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Back in 2013, the U.K. was home to just under 30,000 businesses that could be classified as scaleups, as measured by employee growth, increasing turnover or a mixture of the two. By 2016, that figures had risen to more than 35,000 and according to a new report by the Scaleup Institute, you can find these fast-growth companies in just about every sector of the economy.
But the road that leads from startup to scaleup is not necessarily an easy one. For many founders, scaling up is a journey without maps. A management team that was originally formed around a product idea or a cool piece of tech will inevitably have to acquire new skills as the company begins to take on staff and manage growth. And as the Scaleup 2018 report found, the development of leadership skills is seen as one the top priorities for startup founders. To that end, startups typically seek support from people who already have experience in running a growth business.
The Limitations of Mentors
Enter the business mentor. Accessible through incubators, accelerators, networking groups and business support organisations, mentors can provide invaluable advice – usually based on their own experience of growing a business. But according to James Parton, Managing Director at Central Working’s Bradfield tech hub, working with one or more mentors will not necessarily provide the secret sauce that will help a young business to address the management challenges that lie ahead.
“Sometimes a mentor’s advice may not be as relevant to a particular company as the person giving that advice thinks,” he says.
As Parton sees it, the technology market is moving fast, as is the surrounding support infrastructure. A mentor who successfully started, built and sold a business ten to twenty years ago may not be totally up to speed with more recent developments.
A Twelve Month Program
So Central Working – a provider of co-working space – is piloting a different approach to supporting business at the beginning of the scaleup journey. Launched this week at its Bradfield site, the company is offering a twelve month program, dubbed the The Central Working Academy.
And at the heart of the Academy is an online platform, created to enable startups to chart a personalized route to scaling up. Essentially it’s a learning environment, designed and built by Cartezia, a company that has already published its own Scaleup Manual. The role of the platform is to provide a data-driven analysis of the startups that make use if it. For instance, it will look at elements such as progress to date, technology development,access to funding and the market. Once the analysis is done, it will provide the startup with bespoke strategic advice – again based on comprehensive data.
Not An Accelerator
To some degree, the Academy is pitched as an alternative to taking part in an accelerator or signing up to an MBA. But can a data platform replace the human factor? Will it make mentors and lecturers redundant?
The short answer is no. “We also use mentors,” says Parton. “And human contact is important. We bring the management teams together at weekend. It is important that there is a cohort mentality.” In that respect, Central Working is running a structured course, rather than simply offering access to a data tool.
But Parton says The Central Working Academy differs from an accelerator in that the programs are aimed at slightly later-stage businesses. “A typical accelerator might be looking for a two person team. We’re looking for companies that already have some momentum. They have proved the concept and are already generating revenues.” And unlike, a typical accelerator, the Academy does not ask for an equity stake.
However, a place on the Academy will cost £15,000. On the face of that could also buy a place on an MBA. However, the idea is that as many as three founders or managers from each company take part, reducing the individual cost to perhaps £5,000.
But will it be money well spent? The answer to that question will have to wait until the first participants have made their way through the twelve month program. However, Parton says that Central Working’s Cambridge hub – with links to Trinity College – has already established a reputation as a space that fosters business growth. And the philosophy of providing “ the best workspace to scale a business” is being carried over into the Academy. if all goes according to plan, the company seeks to roll out the program to its other U.K. centers.
January 31, 2019 at 02:03PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs