London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, both in terms of its residents and businesses. The mayor is committed to making it a city for all Londoners and said in his original manifesto that he wanted to be the ‘most business-friendly mayor yet’. There are more than a million SMEs – 99.8% of these are micro-businesses and collectively these companies account for half of the capital’s jobs.
But is its business support provision fit for purpose? What more can be done to help these companies survive and thrive in the volatile economic period we find ourselves in? Do some companies still struggle to find the support they need?
These were just some of the questions we sought to explore when did the business support mapping research for the London Growth Hub in the Summer of 2019. This article presents four of the key gaps uncovered through our work.
The 4 gaps in London’s Business Support Landscape
- More attention is needed for ‘regular’ businesses
It seems that “regular” business owners might be neglected and that they would benefit from additional business support. Current business provision is often targeted more towards high growth tech startups, leaving those who want to pursue a “more traditional” business path at risk of being left behind. It would be beneficial to support such businesses with digitisation, talent, growth and marketing challenges. A lot of such ‘regular’ businesses are located on High Streets. They are vital to local prosperity. Small retailers and food businesses, in particular, need support to survive and thrive.
- Some communities are not adequately served
Whilst some argue that mainstream support providers are best placed to support all communities without the need for targeted provision, most agree that more targeted support is needed especially for women-owned, BAME-owned and disabled-owned businesses (including people with neurodiverse conditions).
- More support with access to finance is wanted
Even with the plethora of financial options available for London’s SMEs, scarcity of funding remains a constant challenge. Entrepreneurs and business owners are confused as to what grant funding they are eligible for and what they can and can’t have access to. In the absence of clear and simple advice and support, it is often difficult for business owners to correctly apply for loans or grants. This, paired with a strong fear of rejection and the time-consuming nature of this process, means that many founders and businesses fail to unlock vital funding they require.
- There is not enough specialist guidance and support on how to grow
Generic ‘one-size-fits-all’ support does not meet the needs of those experiencing growth sufficiently. What is required is more bespoke, sector-specific support so as to meet the needs of each different industry. Since scaling relies so heavily on leadership, infrastructure, contacts and networking, solutions such as industry-specific mentoring, acceleration activities and investment brokerage – activities similar to those delivered by the CASTS programme are needed.
There is no shortage of business support for those starting their venture – but for those scaling up and growing, the challenge remains daunting given the lack of specialist provision available.
By Alison Partridge, Head of Strategy, Capital Enterprise