Scaleup Enabler: a sustainable innovation in cluster building

In June 2017 I began work for Engine Shed as Scaleup Enabler for the West of England. The role was initially a 12-month experiment funded by Business West, The University of Bristol, Engine Shed and the West of England Combined Authority (WECA)/Growth Hub. At the end of the first year, my role was made permanent and evolved to include additional responsibility as an Associate Director for Engine Shed in addition to the scaleup agenda funded by WECA and Engine Shed. And now, a few months into the third year of this work, it is all change again - read on to find out more.

The Scaleup Enabler role was and still is, a first across the nation and it evolved in a market where many others focused their funding on ‘scaleup programmes’ or to create account management services. In the West of England in 2017 and after a few days with Dan Isenberg (of Babson Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Project fame) courtesy of the Scaleup Institute, Nick Sturge created a compelling and alternative narrative. He convinced and corralled our project partners that the West of England already had a vibrant and growing ecosystem of support for scaling companies and that the real challenge was in identifying the barriers to growth and mobilising the private and public sector to help overcome them.

Hence, the role was an innovation that was only made possible by the vision and the frankly, unrivalled network-building and persuasive powers of Nick Sturge – and the entrepreneurial environment he has created at Engine Shed with the support of The University of Bristol. Nick convened multiple stakeholders to fund the role and then went on to support and challenge me to bring them, and many more stakeholders together around a common vision – to ensure the West of England was the best place to scale a business.

Since the project began, and over the last two years, I have launched the Scaleup Generator website to help entrepreneurs gain access to support, created the Growth Map and designed and hosted the Quarterly Investment Briefing (QIB) events, specifically for the investor community, which has, in turn, contributed to over 65 Bristol Angel Hub applications.

Making an impact?

The work has been varied and busy with multiple agendas – gathering data on the challenges, trialling solutions and influencing or encouraging others to act too. I’ve helped to build awareness and understanding of this new category of company – the ‘scaleup’ and I have played a part in helping build awareness of and trying to test and enable solutions to the challenges that they face. In particular, I have spent time on the ‘office space challenge’ and put the spotlight on the impact that this is having on fast-growth companies; I have told stories of scaling up, and down, and I have helped make the ‘access to finance’ support more transparent and connected. None of this work would have been possible without the work and support of a wide range of people locally, and the connected and entrepreneurial environment at Engine Shed (thanks to the University of Bristol and all our other partners). If you’re interested to read about my activities in more detail, this Achievements of a Scaleup Enabler.pdf of highlights explains what I’ve been up to, and what I hope I have contributed (so far) to the regional economy.

So, what is next for the Scaleup Enabler?

Throughout this work, I have prioritised some key values in my approach – openness, network-weaving, collaboration, honest-brokering and sustainability (you can read more about the in the Scaleup Yearbook that we published at the end of year 1). And it is with this in mind that I share my news – I will be leaving Engine Shed at the end of October to join Rocketmakers, a team of passionate experts who design, develop and deploy technology for startups, scaleups and corporations. There, I will be Scaleup Lead/Enabler (official title tbc) and will continue to work towards solving the challenges that scaleups face – whether ‘access to finance’ or ‘skills and talent’ related. As you would imagine, this has been a difficult decision for me – the Engine Shed and University of Bristol have provided me with a fantastic platform to help in my own small way to ‘enable our ecosystem’ and I have enjoyed the great privilege of working with some fantastic people, projects, sponsors and friends across the city region.

Just as exciting, perhaps, is that I have been able to find a private sector partner to build on at least some of what I have learned – another example of an Engine Shed experiment demonstrating value and finding a longer-term home.

I will blog again (no doubt more than once) before I start the new chapter at Rocketmakers and will include updates on our plans to help the Scaleup Projects live on and to explain where and how you can remain involved.

In the kind words of Nick Sturge, Founder and Director of Engine Shed “After what will be 2.5yrs of energetic, pioneering and highly impactful work, Briony will be moving on at the end of October this year. Briony has been a valued contributor to our vibrant local ecosystem and she has played a significant role in helping to nurture connections and deliver key projects. I trust you will join me in congratulating Briony on the work that she has done.”

For now, you can read more about the work I've been doing over the last 2+ years in Achievements of a Scaleup Enabler.pdf and if you'd like to stay in touch, please connect on LinkedIn or find me on twitter @BrionyPhi1