The challenges, opportunities and achievements unlocked at scaleup stage 

Six months on from their induction at DiSH in Manchester, our inaugural Scaleup Programme cohort has graduated. The formal send-off took place in the form of an event comprising networking, panel discussions and a fireside chat at the iconic Barclays Bank HQ in Canary Wharf, situated on Level 30, which offered panoramic views of London.

Our ambition for Scaleup Programme, which is powered by Barclays Eagle Labs, funded by UK government and delivered by Plexal, was to help 25 scaling companies succeed while navigating their rapid growth roadmap. We factored in the complex day-to-day situations that come with scaling up, from encountering an uncertain economic environment to maintaining company culture while increasing headcount.

Welcoming the audience, Emma Marshall, Innovation Ecosystem Lead at Plexal, opened: “Our focus for Scaleup Programme was on content, coaching, community and connections. We selected the key themes most pertinent to scaleup growth including leadership and management, sales and product, finance and fundraising, international expansion and value creation, providing access to experts and each other over the six months. Since September, we worked with 25 scaleups from across the UK with Bright Ascencion in Dundee all the way down to Vault X in Poole.”

Taking to the stage next, Harry Baker, Proposition and Project Manager at Eagle Labs, said: “A massive thanks to Plexal for co-delivering the Scaleup Programme. I’d also like to thank DSIT, our partners from government, for making the time to be here, and see firsthand the impact we’re having. With the Scaleup Programme we want to create lasting relationships, keep talking and learning from each other, get to know the people in this room, connect, introduce and really create value for each other. Be demanding of us at Barclays and Plexal post programme – chances are if we can’t help, we will know someone that can.”

The members of our cohort were not only found nationwide but across a broad range of industries with diverse solutions on offer. From Again, the supply chain infrastructure powering circular packaging, through to Zally, the deeptech company on a mission to understand unique patterns in human activities for authentication of users.

Funding futures – an overview of sector trends

Henry Whorwood,  MD of research and consultancy at Beauhurst, the data company tracking the UK’s economy, was among speakers on the day and explored trends within equity finance for growth.  

  • 5.4 million companies in the UK 
  • 28,000 companies have used equity investment in their growth journey 
  • 72,000 deals completed at a total of £156bn 
  • £256,000 is the median deal size 

Pointing to headline figures he deemed “stark”, Henry noted that recent numbers have declined. The amount invested has fallen to half and the number of deals completed has fallen by a quarter, which he attributed largely to interest rates.

Injecting some cautious optimism into his outlook, Henry reasoned: “We’re back at 2019 levels [and back then] I’d have been saying ‘These are amazing record levels of investment’. And, when you discount the aberrant activity of the immediate post-pandemic period, it’s not as bad as it could be.”

Breaking down the sectors receiving investment, it’s SaaS, AI and cleantech, which have performed particularly well and surpassed fintech, with Henry noting the latter space is at an inflection point. Offering context, Henry added: “The funds doing cleantech deals are a different vintage to the classic funds doing SaaS deals. There’s a lot of heterogeneity – in cleantech for example, there are loads of new funds from a different LP base driving higher levels of activity than in more traditional tech sectors.”

He followed up with something of a wake-up call around support of women-led teams, which are regrettably widely known to receive far less VC backing than those led by men. “In terms of gender, it’s still pretty bleak. The picture is improving over time – but slowly. It’s about 2048 before teams with women in them match [investment received by] all-male teams.”

You can check out more Beauhurst findings here on the company website.

Preparing for challenges and opportunities

Having discussed funding and growth with members and mentors of the Scaleup Programme, Plexal’s Emma Marshall asked how founders can be ready for the road ahead.

Aaron Archer, partner at law firm Cooley, pointed to the fact that startups and scaleups had once been encouraged to push for growth at all costs, then were expected to do a U-turn with cash consolidation in late 2022. As such, his perspective is to prioritise as much intel gathering as possible to be prepared for anything. “For me, it’s getting the data, taking the learnings and moving on that basis,” he said.

Scaleup Programme graduate We Are Fulfilment is disrupting the supply chain industry by focusing on communication and automation. Offering his take, We Are Fulfilment co-founder Trent Peek detailed: “Startups and scaleups have agility, which we have over bigger corporations that can’t move and react to things as fast. One learning we’ve taken over the last two years from accidentally starting a business and needing cash, is at that early point you don’t really need a lot of advice because the person giving you money might be your mum.”

Now that We Are Fulfilment is looking to secure a series A round and has the benefit of advice from a chairman, Trent said he’s come to understand that he and co-founder Richard become increasingly less important at each stage of the journey. 

  • Friends and family round: You receive money from your mum – because she’s your mum 
  • Seed round: A VC or angel may think your business idea is good but they’re investing in you as founders – your energy, ambition, drive and purpose 
  • Series A round: Purpose is still required – however, a demonstrable growth and profit roadmap is essential

Building on Trent’s perspective, Nidhi Satish, Associate at Paladin Capital Group, a cyber investment firm, flagged that the founding team is crucial. “At series A, you’re operating to scale the business model and it’s critical to stay agile at the same time – such as being open to different types of funding, whether that’s crowdsourcing or angel funding,” she said.

Scaleup Programme graduate SatVu was founded to capture high-resolution thermal data from space for a safer and more sustainable earth, using infrared technology to monitor locations on earth in near real-time to measure the impact of human activity. Offering his recommendation, SatVu CEO Anthony Baker said: “You need to look a stage ahead all the time so you can build a business case for the metrics [investors] want to hear. It’s super important to show how you’re going to get there.” 

Milestone moments

Throughout the duration of Scaleup Programme running, we’ve seen new developments across the market. For example, the government has demonstrated an increasing focus on supporting scaleups, as demonstrated with Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan MP, giving her Scaleup Speech at Plexal in January to announce a package of support.

Offering words of encouragement, Saj Huq, CCO and Head of Innovation at Plexal, shared: “What struck me when I first met the cohort was hearing their stories about the amazing things they’d already achieved in the business, without which they wouldn’t have been selected – but also their ambitions, all of which was really humbling.

“Entrepreneurs are at the heart of everything we do at Plexal and we’re optimistic about the UK scaleup agenda for growth. We’ve worked with over 500 companies over the last six years and we’ve seen what a high priority it is to grow this segment of business.”

It’s certainly been a high priority for our scaleups to charge towards continual growth objectives, with some of their achievements since enrolling onto the Scaleup Programme back in September including:

Again partnered with organic food delivery provider Abel and Cole, which is using Again’s innovative CleanCell system. This is offering brands an average of 62% reduction in CO2e emissions compared to regular single-use supply chains. 

Bright Ascension, a space software company providing products and services to support the next generation of space systems and applications, was selected to head onboard and ground software development for the OS2-VOLT mission. The project was designed to evaluate and test radical new real-time techniques and technologies in low Earth orbit. The business also secured £1.5m of bridging funding to complete the development of its next-generation satellite software infrastructure, HELIX.

Cloud 8, a platform with simple set-up and UI enabling SMEs to offer their employees benefits and financial guidance, was acquired by Benefex. Commenting on the deal, Dipa Mistry Kandola, former CEO at Cloud8, said: “Over the last year we have been seeking a new long-term investment partner to take our platform to the next level in its evolutionary journey. We’re delighted that this investment comes from Benefex, a highly respected business that has a strong presence in the employee benefits technology marketplace.” 

Datore, an Analytics-as-a-Service business for the built environment that provides everything needed to start getting value from data for a low fixed monthly cost, was awarded silver in the Ministry of Defence’s Employer Recognition Scheme. Its newest analytics solution was said to be “marking a significant milestone in the data space, as the company aims to help organisations of all sizes, budgets and skill levels harness data like a large enterprise.” This aligned with comments from Michelle Donelan’s Scaleup Speech, in which it was noted that data is a fuel for growth. “Data driven scale-up is one of the keys to success – understanding where your mass market is, what they need and how to engage with them are vital stepping stones for any scaleup,” she said.

Krucial, a digital solutions provider creating access to mission-critical data for the energy industry was named a Wired Trailblazer. Additionally, the business secured a £2.9m investment to accelerate growth in core markets including energy, rail, aquaculture and agriculture in the UK and internationally, and Krucial is raising a pre-series A round.

Mintago, an FCA-regulated company providing a complete and inclusive financial wellbeing solution that equips its users with over 1,000 pieces of educational material, was recognised at the Global Brands Magazine Banking/Finance Awards 2023, winning the title of ‘Fastest Growing Financial Wellbeing Platform.  It was also named winner of ‘Financial Wellbeing Solution Specialists of The Year – UK’ at the IE100 Global Awards 2024.

Raven Controls provides a software solution for the management of venue and event operations, leveraging AI to change the industry and create efficiencies, cut costs and keep people safe, and the business saw its software piloted at the Australian Open. “The introduction of Raven Controls to the event has significantly enhanced the transparency of emerging issues and incidents at our events in real time,” said Lee Ross, Tennis Australia’s Head of Safety, Compliance and Emergency Management. In addition, Raven Controls software has been used at the 6 Nations in a partnership with Scottish Rugby. 

Signumology specialises in creating applications for healthcare organisations, providing robust tools that streamline processes, improve patient care and enhance operational efficiency – a service that hit the milestone for 105,000 individuals supported.

Tembo Money, a digital mortgage business focused on maximising the benefits from intergenerational wealth transfer, made its first acquisition with award-winning lifetime ISA provider Nude. 

Zally was recognised as one of the ten fastest-growing UK startups to watch in 2024 by EU Startups. 

While Scaleup Programme is currently closed, we’re continuing our work to support startups and growth businesses with Barclays Eagle Labs and UK government. If you’re interested in being part of the next Scaleup Programme cohort, you can register your interest here before applications officially open in July.