How University of Strathclyde Business School is helping companies to scale up

Scotland is bursting with exciting and innovative start-up companies, but it’s the next stage of development that needs more focus if these businesses are to survive – and grow.

There are several barriers for new and existing businesses in Scotland to scale up to next-level growth.

John Anderson, from the University of Strathclyde Business School, explains: “We’ve done very well in this country, thanks to many enterprise initiatives, as well as funding, and we have a great culture of successful Scottish entrepreneurship.

“However, for a more robust future economy, we now need to accomplish the same success rate of business sustainability, which should ultimately lead to strong and significant growth.”

Since 2015, the business school has been aiming to address this gap in the growth economy market with a pioneering study programme. Unique in Scotland, its Growth Advantage Programme offers a fresh alternative to more established initiatives only available in England and overseas.

A proven format has been designed to deliver relevant, accessible and practical learning for the leaders of ambitious growth businesses in Scotland, by combining world-class executive education with the power of peer learning.

The Growth Advantage Programme is led by Professor Eleanor Shaw and delivered by Scotland’s top entrepreneurship faculty at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship.

Anderson, a recognised peer-learning expert, is the course director. He is clear that there are several barriers for new and existing businesses in Scotland to scale up to next-level growth, and he cites a range of solutions tackled through the programme.

He states: “The single biggest factor that stops a start-up business moving to the next stage of development is leadership.

“If a business owner or founder can’t let go – especially of day-to-day operations – and trust that the managers and staff are capable of running the business then it is very difficult for them to find the time and focus to look ahead at a growth strategy.

“Leaders need to be honest with themselves about how they are running their business, and they must be able to take advice on their leadership techniques and the business structure and current operations.”

It could be that a business owner needs to make improvements to the operational team before a growth plan can be developed. Leadership, management and recruiting the right staff are also considered as part of the Growth Advantage Programme

Anderson says: “The staff, especially the management team, in a business that hopes to significantly grow must be people who are capable of working in a fast-growing and changing environment.

“In some cases, it might be that businesses can benefit from an element of ‘entrepreneurial recycling’, for example. This is when successful businesses have been sold, thus freeing up management teams to work on other business projects or releasing founders, who can then share their knowledge on recruitment.”

Ambition

Ambition is another critical factor in the growth of businesses. “In fact, it is a lack of the right ambition that can see new businesses floundering,” says Anderson.

“Business owners need to have an appetite to grow. They must to be honest with themselves and also have the humility to listen to advice from peers and those who are more experienced in business. But, above all, they should be hungry for the growth and the hard work that this will entail.”

Market testing to validate a firm’s proposition for growth is also a vital strand for business expansion. Anderson says: “While entrepreneurial hunches for innovation and new businesses are an important part of a successful start-up, for growth to occur there should be some kind of testing of a potential new market.

“Leaders should be encouraged to go out and talk to real customers to see if what they believe to be a great proposition really is.”

Anderson is convinced that Scotland’s business leaders need more role models, and an environment where these people share their experiences of business.

He adds: “One of the best ways for businesses – leaders and founders – to learn about growth and sustainability is from their peers. Entrepreneurs and business owners learn best from other business leaders.

“For this reason, the Growth Advantage Programme supports peer-to-peer learning and involves successful entrepreneurs.”

Of course, new sources of funding must also be sought. A strong board, with an experienced chairman, can be very advantageous for securing investment for an enterprise.

Anderson says: “A good board is a critical part of growing a business, it can be a great way to gain insight from more experienced business people.

“A strong board provides good governance and, hopefully, it would include a respected finance director, which would inevitably increase the networking for finance contacts and also build confidence for potential investors.”

The growth must also be quantifiable, as Anderson says: “Gains and progress should be measured to show how a business is growing and at what rate.”

He concludes: “The innovative approach of our Growth Advantage Programme has already been successful in many different environments and, we believe, it’s the basis for a structure in Scotland to help to create more sustainable businesses with much greater growth potential.”

Launched in 2015, the Growth Advantage Programme at Strathclyde Business School: Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, focuses on executive development through peer-to-peer learning.

It is aimed at businesses with a minimum turnover of £1 million and ambitions for growth.

Participants are usually a founding managing director, a chief executive or the principal of a company.

So far, 70 firms have taken advantage of the ten-month programme, from a range of sectors and across start-ups, bought and multi-generational family businesses.

The course addresses many areas of business performance, such as how to gain greater clarity in a business, sharpening value proposition and extracting more value from current operations.

Other topics focus on creating synergy from a portfolio of products and services, looking at core values, measuring activities, valuable customers and changes in structures.

There is the opportunity to learn directly from inspirational entrepreneurs, such as Sir Tom Hunter, pictured, as well as panels of experts during workshops.

Through action learning, participants gain tool kits and practical take-aways to help with their business growth ambitions.

Many participants report additional personal benefits, such as greater confidence, improved energy for business and the growth of industry contacts and networks.

Strathclyde Business School has been reaccredited by Small Business Charter for the maximum five year period with the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship being recognised as an exemplar. In order to achieve the Small Business Charter award, business schools undergo a rigorous assessment to determine the effectiveness of their business support, entrepreneurship education and engagement with their local economy. Business schools that hold the award can share and develop successful approaches to business support, engagement and student entrepreneurship.

To find out more about the University of Strathclyde Business School, visit their website.

This article first appeared in the Vision supplement in the Scotsman – see it in full here.