3 articles

Scale Up



2 min read

Are you scaling-up or do you aspire to scale-up your business?

30 second summary:

The Scale-Up Institute identified 3 characteristics of scale-ups which include firm focus on planning, innovation and productivity. Typically, 3 challenges faced by scale-ups include access to markets, people and management development and access to appropriate finance and growth capital. This is the first in a series of articles about scaling-up, which will look at these top challenges and others and how to address them.

If you’re scaling-up your business or aspire to, make sure you consider these 3 characteristics and 3 challenges.

The OECD definition of scale-up (or high growth) is growing turnover by more than 20% a year over a period of three years, with at least 10 employees at the start of the period.

In 2020, there were 27,285 scale-ups in the UK. These are visible scale-ups who disclose their turnover in their filed accounts - the number is actually much higher, as many SMEs have abbreviated accounts.

If you are looking to scale-up your business, it is worth considering the 3 characteristics and top 3 challenges of Scale-Ups, from the extensive research carried out by the Scale-Up Institute in 2020.

3 Characteristics of Scale-ups

  1. They plan to grow
    9 out of 10 scale-ups expect to scale again in the coming year. 1 in 3 expect to achieve 50%+ turnover growth.
  2. They are innovative
    3 in 4 scale-ups have introduced or improved a product/ service/process in the last 3 years.
  3. They are productive
    Scale-ups are more productive than their peers, generating an average of £328,000 turnover per employee.

Top 3 Challenges of Scale-ups

1. Growth and Access to Market Challenges

    When CEOs were asked to force-rank the greatest barriers to growth and their priorities to address, access to markets was top of their lists.

    Scale-ups want to sell to and collaborate with large corporates, and public sector organisations yet insufficient traction and/or options occur at present.

    Access to international markets continues to grow as an issue for scale-up leaders, with nearly half of them rating this as a vital or very important factor in their future growth.

    2. People and Management Challenges

      Building the leadership and management capacity within their senior teams has always been a focus of scale-up CEOs.

      Developing the senior team through training (70%) remains the top factor that scale-up leaders feel will aid their growth, alongside individual development. They are also seeking to augment their teams by strategic recruitment of top-level talent (54%), plus increasingly, they are looking for support from non-executive directors (56%) - with access to effective mentoring is also recognised as valuable (36%).

      Key future skills for scale-up employees are critical thinking (79%) and service orientation (61%).

      Six out of ten scale-ups say that access to talent is vital to the continued scaling of their business and they continue to demand a wide range of skills. They employ a mix of graduates (79%), post-graduates/PhDs (47%), and school leavers (36%). 60% offer either apprenticeships or work experience, while one-third offer internships.

      3. Finance Challenges

        Access to appropriate finance and growth capital is increasing as a challenge for scale-ups into 2021.

        Three quarters of scale-ups are using external finance (75%). Of those, six out of ten feel they do not have the right finance in place for their business.

        Maintaining access to innovation and R&D funding schemes is seen as very important to six in ten scale-up leaders.

        We will be looking at these top challenges and others and how to address them in a series of articles over the next few months.

        We will share case studies of clients who we are supporting as they are scaling-up.



        Jim Rathbone



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