Growth Builder: a new initiative for hi-growth SMEs

Growth Builder is a new initiative for hi-growth SMEsAimed at supporting key drivers of the economy, the programme builds on recent experience with accelerators, but is minimal in relation to overall needs.

While the last few years have seen a focus on startups and early stage businesses, a report just published by the government’s British Business Bank, has suggested that “a lack of businesses scaling up” was dragging down the UK economy, a verdict supported by data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; and that “there remains a need to stimulate a greater volume of businesses that can be scaled-up, including small and medium-sized exporters – to counteract the UK’s lagging productivity” – an issue that is also being addressed by the new Scaleup Institute.

The new Growth Builder scheme, just launched, aims to help 50 hi-growth companies through a 12-month programme of workshops, offering advice and mentoring on every challenge that growing businesses face, from creating an HR department to exporting and managing cashflow.

The components that are ‘compulsory’ are:

  • a curated exclusive high-growth peer network.
  • Six tailored workshops with successful inspiring high-growth founders, sharing insight into their experiences and lessons they learned from their supporters to apply in the selected business.
  • Six profesionally facilitated tutor groups offering an opportunity to share knowledge and challenges and gain a fresh perspective from peers in a supportive environment.

And optional are:

  • Monthly events tailored to individual growth challenges to inspire and inform.
  • Four networking events bringing together successful high-growth founders, influencers and decision makers within the public and private sector to facilitate beneficial connections.

It is a joint venture, supported by the Government’s export arm, UK Trade & Investment, as well as NatWest, BT, UCL, Loughborough University, the UK Business Angels Association, PIE Mapping and Fast Growth Forum.

The initiative is headed up by Lastminute.com co-founder Brent Hoberman, growth champion Sherry Coutu, and Betfair co-founder Ed Wray, who will act as mentors for the companies involved.

In a poll of businesses turning over more than £1m, 60% of those surveyed claimed that the “scale up” phase was the toughest they had faced in business, compared to 19% who said the start-up phase was the most difficult; while just 4% struggled most as a medium-sized firm, according to the research, commissioned by the Telegraph and conducted by entrepreneur network The Supper Club. More than half of these entrepreneurs claimed that hiring people and managing staff were among the toughest challenges for fast-growing start-ups, with raising finance and business strategy also high up the list.

Any company turning over more that £1.5m or employing 20 staff or more is eligible to apply, provided its sales are rising by more than 20pc a year. Applications have to be in by mid-March.

The Government’s recent abandonment of the Business Growth Service (which provided access to mentors for businesses with hi-growth potential) seems more than perverse just at the moment when Innovate UK had begun to roll it out to its grant winners.

Among other recent initiatives,Tech City, the Government-backed organisation that champions the UK’s technology sector, unveiled its Upscale initiative last month, which also aims to help 30 firms. The International Business Programme, has also just been launched by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, which will offer 50 fast-growing firms the opportunity to join trade missions to the US, India, China, and Europe.

While all this is encouraging, it bears no relationship in quantative terms to the 6% of businesses identified by Nesta as the most significant contributors to growth of the UK economy.

John Whatmore, March 2016

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