Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2023

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



The Scottish Government’s ten-year National Strategy for Economic Transformation set out Scotland’s commitment to driving growth with an explicit aim to “seek to achieve a step change in the percentage of Scottish start-ups and existing mid-sized businesses that grow to scale”. Supporting entrepreneurship is a key strand of this, and in 2023 a number of initiatives are further strengthening this commitment, alongside fresh evidence and insights from the ScaleUp Institute and Scottish National Investment Bank in our collaborative Scaling Up Scotland report (see the insight box below). The launch of Scotland’s Innovation Strategy, the Pathway’s Report and the Entrepreneurial Campus Blueprint set Scotland’s focus on further supporting ambitious early-stage, pipeline and scaling businesses. Key priorities include simplifying access to innovation funding and ring-fencing a significant proportion of public sector innovation funding to key Scottish sectors, along with delivering on the vision of the Pathways Report by Ana Stewart and Mark Logan to encourage women and other under-represented groups to become entrepreneurs and for early-stage scaling businesses and scaleups to get the support they need to access funding and advice. Additionally the Scottish Government has announced the development of a new Talent Attraction and Migration Service to bring fresh skills, talent and entrepreneurs into the country.

Support is provided through initiatives such as Scottish Edge and the Scottish Ecosystem Fund; and the focus of Scotland’s three enterprise agencies on creating the conditions in which businesses start and scale successfully. Focussed support is provided to the development of globally competitive clusters of businesses in high value sectors such as energy transition, health and life sciences, advanced manufacturing, and the application of data and digital technologies through a Cluster Development Programme. Additionally, increased backing is provided for the development of Scotland’s universities as entrepreneurial campuses and ensuring that the new Techscaler network of 7 hubs offers high quality education programmes to entrepreneurs and alignment of enterprise agency business support to these cohorts.

Scottish Enterprise (SE) – Scotland’s main economic development agency – has a combined high growth entrepreneurship and investment function delivering integrated support to the early-stage market. From inception and throughout their scaling up journey Scottish Enterprise works with companies to embed progressive fair work first principles and Net Zero adoption into their strategies. Tailored, specialist advice and funding is provided through its High Growth Services teams, alongside early-stage equity and debt funding from the Growth Investments Team. This aims to support innovative, high growth spinouts, start-ups and scaleups with the potential to trade globally and to become companies of scale. SE co-invests alongside a broad mix of private sector investors and is one of the most active UK investors into early stage and University spin-out companies. Its focus is on creating a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem and growing the early-stage investment market, as well as attracting overseas investment via Scotland’s Global Capital Investment plan; with the Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB) providing later-stage, larger investments as part of an integrated public sector response. SNIB also contributes to the wider support ecosystem by, for example, working in partnership with The Hunter Foundation to support their Scale-up Scotland 2.0 programme, supporting scaleups with very high growth ambitions.

ONS data for 2021 shows that there are 1,770 scaleups in Scotland: 600 are classified as scaleups due to rapid growth in their employees, 1,450 are classified as scaleups due to rapid growth in their turnover and 280 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 -2.66 per 100,000 of population per year.

Scaling Up Scotland 

In March 2023, the ScaleUp Institute and the Scottish National Investment Bank released the Scaling Up Scotland paper, examining Scotland’s scaleup landscape, highlighting strengths, weaknesses, and potential to grow and exploring how scaleups might help Scotland to address key challenges, and the role funding can play to realise this potential. The findings reveal that Scottish scaleups are a key driver of growth and productivity,  operating across every sector and region of Scotland, and are significant exporters. However, there are key areas of focus that investors and others who want to support these businesses to succeed, should consider within their strategic prioritisation. While the Scottish scaleup landscape has strengths, there are still challenges to be overcome to ensure that Scotland realises its full potential- including access to markets, talent and scaleup capital. Scaleups are not just ‘accelerated start-ups’ and there are opportunities to unlock additional, unrealised growth amongst existing businesses in Scotland. There is an opportunity for investors, including the growing number of impact investors, to play a key role in supporting businesses to scale up and to realise social and environmental benefits. Looking forward the Bank sees several key areas for its activities including:
– Continuing to make investments in growing businesses
– Build on their work with the existing private sector ecosystem to unlock further opportunities
– Continue to work collaboratively with the wider public sector ecosystem
– And finally, working with their partners – both in the private and public sector – to deliver on their missions.


A collaboration of public, private and third sector organisations alongside academic partners deliver a range of programmes targeted at scaleups and the scaling pipeline.

The Unlocking Ambition Challenge (UA) – is an entrepreneurial growth programme.  Three cohorts have been delivered which has provided support to build leadership capacity through business support specialists and a series of masterclasses (including an accredited module from Babson College), advice and mentoring, and grant funding as well as entry to a peer community of growth business leaders, including internationally via the GlobalScot network . It has created a thriving nationwide community of more than 120 entrepreneurs, representing more than 100 companies, who continue to support one another and share expertise. 

Endorsed by SUI, the Scale Up Scotland is an 18-month leadership programme aimed at ambitious entrepreneurs and companies with the potential to grow sales beyond £20-£30 million. Delivered by The Hunter Foundation, the programme offers a blend of experiential, business, and peer to peer learning, taking entrepreneurs through the critical components of business scaleup. Launched in 2022, Scale Up Scotland 2.0 is aimed at high growth companies with the potential to achieve over £100 million turnover. Advice and mentoring from some of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs is combined with strategic consultancy support including a deep dive into each business to identify and align the team on the specific challenges and opportunities. CEOs also participate in quarterly retreats that focus on common challenges through a mixture of specialist and peer to peer learning experiences.

The Growth Advantage Programme (GAP) provides relevant, accessible and practical learning for fast-growing businesses on the scaleup journey. Delivered by Strathclyde University, GAP is recognised by the ScaleUp Institute for its proven impact and support which links high-quality executive education with the insights and shared learning that comes from peer networks. 

In the Highlands and Islands region, the Northern Innovation Hub has expanded its support for specific sectors, helping them to grow through embracing innovation and entrepreneurship: 

  • Pathfinder Accelerator is a six-month programme for life science and technology scaling businesses looking to take a new product or service to market. 
  • Impact30 aims to develop the scaling pipeline by helping young entrepreneurs and business leaders. It equips participants with the tools, skills and knowledge they need to grow their business.

NEXUS – a life sciences and technology business hub on Inverness Campus – helps new and established businesses to grow and develop. Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Technology Placement Programme funds up to 50% of salary costs towards employing a graduate or student to undertake a technology project to improve or develop a new product or process. 

Endorsed by the ScaleUp Institute in 2021 Scottish Enterprise’s Growth Investment Team supports early stage high growth businesses in their scaleup journey and promotes emerging sectors. 

British Business Bank’s Investment Fund for Scotland (IFS), launched on the 5th October 2023, offers a range of commercial finance options, with smaller loans and debt finance from £25,000 to £2 million and equity investment up to £5 million. The fund aims to drive sustainable economic growth by supporting innovation and creating local opportunity for new and growing businesses. It is helping break down the barriers to finance by increasing the supply and diversity of early-stage finance for smaller businesses across Scotland, providing funds to businesses that might otherwise not receive investment. Additionally, the new fund has embedded ESG awareness into its design therefore it will help support the UK economy’s transition to net zero. In total, the fund will deliver a £150 million of new funding to the country.

SE is also working closely with key accelerators and incubators across the Scottish Entrepreneurial and Innovation landscape, like Techscaler, Michelin Science & Innovation Park, Opportunity NorthEast which are aligned to key future growth industries and regional clusters. Additionally, SE is further supporting entrepreneurship by focusing on supporting under-represented groups, aligning the Scottish ecosystem, embedding public sector support and updating the Scottish Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Guide. The new Pathways to Scale programme is aimed at ambitious female-led companies looking to scale up. The programme will be running from 6th November 2023 until 6th February 2024 and will include a 2-Day Leadership retreat; Meet The Investor Sessions; Financial Strategy Skills Training and 1:1 Investment Readiness Support.

Continuing SE’s work with Scotland’s university and research base to commercialise university owned IP to create high growth spinouts, the High-Growth Spin-out Programme (HGSP) provides funding to support the commercialisation of advanced technologies developed at Scotland’s universities, research institutes and NHS boards. The objective is to create new high-growth companies with the potential to generate significant economic impact in Scotland. Grant funding addresses gaps in the business plan for the prospective technology (stage 1, up to £75k) and supports company creation and early stage scaling (stage 2, up to £200k), the grants can support up to 100% of the direct costs of a project and successful spinout companies are given the opportunity to apply for convertible loan notes of up to £400k to support further development ahead of seed investment rounds. 

There are also a range of public and private programmes in Scotland – find out more on the scaleup support finder here.


Three cohorts – a total of 50 scaleups and 57 leaders – have completed the Scale Up Scotland programme, and a fourth cohort of 12 leaders of 12 scaleups are currently being supported. Participants from the first three cohorts combined have created 2,594 new jobs and generated £460.18m in revenues since the programme started. In 2022, supported scaleups raised £75.47m in equity finance and are exporting across a range of international markets with the majority trading in Europe (42%), the USA (30%), followed by Australasia (28%) and Asia (16%). 

The Growth Advantage Programme supported 92 scaleups in the last year with 32% of them being female-led.  All participants reported increased confidence or leadership capacity. Half of the participants experienced an annual increase in employment more than 20% while more than half (59%) average annual increase in turnover. Participating scaleups also project twice greater projected average sales within three years of support.

Since Scottish Enterprise’s Unlocking Ambition programme launched in 2018, participating companies have already cumulatively generated more than £50m of new direct investment. With a further 190 early-stage high growth start-ups and scaleups supported via SE’s High Growth Services account management service along with a portfolio of circa 500 SME’s with ambitions to scale.

In 2022/23 Scottish Enterprise supported 297 companies through their financial readiness service,  transacted £54.45m into 102 high growth potential companies in response to equity and debt funding gaps that severely impacted early-stage finance for Scotland’s growing pipeline of scaleup opportunities. This investment leveraged an additional £135m of private investment. Overall Scottish Enterprise’s investment function has backed 424 Scotland’s ambitious early-stage companies to the tune of £869m, leveraging over £2.3bn of private investment, since 2003.

Thirty-six university spinouts were supported by HGSP this year, with six new spinouts formed in 2022/23. A total of 16 new spinouts have been created over the last 3 years. Seven HGSP alumni spinouts raised £7.5m investment in the last year, 14 alumni spinouts raised £35.5m and seven spent £9.3m on R&D activity.  

To the end of February 2023, SNIB invested over £378 million, enabling more than £667 million in co-investment.


SE’s future focus will include embedding specialist scaleup support within ecosystem wider provision, integrating and aligning this support and exploring opportunities to jointly curate companies throughout their scaling journey across key partners in Scotland, including innovation centres and incubators /accelerators with a focus on increasing the impact from innovation to help create future growth industries.

Continuing to implement the outcomes of the Pathways report to support the business growth for underrepresented groups is also a key focus, alongside support and investment for high growth spinouts and university and college early stage and scaling businesses.  In addition, a new Ecosystem Fund will support ecosystem partners across Scotland with grant funding of £10k-£50k to deliver new entrepreneurial activity.

Looking forward, SNIB sees several key strands of activity supporting the scaleup ecosystem. This includes continuing its investment in growing businesses and building on its work with the existing private sector ecosystem to encourage investment in scaling businesses and to work with the public sector to ensure support is aligned to each stage of a business’s life.



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 Scotland have a low density of scaleups, and the trend between 2018 and 2021 reveals the following:

Scaleups by Density: Needs Improvement

The vertical axis of this matrix shows where local authorities located in this locality stand compared to the rest of the UK: 25 of the 32 local authorities have a below median density of scaleups measured by employment growth and 23 of the 32 local authorities have a below median density of scaleups measured by turnover growth.

Scaleup Trends Over Time: Moderate

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: 16 of the 32 local authorities are above the median in terms of improving the density of scaleups by employment in their community and 17 of the 32 local authorities are above 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.