Business experts

Expert opinion: Moving from innovator to boss is the big challenge for scale-ups and fast-growing businesses

Written by Rob Perks.

Rob PerksScale-ups, or fast-growing SMEs, have a unique challenge as well as a fantastic opportunity.

Fast growing SMEs are identified by Government and many economists as the key to Britain’s productivity problem as well as the potential to be the sector that leads the economy into the 'fourth industrial revolution', spearheading the charge into the digital and technological transformation that is surely coming globally.

It is vital to the success of the UK economy in the coming decades for Britain to be at the forefront of this revolution.

Many of these SMEs are innovating at a much faster rate than their corporate rivals, introducing new product and service solutions to complex problems, across many sectors of the economy. There is the opportunity, both for these entrepreneurs and for the wider economy.

The challenge is that many of these champions of innovation and new thinking have little experience of running a business at say, £1m turnover or above.

They show their brilliance in coming up with new ideas and developing them into fantastic new products and services but as their operation grows, so does their frustration as they find themselves evolving into CEOs and MDs and leaving their much preferred innovating behind as they grapple with finances, marketing, sales, people who work for them but don’t share their enthusiasm.

Running an operation as opposed to inhabiting the laboratory requires a totally new set of skills.

I visited a science park in Devon this week and was fascinated as well as hugely uplifted by the innovations coming to market to revolutionise surgery and medicine which will have a life changing effect on many people with hitherto untreatable diseases or those requiring very invasive surgery.

But running a fast growing business is often not in the skill set of these highly talented individuals.

So what to do to avoid the terrible tragedy of seeing these exciting businesses crashing and burning because of a lack of business skills?

Sometimes, these innovators can acquire the skills they need to be successful business leaders but for others, bringing in an expert business leader is the way forward.

But where do they start on this journey? The Scale Up Institute has recognised this problem and is encouraging every Local Enterprise Partnership across the country to have a credible and strong scale up support programme to guide these highly important leaders through the maze of support available, help them develop a robust strategy for successful growth of the business and creating peer to peer groups for shared learning.

Rob Perks is chief executive of Inspire, which is delivering scale-up programmes across Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon.