Michelle Donelan wants the UK to become a 'scale-up powerhouse' - here's how she plans to do it

Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan leaves following the weekly Cabinet meeting in number 10, Downing Street on November 22, 2023 in London, England
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Science, innovation and technology secretary Michelle Donelan has set out plans to make the UK a 'scale-up powerhouse' with a new science and technology focused support service.

In a speech to tech leaders this week, Donelan said she believed that by the 2030s the UK should triple the rate at which it's created new unicorns since 2010.

Donelan said the government also aims to “close the gap” on the US in terms of venture capital funding over the same period, setting ambitious targets for the broader UK tech sector.

"I believe the UK should account for at least 50% of all new unicorns created by Europe as a whole, a true scale-up powerhouse, where opportunity and high skilled jobs fuel economic growth across the country – including outside cities," she said.

"Now my ambition is that the UK should close the gap on the US, matching its current levels of VC investment as a share of GDP by 2030 – about £5 billion per year extra."

To achieve this, Donelan said the government plans to create a new scale-up forum to bring together leading figures from across the UK's science and technology sector, from tech companies and business support organisations to investors and regulators.

"The scale-up forum can and will support the government to double down on its role as an enabler – especially when it comes to providing targeted support to our most promising scale-ups," she said.

"While we have so many statistics about the success stories, what keeps me up at night is thinking about how many innovative start-ups are still waiting at the starting line for that cash injection to fuel their journey,” Donelan added.

“Or the opportunity to access overseas markets to support their growth journey. Or the right skills to help propel these companies to the next level."

As part of this initiative, a new science and tech scale-up service will provide support and advice to 20 promising businesses.

Meanwhile, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will simplify and expand its support for growing businesses, with the aim of reaching a million innovators by the end of the year and halving the average time it takes companies to go from application to receiving grant funding.


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Donelan specifically highlighted the government’s goal of reducing regulatory burdens on high growth tech firms across the country, which has proven to be highly restrictive in recent years.

This will see the development of a regulatory support service designed to help firms navigate rules and regulations.

"No business should be daunted by regulation,” she said. “Our job in government is to ensure regulation provides the clarity and the certainty that businesses in complex science and tech sectors need to navigate and go forward and grow.”

"I want to enable businesses to get their products and services to market faster, more efficiently and without compromising on safety."

According to a report late last year from the Social Market Foundation, scale-ups punch above their weight when it comes to contributing to the UK economy, making up just 1% of SMEs but accounting for 8% of SME employment and 22% of SME turnover.

However, the report warned that the UK is considerably less successful at scaling up small businesses than other nations.

Several key factors contribute to this poor performance, the report found, including skills shortages, access to capital, regulations, planning restrictions on development, and the lack of entrepreneurial culture in business management and across society.

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.