Empower ambitious scaleups to unleash the UK’s hidden potential

Sam Smith
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Let’s build a nation of ambition from entrepreneurs’ willpower (Source: Getty)

What will it take to unleash Britain’s scaleup opportunity?

This is a question that not only plays on the minds of ambitious business leaders across the country, but anyone with an interest in our economic prowess.

Because scaleups are more than the sum of their parts – they have the potential to become the engine room which powers us towards success as a nation.

Read more: It’s time for the City to scale up support

Economists have had their choice of indicators to put down the UK in recent years. Output from our carmakers is down, productivity is a persistent problem, and sterling’s valuation is low. But many are too caught up in the macro to see the micro, and cannot see the trees for the wood.

Look at the army of small and medium-sized businesses with the will and ambition to grow, and a more positive picture emerges.

Our entrepreneurs are upbeat and optimistic about the UK economy, with the vast majority expecting growth in 2018. This plays out up and down the country, and across sectors.

When we spoke to growing British businesses, we found that over 70 per cent of SME owners were optimistic about the UK’s economic prospects, rating them above those for Europe and the rest of the world.

While some in the City have been predicting a Brexit apocalypse, our SMEs have been busily growing their businesses, reaching new markets and creating jobs along the way.

British small businesses are by their nature entrepreneurial and innovative, and all have more important things to worry about than gloomy forecasts. Many of the pieces are in place for entrepreneurs to deliver on their vision of growth, but companies that are scaling up are consistently facing certain hurdles.

While they are not lacking in willpower, often they are unaware of how to access the finance that could spur the growth of their business.

The recently launched Scaleup Report revealed that four in 10 business owners do not feel that they have the right capital in place to grow.

The report gets to the heart of the challenge facing our small businesses. A full three quarters of entrepreneurs do not use equity finance. Many are unfamiliar with accessing growth capital, and most are wary of losing control of their business when they are so confident of its prospects.

This attitude is holding back our growth and creating unnecessary frustration among those who are doing the most for British business. Providing finance for our fast-growing small businesses would unlock value across the country, and give our economists something to smile about.

The City is the envy of the world and Michael Bloomberg spoke for most of us when he said that it will remain an international financial capital long into the future. Yet, there is a disconnect between our world-class finance sector and our prodigious entrepreneurs – and closing this gap would work wonders for both.

The OECD ranks the UK thirteenth globally for scaleup business.

I see this as an opportunity. We have encountered a number of road blocks: female founders who need help to build confidence and the risk appetite to raise capital and chase growth; regional entrepreneurs without the right network to fundraise; a pervading feeling that capital markets are just for large multinationals. But thankfully we can move beyond these barriers through better communication.

Of the 1,000 small business owners we spoke to, 91 per cent said that they will be growing in 2018, and I would add my name to the list.

We will continue touring the country and closing the disconnect between the City and the brilliant scaling businesses in every corner of the UK. The tools exist for them to fully realise their predicted growth if the finance industry gets behind them.

This means transforming individual success into collective progress, and building a nation of ambition from entrepreneurs’ willpower.

Read more: How to solve the SME credit dilemma and rekindle faith in capitalism

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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