Scaleup Programme Summit - Reflections from a Scaleup Enabler

On Wednesday 20th March Engine Shed provided a home for an event organised by our friends at the West of England Growth Hub. In a great example of collaboration, the Growth Hub team took on the vision and event design that I created and provided the capacity and funds to deliver it. In a pleasing turn of events, that meant that I could sit in the audience and absorb the content – and share a few choice bits with you today.

Prior to the public event which kicked off at 18:00, Nick Sturge hosted a roundtable on behalf of the Growth Hub team which brought together representatives from 12 or so of the local scaleup support programmes. The conversation covered a wide variety of topics and was designed to help identify opportunities for shared learning and areas for collaboration. The conversation was also a chance for the leaders of these programmes to get to know one another so that we can collectively build on the cross-referrals that are happening already – ultimately for the benefit of the scaling, fast growth companies that we all work with.

We started by exploring the definition of a ‘scaleup business’ according to each of the programmes and found (it won’t surprise you to hear) that there’s a great deal of variety in the criteria that each of the programmes apply. Some look for the potential to grow, some for a minimum turnover and others for the increased employee numbers after the intervention. What became clear is that whilst the programmes use the terminology ‘scaleup’, they don’t always mean the same thing and are often keen to work with those who haven’t yet met the official OECD definition. They have also largely created programmes that reflect their target audience – whether fully funded or paid for, fixed term or ongoing. If you want to know more, I have spent some time exploring the definitions here: Scaleup definitions

The session uncovered a clear appetite for greater collaboration, and a need for more signposting to help companies find the support that’s available particularly in relation to investment. The group felt that the resources on this site were a good place to start, but that they weren’t known about widely enough and there’s more work to do. When the roundtable concluded, the programme providers moved through to the public event where they had the opportunity to pitch their offer to potential participants through a 60second lightning pitch.

The public event, hosted by the West of England Growth Hub, ‘We are Growth’, saw programme providers and organisation leaders come together to discover how they could work together. The agenda also included input from Tim Bowles, Mayor of the West of England, Andrew Scott Founder and CEO of the Ascot Group and Neil Douglas Managing Director at Viper Innovations Ltd.

Andrew Scott offered three pieces of advice for founders who are growing their own companies:

  • ‘Talk to your customers every day, pick up the phone to your customers’ constantly seek feedback, better understand your market, identify opportunities, and so much more.
  • Focus on the numbers – a less glamorous but a harsh reality – they’re critical to building a scaleup. Whether reviewing customer acquisition targets, looking at revenue or costs and much more between.
  • Finally, he told the audience to ‘be relentless in building your company.’ And not to be distracted because ‘the speed of the leader is the speed of the group.’

He also shared one of his favourite quotes: “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t so that you can live a few years of your life like most people can’t.”

Neil Douglas spoke of his experience building Viper Innovations and shared that they had initially created a 5-year business plan - that was 12 years ago. In the last 4yrs Viper have de-risked and invested in other companies as well. Tales of risk taking and re-defining the goals from Neil Douglas. He also talked about being able to reinvest a significant portion of their revenue in R&D and that they are now looking to invest in smaller companies as well.

Neil highlighted the importance of reinvesting in the local business community as a mentor and role-model too which is one of the most important aspects of creating a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem (according to Endeavour Insights). He also made a rallying cry for the value of building your network and of those programmes that help business leaders to engage with infrastructure, talent, support and finance.

If you weren’t able to join the event, you might want to take a look at the programmes that were represented at the roundtable and the public event – those which are most active in the region:

For more on locally available scaleup programmes, read my two blogs on the subject here: