2nd December 2020

Strathclyde Business School has one of the leading Entrepreneurship departments in Europe, the Hunter Centre of Entrepreneurship (HCE) with more than 30 academics specialising in Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Strategy. The HCE, together with the Strathclyde Executive Education Department (SEED) runs a specialised annual executive education programme for SMEs, the Growth Advantage Programme (GAP), which is directed by Professor Eleanor Shaw and John Anderson. GAP was established in 2015 and it is now delivering its 5th cohort. This year, it became one of the few SME growth programmes delivered by an academic institution to have been fully endorsed by the Scale-Up Institute.

The HCE annually assesses the impact of the programme. The assessment this year took place during July – August, just as the UK had started coming out of  lockdown. Overall, a longitudinal assessment of the programme determined that:

  • 85% of the participants increased turnover following enrolment in the programme;

  • 59% increased turnover by an average annual rate of more than 20%;

  • growth in employee numbers was consistent at an average of 8.7% over 4 years;

  • after 4 years, cumulative growth in employee numbers was 39.4%;

  • 79% of businesses increased their head count following enrolment in the programme.

Also, when the outcomes were compared against a control group of companies in a similar industry and of a similar size, GAP participants outperformed the control group in:

  • turnover growth by an average of 15.9 percentage points;

  • employee numbers growth by 10.9 percentage points.

In addition, participants were asked to indicate how GAP has helped them deal with the pandemic and its severe consequences to their businesses. From the responses received there are some dominant emerging patterns on how participation in GAP has helped the business leader navigate and deal with the crisis. Many of the responders had to introduce changes in their business during and after lockdown. Some had to deal with the collapse of business sectors where social distancing rules did not allow for the continuation of their activities/services, while others identified opportunities to develop products/services which were in demand during the pandemic (like PPE or sanitising equipment); a significant proportion experienced a drop in their turnovers.

Some interviewees from the earliest cohorts suggested that the GAP programme has helped grow the company to such an extent that they had capability to deal with the crisis. One participant said ”GAP changed my outlook of the company and has made the business much more forward-looking and increased the ambitions of the company to grow and develop the business. The evidence of this is shown with our improved market share within the UK, in particular in the number of longer-term projects which were secured over the last 2 years and which have provided a substantial order book with 50% of our turnover already in place prior to COVID 19 pandemic crisis”.

All the interviewees highlighted that GAP helped them to think strategically. It gave them ”An awareness of the benefits of Strategic Thought time – step away from the front line for a bit and give your team the space to grow”. The strategic thinking was achieved from the business planning tools that they were taught. Participants remarked that “the business planning tools taught on GAP would certainly provide a foundation to ground a business during a crisis and place to start when coming out of the crisis

All the interviewees referred to the support network of ‘friendly advisors’ from their cohort which helped them share their concerns and get advice. “There are some very smart and likable GAP alumni that I reach out in my network. I fear I can’t give them as much as they generously give me, apart from keeping up their morale”.

Finally, some of the interviewees referred to the forward looking – growth philosophy embedded to them by GAP - “Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture rather than get buried in the week to week detail. Planning next year from a vantage point. Knowing there's a support system of sorts there. Remembering it's a journey not overnight win’ and ‘It has kept me focused on the bigger picture and ensured I made difficult decisions early”.