Start-ups must focus on growth, says study

Lesley and Nigel Eccles set up fantasy sports gaming company FanDuel in Scotland. Photograph: Malcolm McCurrach
Lesley and Nigel Eccles set up fantasy sports gaming company FanDuel in Scotland. Photograph: Malcolm McCurrach
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Entrepreneurs need to consider relinquishing some control and diversifying their leadership to scale up their businesses, a “landmark” collaboration between Barclays Bank and Oxford and Cambridge universities has found.

The study identified key areas of focus, with a range of names from across the sector joining forces at an event in Glasgow to discuss how such suggestions could be taken forward in the Scottish market.

The “Scale-up UK: Growing Businesses, Growing our Economy” publication found that even if there was just a 1 per cent jump in scale-ups, 150,000 net new jobs could be in place by 2034 with a further £225 billion towards UK GDP.

Stewart McTavish, the keynote speaker at the event and founding director of the University of Cambridge ideaSpace, which was created as a community space for early-stage innovators and entrepreneurs, helped compile the research.

He told Scotland on Sunday that a key outcome from the collaboration has been to help start-ups “really focus on growth rather than just starting”.

A serial entrepreneur himself, McTavish said it is vital for those at this stage to surround themselves “with the right sorts of people” and that in terms of broadening leadership, focusing on “what the business does for society and the customers that it serves rather than being their baby” can be critical.

The event addressed the challenge of business founders progressing their ventures 
beyond their own capabilities, 
and one solution was to boost skillsets with an investor who can provide not only funding but necessary expertise and knowledge.

Another key issue was businesses in Scotland tending to sell out too early, but the likes of so-called unicorns FanDuel and Skyscanner were seen as “slowly changing this” and “prime examples of businesses of Scotland that have been developed here in Scotland”.

It was also suggested that banks could support the high-growth market by helping a business to be part of a peer network, facilitating knowledge-sharing and access to advice and support.

Jamie Grant, head of business and corporate banking at Barclays, said: “This is a sector that we’re now committed to as a bank. The key for us is really trying to look after companies through the life cycle from scale-up right through to IPO. That would be the ideal scenario.”

He also highlighted the bank’s work with Edinburgh company NetThings, with the firm one 
of the first in the UK to benefit 
from the lender’s “Innovation Finance” product targeted at 
high-growth and innovative businesses – part of a wider commitment from the bank to support UK scale-ups.