Scaling up in the West of England

As you may have read in the June edition of the Engine Shed newsletter (sign up here) or on our website, I have recently joined the team as Scale-up Enabler. In a role funded by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Business West, The University of Bristol and the Engine Shed, my job is to find scale-up businesses, understand their needs and then work with key stakeholders in the region to highlight scale-ups’ work and develop, support and showcase initiatives that exist to respond to their challenges. Collaboration isn’t only evident in the funding of this role, it is also central to the way I plan to work. I will collaborate, work openly, minimise duplication of effort and maximise collaboration wherever I can – hence the start of this blog, which will be a fortnightly occurrence (or thereabouts).

But what is a scale-up business?

Scale-up businesses are technically defined by the OECD as:

“an enterprise with average annualised growth in employees or turnover greater than 20 per cent per annum over a three year period, and with more than 10 employees at the beginning of the observation period.”

We have decided that this is a rather limiting definition and we want to recognise the importance of those businesses who are a little earlier in their journey, so we’ve developed the following subcategories:

So far the official Companies House data tells us that there are c. 180 scale-up businesses in the West of England region, but once you remove duplicates and holding companies, there are really only about 90 – but we know there are more. Sadly the limitations of the data mean that we only have a list of those businesses that are required to, or opt to submit full company returns.

Consequently my first priority is to find the businesses that are growing quickly, or plan to grow quickly. I will create a more comprehensive campaign in due course but in the meantime, if you are in the West of England, fit my expanded definition above and would like to share news of your challenges and successes over coffee, please get in touch, my details are below and I’m based at the Engine Shed but willing to travel/have a chat on the phone.

What next? Where is the existing support?

My second priority is to explore and share the opportunities and projects that already exist in the West of England to support Scale-up businesses. I’ve had conversations with a variety of corporate businesses, individuals and great SMEs already but I would like to have more. If you have a specific offer for scale-up businesses, please get in touch – details below.

Projects in the pipeline:

My early findings suggest that there are specific, urgent needs for scale-up businesses around:

  • Infrastructure (and specifically office space) and
  • Finance (and access to funding).

If you are an organisation or an individual in the region who is taking action against these two particular challenges, please get in touch to share your approach and collaborate – details below. I’m already planning some activities including a Scale-up Briefing Event on office space opportunities in September and sharing some useful intel on the investment organisations locally.

UPDATE October 2017

Since I wrote this blog, I’ve heard a few alternative definitions that I thought worth sharing:

  • Some corporate organisations set the bar high – expecting a technical scale-up business to have a turnover of £10Million minimum
  • A serial entrepreneur described a scale-up as a business which has reach and product market fit – he went on to say that he looks for businesses that have a product which clearly fits the market that they have chosen and that as a result they have to grow to meet demand.
  • And a scale-up supporter looks for scale-ups to have both the ambition and potential to grow.
  • There is also a discussion to be had regarding the difference between a scale-up and a fast growth business, and a high-growth business too. It seems to depend who you speak to as to whether these are synonyms or not!

Thanks for reading – I look forward to collaborating!

Briony – Scale-up Enabler


One last thing – West of England – where do you mean exactly?

This blog series tells the story of the Scale-up Enabler, Briony Phillips. Briony has joined the Engine Shed team on a 1 year contract funded by Business West, Engine Shed, The University of Bristol and the West of England Growth Hub. This group have a shared ambition – first, to identify scale-up businesses in the West of England region and to better understand their challenges and second, to design, facilitate and support initiatives that will make it easier for businesses to scale-up more effectively.