In Chinese tradition, the number 48 means ‘determined to prosper’, or simply ‘prosperity’, which is good for business. It is certainly an auspicious number for Bradford, which is home to exactly 48 companies defined as scaleups. These are enterprises with average annual growth in employees or turnover greater than 20 per cent per annum over a three-year period and with more than 10 employees at the beginning of the period.
Scaleups matter because they are productive, they create lots of high quality jobs, they are innovative and international, they can be found across all sectors and they tend to be diverse. In Bradford, they account for combined turnover of £1bn and together employ 8,000 people. For a district with a £10bn economy, you can see just how important their contribution is.
According to the ScaleUp Institute, they include law firm Schofield Sweeney (turnover up 31 per cent), lift manufacturer Shorts (up 26 per cent), caterer Delifresh (up 24 per cent), packaging solutions provider Mailway (up 33 per cent), retail interiors specialist Cardinal (up 41 per cent) and wool dyers Luxury Yarns International (up a whopping 84 per cent). I could go on, but you get the message.
These firms are vital parts of our district economy, now and in the future. Many of them have been at it a long time. These are no Johnny-come-latelys: success in business does not come overnight and requires many years of hard graft, commitment and not a few sacrifices. Indeed, the Institute has found the majority of England’s 4,420 scaleups are more than 20 years old and the ones most likely to be growing at the fastest rate at aged between 10-15 years old. In other words, these are mature, grown-up businesses; reflective in many ways of their directors, whose average age is 54.
A question we’ve been considering at the Bradford Economic Partnership is how to prime the next generation of scaleups. Among the district’s 15,000-plus businesses will be a good number on the verge of strong growth in turnover or headcount that could propel them into hallowed scaleup territory. These might be businesses run by 34 year-olds or 44 year-olds whose stars are starting to align, whether in product development, market readiness or customer growth. They could soon be joining that exclusive club.
We must do all we can to help these firms and their directors because growth can be hard to manage. We need to make sure they have access to a talented workforce with relevant skills; that business leaders can tap into local peer-to-peer support networks and impactful leadership programmes; that companies can easily open up new markets, whether they are public sector, corporate or overseas; that fast-growing enterprises can attract appropriate growth capital; and that businesses have the space to grow, which means well-invested infrastructure (including a Northern Powerhouse Rail station for Bradford, if you’re reading this at the Treasury or Department for Transport).
The beginning of any journey is important and, according to Barclays, Bradford is the best place for starting a business in the UK. The lender analysed a range of factors and concluded that Bradford has the best business rate relief, road infrastructure, number of job vacancies, cost of commercial rent, and business survival rate. London was a lowly 12th in the list. Leicester and Coventry also fared well, suggesting that 21st century growth will come from previously overlooked regional cities, especially those with strong connectivity.
I’m an optimist and I believe that many of our ambitious start-ups in Bradford can go on to become scaleups in the next decade or two, if we can give them the right support. Our region is already faring well for scaleups. The institute’s 2018 index shows that the Leeds City Region has the highest number of visible scaleups in England, outside the South East. We can build on that and I look to our strong base of family businesses and manufacturing firms to step up and create new wealth and prosperity. We know that 48 is a lucky number for the Chinese. So let’s see how many noughts we can add to it in Bradford.
• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club