivered through Invest NI, its economic development agency, using a sectoral account management model that delivers support tailored to business size and profile, particularly those with international aspirations. Support for the wider business community that do not trade outside Northern Ireland is delivered by Invest NI through workshops, webinars and their nibusinessinfo.co.uk website.

Northern Ireland’s scaleup support is targeted to business size and the stage of scaleup journey with a primary focus on one to one support. Despite economic and delivery challenges, performance remains strong, with external sales increasing to £20.5bn and 449 companies delivering 20% growth in turnover last year. Invest NI’s scaling team works closely with a portfolio of 25 scaleups with turnover over £10m and cumulative sales of just over £990m. These scaleups employ 5,363 people.

Support for export growth is a key focus for Invest NI. Their 26 overseas offices support scaleups to access established and emerging international markets. Market entry is facilitated through research, tailored overseas expansion guidance, financial incentives, introductions to overseas suppliers, meet the buyer events, trade shows and exhibitions.

Addressing skills gaps across the ecosystem and creating a robust talent pipeline is priority for Invest NI and new initiatives are currently in development to tackle skills shortages. New assured skills and conversion courses will further benefit scaleups in the business and professional services sector. Other planned actions will support automation to increase productivity.

ONS data for 2021 shows that there are 660 scaleups in Northern Ireland: 195 are classified as scaleups due to rapid growth in their employees, 555 are classified as scaleups due to rapid growth in their turnover and 90 are scaleups that are increasing both employment and turnover simultaneously.

The ONS data reflects that across the four-year period from 2018 to 2021 the density of scaleups has decreased by -3.24 per 100,000 of population per year.


Larger scaling companies with turnover above £10m and 20% plus growth, are supported through:

  • The International Leadership 4 Growth programme (L4G) which supports CEOs of export focused companies to develop a Dynamic Business Strategy, High Performance Leadership and Sustainable Growth. The programme is delivered in collaboration with Enterprise Ireland, IESE Barcelona and Invest NI.
  • Scaling companies are further supported on a one to one basis by Client Managers to access export market research assistance, R&D support, MIS support, operational efficiency, skills and leadership development.

Scaleups and pipeline businesses with the ambition to scale can access support through:

  • Graduate to Export programme which gives financial support – up to the value of £18,000 – to help businesses recruit graduates who will spend 18 months embedded with the business. Graduates spend six months in Northern Ireland familiarising themselves with the business before moving to an export market for up to 12 months to complete a market research project aligned to the company’s strategic plan. The programme, now in its third cohort, is fully funded by Invest NI and delivered by Ulster University and the Institute of Export. 
  • Ambition to Scale & Leader Programme works with the senior management of companies in the £3-5m turnover stage to create strategic vision and growth plans. To date, the programme has supported 111 senior managers, from 75 early-stage scaling businesses.
  • Way to Scale is a three-month programme that spans Northern Ireland and the USA. Supported by Invest NI and delivered by Catalyst, the Way to Scale targets technology and innovation companies with £500k revenue to build CEO confidence and leadership.

Further scaleup support is available in the form of grants and partially funded training. Management Information System grants offer financial support to help businesses increase innovation and productivity. Qualifying scaleups must have a turnover of more than £250,000 and show clear growth potential in turnover, employment or GVA. The Assured Skills programme supports growth companies to address sectoral skills gaps through the delivery of pre-employment training. This equips graduates from general backgrounds with specific technical skill sets such as data analytics and cyber security.

British Business Bank (BBB) is on course to launch a £70 million investment fund to support the growth of small and medium-sized businesses in Northern Ireland in autumn 2023. It will offer a range of commercial finance options, with loans from £25,000 to £2 million and equity investment of up to £5 million. By increasing the supply and diversity of early-stage finance for smaller businesses in Northern Ireland, it aims to tackle an identified funding gap. The Investment Fund is one of a series of Nations and Regions Investment Funds being launched by the British Business Bank, which will deliver a £1.6 billion commitment of new funding to smaller businesses across the UK in order to drive sustainable economic growth. 

There are also a range of more public and private programmes across Northern Ireland– find out more on the scaleup support finder here


Invest NI seeks to support scaleups and the scaling pipeline as well as all businesses exporting outside of Northern Ireland (export is a recognised predictor of scaleup potential).  The businesses supported by Invest NI in 2022 employed 135,214 people and had external sales worth £20.5bn. More than 500 businesses invested £54m in R&D and Invest NI helped 148 companies invest £28m in training and development. It is forecast that the financial support and investment projects will deliver £489m of investment in the local

Over 100 companies were supported to export for the first time, and 250 existing exporters were supported to access new export markets.


Invest NI will continue to focus on building opportunities for partnerships between the life sciences sector and the NHS along with expanding help for AI and green tech scaleups and wider support for the green economy. Helping scaleups overcome macroeconomic barriers and attract and retain talent will also be key future priorities.

Northern Ireland is set to benefit from investment in four City & Growth deals as part of the  UK Governments Levelling Up Agenda. With funding provided by central government, the NI Executive, local councils, universities and private providers, the primary driver is to deliver the 10X Vision through collaboration on breakthrough technologies. Invest NI will support and encourage collaboration amongst project owners to maximise potential benefits and promote industry linkages.


According to ScaleUp Institute analysis of data received directly from ONS for years 2018-2021, the following picture emerges on the local environment.

Local Authorities located within Northern Ireland have a low density of scaleups, and the trend between 2018 and 2021 reveals the following:

Scaleups by Density: Mixed

The vertical axis of this matrix shows where local authorities located in this locality stand compared to the rest of the UK: all of the 1 local authorities have a below median density of scaleups measured by employment growth and all of the 1 local authorities have an above median density of scaleups measured by turnover growth.

Scaleup Trends Over Time: Needs Improvement

The horizontal axis of this matrix shows whether the density of scaleups has increased or decreased over time relative to the rest of the UK: all of the 1 local authorities are below the median in terms of improving the density of scaleups by employment in their community and all of the 1 local authorities are below the median for scaleups by turnover.

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.