Creating scale-up ecosystems

The Industrial Strategy Green Paper states that:

“the Government proposes to work in partnership with LEPs, Growth Hubs and the private sector to enable the timely delivery of scale-up plans across the country.”

This is a very laudable aim. Achieving it requires:

  1. being able to identify businesses that are growing significantly or have the potential to do so; and
  2. having the right systems and resources in place to support them to grow quickly and achieve their full potential.

Identifying scale-up firms

The Industrial Strategy proposes making better use of data such as VAT returns to help identify fast-growing businesses at an early stage. If the Government can get better organised at sharing data across departments and with organisations that work with high growth firms it will make a big difference to their effectiveness. Funds currently spent identifying fast growth businesses through marketing campaigns and investment in partnership working can be redeployed to deliver support. Better sharing of data should also reduce the burden on businesses by reducing the number of requests they receive asking them to provide data. Taken one step further, it could also provide Government with a mechanism for tracking the benefits of providing support to scale-ups.

This sounds very attractive but it will require Government to set up effective and streamlined systems, protocols and data sharing agreements – something that none of the previous attempts have achieved.

Understanding the environment for scale-up firms

This ecosystem model developed by SQW [1] provides a useful framework. It describes four key elements and the important connecting activities that are required to create a high performing ecosystem. Companies seeking to scale-up will, at some point in their growth journey, need to draw on all these resources and a high performing ecosystem makes it easier for them to access the resources that they need.


Advice and support for high growth firms is highly fragmented and variable across the UK: the support available to a high growth firm in Portsmouth is vastly different from the support available to a company with similar needs in Leeds. A regional scale-up plan will need to draw on economic and expert data to develop a detailed picture of the regional ecosystem highlighting strengths and weaknesses.

Building a scale-up ecosystem

Whilst an ecosystem needs tangible things, such as offices, labs, tax credits and finance, driving economic growth requires a range of partners to collaborate and work together in the ecosystem. It is as much about the soft wiring as it is about the hardware or regional assets and each ecosystem is unique.

Scale-up businesses in the UK face, and overcome, many risks to succeed. Building ecosystems that support them to succeed have never been more important.





Dr. Jane Galsworthy is a Director of Development and an expert in the design of business support for high growth SMEs with needs around scale-up, accessing finance and commercialising innovation. For the last 20 years, she has worked at the interface between business, academia and policy building partnerships to create effective enterprise and innovation ecosystems.

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