British entrepreneurs have a lot to be excited about at the moment. With over half a million businesses started in the UK in 2013 alone – helped by a business environment with the fewest barriers to entrepreneurship in the world – and the number growing, it’s a good time to be a British-based business.
Unsurprisingly then, we’ve seen an explosion in programmes designed to help founders with the next step – turning their successful businesses into global and industry-leading success stories. But the choice available at every level of a business’ development – whether an accelerator, incubator or growth programme – must seem dizzying to the founder with an eye on further developing their high-growth business.
With this in mind, here are the five things all founders should think about before joining a growth programme for helping their business scale up.
1. Be sure about what you're getting from a programme
At risk of sounding patronising, I would urge all founders to really look at the different programmes available and examine in depth what they are offering. For example, mentoring is a hugely valuable benefit of many programmes. Access to advisors, workspace and even third-party services, such as lawyers and HR consultants, are also sometimes included. Think about what connections and services you are currently lacking, and look for anything you think your business might want from such a programme at your particular stage of growth.
A similarly frequent offering of many entrepreneur support programmes is that of access to funding. This can take different forms – for example, some programmes offer straight cash for equity, while others culminate in a pitch day, in which the programme’s cohort pitch their businesses ‘Dragon’s Den’ style. Look at the options and really weigh up what you would find most useful.
2. It's all about the connections
The British high-growth business space is a busy, noisy community – but a supportive one. This is why we’ve already seen some truly global success stories in Zoopla, Just Eat, BetFair and Versarien, amongst others. But more can be done to turn even more entrepreneurial businesses into industry-defining global success stories – and connections will be key to this. The UK's entrepreneurial system has already benefited from the support of Government, corporates, universities and investors – make sure your business growth programme can support you with tapping into this rich and invaluable network.
3. Monitoring your mentoring
The importance of mentoring cannot be underestimated. But do consider what sort of mentoring would best suit your business. Would you benefit best from a deep relationship with one individual, or one-off sessions with a range of vertical specialists? Both approaches have advantages. For example, there are certainly niche aspects of building a business that can be taught in regular sessions with people who possess a different skillset to your own. This is particularly true of practical advice in specialist areas, like marketing on Facebook or hiring a PR agency.
However, for deeper issues and strategic business development, I would always argue in favour of building a meaningful relationship with a mentor who can learn about your particular business. Your business is unique and deserves unique support, and this is definitely something to consider when choosing a style of mentoring.
4. Problems Vs symptoms
As a leader of a high-growth business you need to know your company and it’s levers inside out. I always remind founders that problems businesses face can actually be symptoms of an underlying and separate issue – and this is difficult for an outsider to identify.
Consider this example: a business has a high turnover of staff. An 'instant mentor' might suggest measures to improve employee engagement (such as more social activities or more effective communication). But if the problem is actually a poor product, which results in the best people moving on to a business where they have more pride in the product, then superficial measures such as a staff party won't improve.
5. What next? Think about your next steps
As British high-growth businesses increasingly come-of-age, there is a responsibility of growth programmes to provide the best support they can. The UK is making big steps in catching up with the likes of Silicon Valley, as demonstrated by the growing number of hopeful unicorns – billion-dollar valuation businesses. The likes of TransferWise, Seedrs, Nutmeg, SkyScanner, ASOS are great reminders that the UK can build big businesses. But this requires ‘bigger picture’ strategy from founders as well.
So do look at what you want to achieve from a growth programme – is it that key contract, or headline-grabbing acquisition? The right one is out there you just have to find it.