Gaining an advantage

Gaining an advantage

The University of Strathclyde is celebrating the success of its inaugural Growth Advantage Programme. Peter Ranscombe finds out more.

Entrepreneurs aren’t known for sitting in classrooms. Most would prefer to be working at winning contracts and controlling costs so they can grow their profits. Yet entrepreneurs are often faced with tough questions. How can I scale-up my business? How can I grow my company while keeping a tight rein on costs? How many staff should I recruit? How can I raise investment?

John Anderson aims to answer those questions. The former chief executive of The Entrepreneurial  Exchange – now rebranded as Entrepreneurial Scotland – joined the University of Strathclyde in March 2014 as head of small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) engagement at Strathclyde Business School and director of the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship.

One of Anderson’s most high-profile roles since taking up his posts has been as course leader for the Growth Advantage Programme (GAP), a ten-month business accelerator scheme supported by Santander’s corporate and commercial banking division.

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The course is aimed at entrepreneurs with ambitions to grow their companies, which are already turning over at least £1m and have at least ten staff. It’s the first programme of its kind from a business school in Scotland and offers training that’s normally only available south of the Border or overseas.

When designing the course, the Hunter Centre team noted the feedback from Scottish participants on the growth accelerator programme run by Cranfield University, who wished a similar course had been available in Scotland. When it comes to assessing the first cohort, the numbers speak for themselves.

“The 20 companies that took part in GAP in 2015 had an average turnover of about £2.5m when they started the course and they’re now projecting average sales of £5m within three years – and that’s really just the start,” explains Professor Jonathan Levie, from the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship.

“Most of the people in the cohort had built their business to a certain level but weren’t quite sure how to get it to the next level or what it might look like or what their role might be. That’s what this programme is about. “Entrepreneurs on the course were with us on the Friday and Saturday and then would walk into their office on Monday morning and be able to implement what they’d learned. Their teams would be asking them what they had learned and they would be teaching their teams.”

Anderson adds: “We’re not talking about early-stage growth; we’re not talking about three people in an incubation centre who want to grow. There are already great programmes for companies at that stage.

“The companies that have taken part in the first GAP now have average annualised growth in employment and sales that exceed the high-growth threshold of 20% laid down by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) and which is used to define scale-ups.”

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Following a one-day orientation, the programme consisted of four, two-day workshops. The workshops covered ‘market advantage’, ‘operations advantage’, ‘resourcing the growth advantage’ and ‘leadership advantage’.

Entrepreneurs in the initial GAP cohort included:  David Frame, managing director at protective case maker Barum & Dewar; Jane Wylie-Roberts, chief executive at recruitment agency Stafffinders; and Joyce Onuonga, managing director at weighing specialist John White & Son.

Around two-thirds of participants had founded their own businesses, while the rest had either bought their companies or were part of a family business. Entrepreneurs also learned from each other and from ‘role models’ who spoke about their experiences.

Guest speakers during last year’s course included: serial entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter; Entrepreneurial Scotland chairman Chris van der Kuyl and University of Strathclyde principal Sir Jim McDonald. Recruitment is already underway for the 2016 intake, with participants also being able to tap into research at the University of Strathclyde, along with knowledge transfer partnerships and Santander’s Trade Portal service.