Building A Better Scale-Up Ecosystem In The UK And Beyond

The UK can bring innovation and commercial opportunities back onto home turf.

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The UK can bring innovation and commercial opportunities back onto home turf.


Building A Better Scale-Up Ecosystem In The UK And Beyond

The UK can bring innovation and commercial opportunities back onto home turf.

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The digital era has opened the doors to businesses of all sizes wishing to expand into overseas markets. Starting a company in Germany and then opening an office in San Francisco has never been easier to do than it is today.

With the potential for scale that is offered by larger markets, you would expect businesses to prioritise international expansion. However, according to a report by Innovate UK called ‘Scaling up: the investor perspective’ which looked at key scale-up success factors, more than half of investors and scale-up business leaders did not see international expansion as a top priority.

So, with looming economical changes in the UK on our horizon, we have to wonder why this is the case and how we can address this situation so UK businesses do not miss out on all the benefits that globalisation can offer. What do we need to do to build a better scale-up ecosystem in the UK – and internationally.

Encourage ambition and a risk-taking mentality

The United Kingdom has a total population of around 65 million people. In contrast, the inner market that US companies have access to is way above 300 million people. For true scale, it seems obvious for UK businesses to expand into larger markets like the US or even bigger ones such as Asia.

So, what is stopping these companies from doing so? I believe it has to do with ambition and confidence. Understandably, growing overseas requires gathering the right information as well as establishing the right contacts in your target country.

As a young company, this can be quite challenging and may be seen as too big a risk at an early stage. However, most successful entrepreneurs would agree that with ambition there needs to be a small pinch of risk thrown into the mix.

“The ambition of the management team and its willingness to take risks are essential,” commented Alex van Someren, Managing Partner at Amadeus Capital, within the report. According to this investor, these qualities are the “DNA of a successful scale-up”.

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But that’s not to say that ambition and willingness to take risks are the magic bullets that will make international growth a success. Businesses still need support when it comes to having introductions to local contacts who could support their growth ambitions and understanding the market sensitivities – something investors can help with.

Investors have a wealth of experience in successfully scaling companies by helping them grow beyond their borders – at home and away. They are capable of delivering the right knowledge and making the right introductions to maximise a business’ chance of success.

Engaging with an investor early could also provide a major benefit as they are likely to push business leaders to focus on scale from day one.

This early awareness of opportunities means businesses may look at trade missions to understand their targeted markets, for instance, or set up meetings with people in the right kinds of industries to gather intelligence and build networks that can be leveraged at a later stage.

Pursue international expansion despite economic uncertainties  

The coming changes in the economic situation on the European continent should not be a barrier stopping British companies from expanding overseas. As Karen Winton, Managing Partner at investing firm Nest VC, remarked when interviewed for the report, “to build unicorns [start-ups valued at over $1 billion] we need companies that scale up internationally, not just in Europe”.

If you have the inclination to see a bright future beyond the English Channel, then you should ignore politics and carry on with what you’ve always done. Build relationships abroad, find new prospects and rely on any help you can find at home from investors, advisors and Government departments.

In terms of access to capital, the British Government has taken note and has committed large sums of money to work through the British Business Bank to make sure that there is enough capital to support the early-stage and scale-up ecosystems, hopefully encouraging more of a risk-taking mentality – albeit calculated risks.

The commitment is there to support a better ecosystem that champions ambition and innovation, and the Department for International Trade has its own pool of knowledge and connections that can represent very tangible support to any business that wants to start prospecting outside of the British Isles.


Money and advice are available from government sources

Support and champion innovation-led businesses

We need to do things that others cannot do in order to stay competitive as an advanced economy. This is where innovation comes in, and innovation is estimated to account for up to half of all UK labour productivity growth and almost two-thirds of overall growth.

Businesses in the UK are good at research and innovation, but as a country, we are losing ground. We often see other markets successfully commercialising UK discoveries, and we need to bring this back to home turf.

The government’s green paper ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’ recognises this need and has placed research and innovation at the heart of making a real difference to the UK economy.

At Innovate UK, we understand what it takes to succeed and know the challenges that innovative businesses face.

When it comes to international expansion, our business missions take British companies that are involved in low carbon emissions to the US or Brazil, for instance, or take health and life science companies to Boston - the hub of investment and research in this sector.

We have the right team in place and global networks to support UK businesses to scale on the global stage.

So, despite the economic uncertainty at this moment in time, expanding overseas is something that UK businesses should be thinking about. Businesses need to master their ambition and seek the right knowledge and support, both private and public, that can help them pursue their vision.

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Building A Better Scale-Up Ecosystem In The UK And Beyond

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