Creating local and regional growth hubs to match local needs
Silicon Valley’s may be outstandingly the world’s best of entrepreneurial eco-systems, and London’s outstandingly the best in the UK. But can local areas aspire to create eco-systems of support for young ventures for themselves? (Next up: Building specific eco-systems – Village Capital in New York’s extensive experience is revealing.)
The authoritative 2016 Scaleup Report focused on aspects of scaling up (ambition, team building, partnerships, management systems, and identifying core competences and strengths – especially in relation to new markets and new opportunities). The following paragraph, from a recent Scaleup Institute’s report, comments on ways for getting there.
‘Scaleup business leaders most value locally-rooted resources to foster their growth. They want more local solutions tailored to their needs: more peer-to-peer networks where they can meet their counterparts, easier access and deeper connections to local educators, university research facilities, and UK collaboration partners whether that be in local authorities, large corporates or Government.’
But is available support as widespread or as strong as it needs to be; and is there enough local collaboration. Is the pool of lead investors/serial entrepreneurs big enough to provide advice about growth; and how can the pool be grown rapidly. Here are two examples.
Spark2Scale, a support programme created by the Business Growth Hub in Leeds is a business growth scheme which combines workshops, collaborative masterclasses, personal mentoring, peer-to-peer problem solving and bespoke business support from specialist Hub advisers, tailored specifically for aspiring ‘scale-ups’.
Its second cohort, recruited in mid-2017, aims to tackle the barriers faced by scale-ups in areas like Rochdale that are keen to grow, but which often lack the experience or confidence to take their business forward – by instilling a positive, ambitious, and confident scale-up mindset in those companies which participate.
It starts with a one-day workshop – to help participants develop their strategy; followed by one-to-one support towards delivering a comprehensive strategic plan. Next are three peer-to-peer half day workshops, led by industry specialists – in Finance, Digital Marketing & Growth Hacking; and additional one-to-one support and workshops are available. The programme, which is hosted at the Chambers Business Centre in Oldham, culminates in an evening celebrating success.
Innovation SuperNetwork in the North East was set up as a neutral broker to increase collaboration between parts of the regional innovation eco-system. Run by a specially formed company and championed by the North East LEP, SuperNetwork brings together over 50 different organisations and links to over 5000 businesses.
It has three strands: it runs competitions for the provision of support in specific fields (‘Innovation Challenges’); an access to finance programme connecting businesses with investors (‘FinanceCamp’); and a regional innovation conference (‘VentureFest North East’). And it aims to upskill business support organisations and encourage collaboration between them (‘Innovation Practice’).
The SuperNetwork’s Innovation Challenge takes challenges identified by large organisations and connects them with local small businesses – biomedical catalysts, the charging of electric vehicles and smart phones, and public space TV among current challenges. Its Finance Camp strand runs a programme of preparatory workshops that lead to one-to-one meetings with investors (it will run five investor training events in 2018, each in a different location in the area), and it runs a major investor conference in the summer. Its VentureFest is an annual meetup with a variety of speakers, workshops and other encounter activities.
Its most powerful role may lie in its aim to develop a presence as a cluster in the field of early-stage ventures, to which individuals and their organisations can become attached; and to provide opportunities for them to network so as to benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience.
Time will tell how well these examples will succeed; but time is of the essence: what could help them evolve even faster?
John Whatmore, February 2018