With election night looming, I’d like to put forward my mini-manifesto for scale-up Britain.
As a founding member of a successful business, I can’t help but be excited by the manifestoes promising more support for UK entrepreneurs. Back in 2005 when we started inniAccounts, we were actively seeking to take advantage of everything start-up Britain had to offer. From the tax breaks through to the now defunct Business Link to the networking events. We used it all to get inniAccounts off the ground, and it has made us the business we are today – one that helps hundreds of people every year break free, manage their financial footing and make being self employed a reality for life.
We’re part of the UK’s success story, and of course, that’s brilliant. It’s exactly what we want as entrepreneurs. We wanted people to buy our accounting software, we wanted to be an employer of qualified accountants and software developers, we wanted to be a contributor to our local economy. We achieved our goals.
But now, like so many businesses we are faced with a new challenge. How to move from the organic growth we’ve cultivated on to a far more ambitious trajectory. We want to scale-up. Yet sometimes I feel like we are in no man’s land. Too old to be a start up, too small to be an enterprise.
That’s why I’m putting forward my mini-manifesto on behalf of scale-up Britain.
Scale-up policy #1: Give young people an alternative and help them make the most of the alternative.
School leavers, who have the skills and aptitude to be successful, don’t consider training in a professional field because the options they are mostly presented with are university or skilled apprenticeships. We’ve also found that many young people are invariably ill-equipped to transition from school to the workplace. It’s disheartening but a reality.
I believe scale-up Britain would say it’s time to address this by building more relationships between the education sector and the professional services scale-ups to help young people understand the options and get ‘workplace ready’. But more than this I think we need to enthuse young people, and show them that joining a small business from school is a good thing to do. We’ve now started to look at how we could contribute to such initiatives ourselves.
Scale-up policy #2: Extend funding, grants and National Insurance holidays to the scale-ups who need to invest in the next phase of their business.
When we look at our business strategy it’s evident we will need to invest in technology, research and application design. We’re privately owned, it’s something we pride ourselves on and it makes us happy. It’s why we started the company. What’s more we have a highly motivated and effective board, a very committed team and it translates in terms of client satisfaction.
Yet this model presents challenges for funding the next stage of our growth. We’ve looked at borrowing from the bank but the terms that are linked to it are not for us. We don’t need to be ruled by a ‘stick’. We could go down the PE/VC route. But I fear, the very foundations of our success would be jeopardised – we’d become a project in ‘leaner and meaner’ at the expense of client satisfaction – as demonstrated recently by two of our competitors. And we don’t think peer-lending is right either. It’s too risky at this stage.
So what would help? Access to funding from a body that understands our position to sustain ownership, and appreciates that investing in scale-ups benefits the wider economy. Furthermore, extending start-ups schemes would be a boon. If scale-ups could take a full National Insurance holiday just as we could when we were in our infancy, we’d free up the capital that would propel us on to new heights.
Scale-up policy #3 Establish networks of support that help start-ups tip over and becoming flourishing scale-ups.
There’s lots of talk about the necessity of transportation and communications links – it’s a hygiene factor for economic growth. But scale-ups not only need the physical infrastructure, they also need the network of support and mentoring from experts that can help them move up a gear. Seeking out the right people can be difficult, and we’ve made mistakes trying to find them. Structured initiatives with a chain of networking support, made up of that fundamental pool of experienced expertise would help to do this, especially if they go beyond the big cities.
So there you have it. Three reasonably big asks. Mostly common sense. I’m not naive enough to think that we should wait for this help to come to us. Far from it. I know we need to get out there too. But a focused effort on the things that I can’t influence, the biggest being funding and structured mentoring, would help so many businesses expand and fly the ‘made in Britain’ flag for decades to come.
This is abridged version of an article I wrote for Minute Hack. You can read the complete article here.