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Strathclyde Business School

Filling a business GAP: one year on

By John Anderson - Posted on 21 April 2016

Strathclyde Business School launched the Growth Advantage Programme last year; one year on, with recruitment for the next cohort about to begin, John Anderson, head of SME engagement, reflects on the impact of the programme.

Just over a year ago we were excited to launch the Growth Advantage Programme here at Strathclyde Business School.

I had wanted to see a core growth programme for entrepreneurs scaling up their businesses in Scotland for a very long time, having seen examples of great learning and development opportunities elsewhere in the UK and abroad.

Prompted by a challenge laid down by Richard Dixon at an Entrepreneurial Exchange board strategy day when I was Chief Executive - to find relevant structured learning to complement the great experiential peer learning available at Exchange events - I discovered that with the exception of the learning opportunities open to early stage innovation driven/technology entrepreneurs via the MIT EDP programme or perhaps via the Saltire Fellowship programme, there was nothing available to home based growth businesses. During the review I found Exchange members who had invested significantly in both time and cash to go through the Cranfield Growth Programme and who said that they wished such a programme was available in Scotland.

So we created one – The Growth Advantage Programme – designed around the four fundamentals of entrepreneurial learning:

• entrepreneurs and business owners learn best from other business leaders
• entrepreneurs and business owners learn best by doing, through action learning
• successful rapid-growth leaders develop a broad portfolio of frames for thinking about the world around them, the pathways ahead and for making informed yet creative decisions
• entrepreneurial leaders learn best when they can immediately apply new skills, frames and knowledge to their own firms

and with the support of Santander Corporate & Commercial we started our first Growth Advantage Programme in May 2015 with a carefully selected cohort of 20 business owners from all over Scotland.

Nearly two thirds of the 2015 cohort were founders of their businesses, with the remainder split between the leaders of multi generation family businesses and entrepreneurs who had purchased their businesses. Participants came from all over Scotland and represented a wide range of sectors with a majority operating in manufacturing and product development and over half were already operating internationally. The 20 companies started the programme with an average turnover of over £2 million and employing 20 people on average. All participants expressed an ambition to scale their businesses, demonstrating the importance of these companies to their communities and to the economy of Scotland. The make-up of the cohort perfectly matched the work of the Hunter Centre in promoting entrepreneurship as the growth and scaling of businesses - whether started from scratch, inherited or bought.

Over a 10-month period, the participants attended five two-day workshops held on a Friday and Saturday, each with a different topic but a common theme - Creating a Growth Advantage. Each workshop - Orientation; Market Advantage; Operations Advantage; Resourcing the Growth Advantage and Leadership Advantage - was broken into a set of individual experiential sessions. In each of these participants learned how to use a different practical application of research on growing businesses, and gain inspiration from their peers and the sessions included a Friday evening dinner with a “Pinnacles of Growth” speech from a highly successful entrepreneur. The sessions were anchored in the Business Model Canvas to help participants understand where they were in the process of creating a Growth Advantage for their Business and participants’ learning was further enhanced through access to closed online communications platforms and a series of specialist masterclasses.

So – did it work? In a word – YES!

The substantial impact of the programme - average annualised growth in employment and sales across the cohort exceeding the OECD high growth threshold of 20% - was credited by participants to them having greater clarity of the business, sharpening their value proposition, extracting more value from current operations, creating synergy from their portfolio of products and services, focusing on core values, measuring activities, having a greater focus on more valuable customers and changes in structures and people. The benefits of the programme were not simply realised in terms of business performance but also by the impact on the individuals who cited having greater confidence, more energy, more growth orientation and growing networks as a result of taking part.

The 2015 cohort continue to support each other as they grow their businesses and they are taking advantage of the many opportunities of additional support available from Strathclyde, in particular Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and Santander Internships.

In addition, the overall impact of the Growth Advantage Programme has been recognised by the award of a Gold Small Business Charter mark, making Strathclyde Business School one of only five UK business schools to hold the UK’s top accreditation - and the only one in Scotland.

One participant, Emma Marriott of Stirling based Contract Scotland, told us, “The course was life-changing. The quality of the lecturers and the cohort was excellent. I also really valued the opportunity to speak to other women in business.”

I had high hopes for the Growth Advantage Programme as an effective combination of peer learning and relevant executive education but even I was blown away by the impact. We are already working on plans for a 2016 cohort and details will be announced shortly - so watch this space!

Have you taken part in the Growth Advantage Programme? What did you think? Let us know!

Contact details

 Undergraduate admissions
 +44 (0)141 548 4114

 Postgraduate admissions
 +44(0)141 553 6118 / 6119


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University of Strathclyde
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