Scaling Up Success


How did a Canadian girl who grew up in a lumber town — the daughter of a telephone repairman and an office manager (neither of whom went to university) — end up being on the board of the London Stock Exchange and a digital economy ambassador for London? 

How is it that I now find that since selling my first company and floating the second, I have now backed more than 50 companies that employ more than 10,000 people in 22 countries and the turnover of which is greater than £3 billion?

Sherry Coutu is a serial entrepreneur and active angel investor

It all started here as a student at the London School of Economics. I met a PhD student from the U.S. who told me that he felt I was an entrepreneur. 

Previously I had thought I might be a lawyer or teacher or work in the civil service. I definitely didn’t think I would go into business — the businesses I had encountered growing up in the lumber town were not exactly interesting to me. 

I had no idea every day I was surrounded by companies that had been started by people like you and me: Skype, ARM, Spotify, Lovefilm, Zoopla. None was more than 20 years old and all were small companies that managed to get to scale. London has thousands of companies in the pipeline with similar ambitions. 

The opportunities for entrepreneurs are everywhere. In the UK we do not lack ambition; our ecosystem is poised for growth and we have a government that understands that GDP is tied irretrievably and directly to how well companies scale. We are lucky; some governments believe GDP is connected to start-ups. We know this is not the case.

The government is on board with helping to scale up and is removing some of the barriers stopping companies from reaching their potential. But it can do more. It needs to concentrate on talent and not “tax.” 

Here are my recommendations, which focus on talent:

Some things that can help now: 

• More visas. Lots more visas. I really can’t understand how our community can be excited about 200 visas and it is confusing to me why the government needs to employ extra people to see if a company deserves a visa?

  Thankfully Mayor Boris Johnson has got the Border Agency started with allowing more visas, but they should let every company that is scaling up automatically qualify for those ‘unobtainium’ visas. 

Why not set up an automated alert service for every company on Duedil so they get a ‘scale-up badge’ that entitles them to as many visas as they need?

• Call for more innovation in universities so that the high-growth firms get courses suited to their needs: I love the ‘scale-up exec course’ just launched by Imperial College Business School. I can’t believe that it is not being done by every ‘ecosystem community’ in the UK.  

Encourage more programs like Founders Forum on June 12th and the ‘match-making and mentoring’ being done by the Royal Society the week of 17 June for their fast-growing science-based scale-ups.

Some things that will help the scale-ups in three to five years time:

• Talent: Every university should be encouraged to participate in programs like Silicon Valley Comes to UK. They should all do hackathons and we should celebrate the student organizations like NACUE [National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs] for adding in innovation and life skills.

Something that will help the scale-ups support GDP growth in 10 years:

• Talent: Every school should be encouraged to get several entrepreneurs into the classrooms  to inspire students to create their own careers: Try Founders4Schools, Apps4Good, CodeClub, and Young Enterprise and top it off with a Raspberry Pi or a Kano.

Every school should also be encouraged to use things like MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses] to help them illustrate the magical powers great communicators have.

If we added on the government choosing to purchase goods and services from scale-ups every once in a while, that would also be good, but if the only thing they did was help our scale-ups get talent (now and in the future), we would not have GDP problems in the future.

If you are a government and you wish to ensure that your citizens have the skills to run the companies on which you depend for taxes, the number one thing you can do is to get ‘entrepreneurship’ into the classroom. 

Every child should be aware that 100% of net jobs in the U.S. are created by companies less than five years old. They should have it drilled into them that Google, which they use every day, is only 15 years old. They should be asking themselves, “what companies will I create?”





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