Business management

Scaleup Week: unlocking growth in a challenging landscape

ScaleUp Week 2022, hosted by investment company BGF & the ScaleUp Institute, saw a host of the UK’s growth businesses explore today’s issues and opportunities.

In a series of four virtual debates hosted by NatWest Group’s Commercial & Institutional  Banking CEO Paul Thwaite; guests CBI Director General Tony Danker and Stephen Welton, Executive Chair of BGF, explored how growing businesses could unlock their potential, access capital and accelerate growth.

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Scaleup Week: the debates

  • untapping green investment
  • building inclusive workforces
  • the future of globalisation
  • scaling sustainably towards net zero

Although the economic future is uncertain due to rising inflation and interest rates, and increasing energy prices caused by the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Scaleup Week panellists were cautiously optimistic about the future for UK scale-ups.

As angel investor and entrepreneur Elaine Warburton OBE said during the future of globalisation debate: “The entrepreneur’s human spirit is enduring, and out of chaos comes order and opportunity.

“The entrepreneur takes every opportunity. They’re smart, they’re nimble and they’re flexible. They will go and seek out the collaboration that will give the results they’re seeking.”

Businesses that are successfully balancing sustainability and growth are putting sustainability at the heart of their strategies

Paul Thwaite
CEO, Commercial & Institutional, NatWest

Key takeaways from Scaleup Week

  • practise “deliberate optimism”
  • disruption can be an opportunity 
  • don’t lose sight of net zero goals
  • training will be key to growth
  • reducing regulation helps scale-ups

During the sessions, held between 20 and 22 September, panellists urged growth companies not to lose sight of their environmental and inclusivity goals in the current landscape. And they stressed that, despite the economic headwinds, there were many reasons for entrepreneurs to be optimistic.

Growing sustainably towards net zero

Growing companies are often confronted with the issue of an increasing environmental footprint while expanding. How can these companies ensure that their success doesn’t come at the expense of the environment?

NatWest’s Paul Thwaite offered three practical solutions to scale-ups faced with the dilemma:

  • measure your environmental impact
  • conduct a supply chain audit
  • create initiatives to make a difference

He said: “Businesses that are successfully balancing sustainability and growth are putting sustainability at the heart of their strategies.

“Businesses that can set themselves up with sustainability at their hearts hold a real differentiator.”

He added that sector-specific initiatives could help the UK reach its environmental goals. “There are things that can be done in housing, mobility, and energy that would massively improve the emissions of the UK,” he said.

“If we want to achieve the sustainability goals around net zero, it can only be done with the right level of policy and regulatory intervention. The current system will not get us to where we want to be.”

The future of globalisation

The panel examined the current wave of de-globalisation brought about by Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and Brexit, and how it might change the outlook for scale-ups. But while the business landscape is challenging, there are opportunities emerging as countries look to onshore more goods and services and secure new trade deals.

Tony Danker of the CBI said scale-ups should practise “deliberate optimism”.

He said: “Covid highlighted the supply chain problems, and many companies are now trying to build supply chain resilience as a result. So while de-globalisation is bad for inflation and growth, entrepreneurs will be asking: where is the opportunity to attack? If you’re an entrepreneur, you are looking for an opportunity from disruption.”

Attracting green investment

While there are new and unavoidable obstacles to reaching net zero because of the macroeconomic situation, it’s vital that green investment not only continues, but increases, the panel said.

BGF’s Stephen Welton said: “There are some green shoots in terms of areas of opportunity and in terms of growing companies, but we are looking at considerable headwinds to the economy.

“The road to net zero will not be paved by good intentions. It has to be paved by substantial amounts of investment.”

The private sector and the government, from a policy standpoint, need to significantly up the pace of investment, he said.

“We are going to have to make specific changes to increase our rate of investment. For the UK to hit its net zero targets, we are talking about tens of billions of pounds of incremental investment a year.”

Building workforces inclusively

Companies should “include intentionally” and move inclusive practices to the top of their agendas to show that inclusiveness is a priority for their organisations, the panel urged.

Investors increasingly consider inclusiveness during their assessment of a company’s culture, so it is even more important that scale-ups looking for funding prioritise the issue.

Cate Poulson, head of Talent Network for BGF, said: “I see huge amounts of progress. We are backing more diverse leaders than ever before, and they are bringing more diversity into those boardrooms.”

But while there have been great advances, especially in the last three years, there is still “a huge amount of work to do”, she said.

Rajeeb Dey MBE, founder and CEO of Learnerbly, added: “I am quite optimistic about the direction of travel. There is an awareness and a desire to change the status quo and it’s no longer an afterthought to think about diversity, inclusion and belonging.”

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