Scale-ups target US as Brexit dampens appetite for EU expansion

More than half of scale-ups have plans to expand overseas, with Brexit shifting the UK focus away from Europe to the US.

The US has overtaken the EU to become the most popular market scale-ups – early stage, high potential businesses – say they will target for export growth, according to a survey of 500 UK scale-ups by Deloitte. Fifty two per cent of respondents rated the US as their preferred market for overseas expansion, compared to just 21 per cent who say they were targeting the US prior to the EU referendum.

In comparison, just 35 per cent of respondents rated the EU as one of the most attractive markets, compared to 74 per cent before the referendum.

However, the findings suggest that the EU will likely remain an important market for UK business, with respondents rating market size, familiarity and existing networks as key drivers for which markets they choose to export to.

Overall the research finds that almost one-third of scale-ups have already expanded overseas, with a further 51 per cent targeting international growth within the next three years.

David Noon, UK and global Brexit leader for Deloitte, says, ‘Brexit clearly has not diminished the overseas ambition of the UK’s scale-up community. The question now is where do they look for growth and who do they work with to get there.

‘We have seen a significant shift in the markets they are considering. The US, a traditionally strong market operating in the same language as the UK, has seen a surge in interest since the EU referendum.

‘Although the scale-up community has shown some sensitivity to the outcome of the EU referendum, the EU will undoubtedly remain an important market for UK business. The factors identified as main considerations for where to expand, including market size, familiarity and existing networks, are unlikely to change as a result of Brexit. In addition, the depreciation of the British Pound against the Euro has made UK exports more competitive.’

Opportunities for collaboration

The survey findings show scale-ups remain highly self-sufficient, despite acknowledging that collaboration with government, trade associations or corporates could bring benefits such as access to broader networks and unfamiliar markets.

Half of respondents (56 per cent) did not seek any form of public or private support to scale-up overseas. For the rest of the scale-up community who did seek support to access new markets, a combination of UK government, trade associations and large businesses were the most appealing options.

David Sproul, senior partner and chief executive of Deloitte North West Europe says, ‘Innovative scale-ups could provide the impetus that the UK needs to drive growth and boost productivity and it is critical that big businesses and the government work together to help them access the support they need to scale-up at home and abroad. Collaborating with scale-ups can be mutually beneficial: big businesses have strong brands, market access and maturity, while scale-ups have agility, energy and speed to market.’

Despite recognising the benefits, the survey results show a strong perception that collaborating with big business is hard work. Less than ten per cent of respondents were aware of the benefits of collaborating with corporates, whereas 46% cited drawbacks including the desire to retain control of their identity and product and seeing corporates as competitors. Several respondents also expressed frustration that large businesses often expect them to adhere to onerous and expensive processes.

Sproul says, ‘The UK has the opportunity to be a world leader in technology and innovation. However, corporates have traditionally been slow to adopt innovation. To remain competitive, this needs to change.

‘Two-thirds of scale-ups are already investing in innovative technologies to scale their business, such as analytics and artificial intelligence. Collaboration with scale-ups can help big businesses experiment with innovation in a low cost, low risk way. Likewise, corporates can help scale-ups to develop their products and establish themselves in their markets more quickly than they could alone.’

Further reading on scale-ups

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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