SME Growth . Do we need scale-up champions?
Do we need scale-up champions?
Article by Oxford Innovation | 17.02.2017
Scale-ups are a vital part of the UK economy: they only form 6% of the UK’s small business population, but are responsible over half of the job creation in the UK [ref 1].
The Scale-up Institute has been a strong advocate for scale-ups, encouraging policymakers to recognise the importance of scale-ups and do more to support them. This message seems to be gaining traction and a number of LEPs are now developing local scale-up strategies and considering appointing a Scale-up Champion. So what should the role of a Scale-up Champion involve?
Scale-ups exist in many different sectors and form a small part of the overall business population. They are rightly focused on growing their business as aggressively as possible, often internationally, and as a consequence often have a relatively low profile in their region – this can make them relatively difficult to spot. So the first task of a Scale-up Champion must be to identify scale-ups and build a detailed local picture of who they are, and what they do. This needs to include information on the products/services that these businesses supply, the sectors and markets that they serve, the geography of their operations, business size, key challenges etc. This scale-up map will vary from one locality to another.
Armed with this detailed local knowledge the Scale-up Champion should be in a strong position to identify the key priorities where he/she can make most difference in their area. This is unlikely to be through the provision of 1-1 advice to scale-ups simply because the range of challenges faced by scale-ups is very broad and complex and an individual is unlikely to have the right skills and experience to advice scale-ups on more than a tiny fraction of these issues.
The role of a Scale-up Champion should include:
- Having a personal relationship with all the scale-ups in his/her geography and understanding the individual challenges that each business faces
- Acting as the voice for scale-ups to explain to local providers of relevant support (infrastructure, skills, advice, finance etc.) what they need to grow and bring prosperity to the area
- Connecting scale-ups together through the creation of peer-to-peer networks
- Identifying common gaps in provision and working with providers to develop new services that address these needs
- Raising the profile of scale-ups locally
Scale-ups are not a new phenomenon – entrepreneurs have been trying, often failing and sometimes succeeding, to build successful businesses for many years. It is crucial that policymakers find a way of engaging with scale-ups locally to develop a scale-up ecosystem that is based on real needs rather than research. First and foremost, a Scale-up Champion should focus on connecting and listening.
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.