Building on North East Business Sucess

Posted on the 15 February 2017

Building on North East Business Sucess

I was delighted to read that the North East has the greatest proportion of high-growth companies per number of businesses in the UK. The fact that we have the fastest growing business population of every region, even London and the South East, and that a larger share of these are growing faster than anywhere else, indicates that we are doing something right.

Putting this good news in context, as a region we still have much further to go before we begin to reach parity with the richer areas of the UK, but now we have a platform that we can build on. Our proportion of scale-ups might be high, but we have just 380 of 12,000 such companies in the UK, a figure which tallies with the generally low level of businesses compared to the population.

These figures, which are both inspiring and challenging, show the opportunity we have and the immediate need for action to help more companies achieve this level of growth.

The Entrepreneurs’ Forum was an early campaigner for support for scale-ups, so we are very pleased to see organisations like the North East LEP backing high-growth businesses. Our latest initiative to support growth is the Scale-up Leaders’ Academy, which we are developing to help ambitious business owners. This partnership will deliver a year-long programme of business support to small and medium sized businesses which have already demonstrated a capacity for growth; but not those still in the micro-enterprise state.

The benefits of tackling the scale-up gap could be huge, especially here in the North East where unemployment is higher than in other regions. Data from the Enterprise Research Centre showed that between 2008 and 2013 just one percent of UK companies were responsible for more than one third of new jobs created.  

While the other issues that cause the scale-up gap are access to finance, infrastructure, finding the right skills, and accessing new customers, the Entrepreneurs’ Forum focuses on improving leadership capability, working with partners to address the other issues. Solving each of these problems across North East businesses, or all of them in one company, would have little real impact, but getting the right help from the right organisations, across the board can.

It is impossible to increase the size and capacity of a business without also scaling up its leadership, by recruiting experienced directors, senior managers and board appointments. This process also needs to allow founders to develop as leaders and even divest if they can’t progress the company, as the skills needed to get a business to the cusp of the scale-up phase are not the same as those needed to take it to manage rapid expansion.

There are a number of ways entrepreneurs can develop their own leadership skills, some of which we have provided for some time at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum. Our mentoring programme links business people with experienced peers from whom they can gain knowledge and advice, and our conferences bring some of the best minds from the world of business and related subjects to share their journeys with North East entrepreneurs.

The Scale-up Leaders’ Academy will add a new string to our bow by helping business owners to raise their growth aspirations and get ready to scale-up by preparing them for the journey ahead. Entrepreneurs enrolled in the programme will explore the biggest barriers to business growth and look back at the impact the course has had on each area.

The Academy isn’t about showing businesses what to do, but getting them to a position where they can scale-up. We will work with people enrolled in the programme to help them to establish what they need to grow quickly and what they must change, helping them to develop a plan that tackles the challenges high-growth businesses face.