This keynote address from Sherry Coutu, Chairman of the ScaleUp institute and Founders4Schools, discussed top-tips for overcoming the difficulties of business scale-up, and emphasised the importance of looking to the future. 

Sherry started her keynote address with a number of startling facts, including asking how a 13 year old is supposed to know which job to aspire to when 40 % of the jobs that will be available to them have not yet been created? And 100% of new net jobs come from companies which are fewer than 5 years old!

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Drawing on her vast experience of starting up, scaling, floating and investing in companies, as well as advising organisations such as LinkedIn, Sherry went on to say that it is relatively easy to set up a company in the UK, compared to other European countries, the USA or Australia, but that of the number of companies that started up in 1998, only 2.7% still existed 10 years later. In fact recent research showed that just 1% of companies have sales of more than £1 million six years after they start. So, scaling up a business is a whole different ball game from starting one.

Sherry’s top tips for scaling up were:

  • Choose a big enough problem to give yourself room to grow
  • Embed yourself in the right networks to benefit from the advice and connections of people who will understand your particular challenges
  • Recruit people who have worked in organisations which have scaled before because many of the problems encountered while scaling are common across organisations
  • Think about tomorrow, not today because in a high growth organisation your needs will change rapidly
  • Embrace diversity in all its definitions to broaden the number of problem-solving approaches within your team
  • Nurture company values as you grow in order to avoid losing a sense of mission and identity
  • Build systems that scale, from technical infrastructure and data systems to organisational processes
  • Test product and market fit continuously to stay close to the customer
  • Take the right kind of money at the right time so fundraising doesn’t become an end in itself

Sherry closed by emphasising the importance of entrepreneurs working with schools in their local area. With companies saying that they could grow faster if applicants had the skills needed to meet their customer demands, it’s never too early to forge links with potential employees of the future.

(Author: Janes Holmes, Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands)

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