A SCOTTISH scale-up programme supported by entrepreneurs including Sir Tom Hunter is inviting new applicants after the forecasts of its first cohort of businesses beat the official definition for high-growth firms.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – the forum of 34 countries set up in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade – defines a high-growth business as one that grows either its employees or turnover by an average of more than 20 per cent a year for three consecutive years.

The 19 businesses completing the first Growth Advantage Programme at Strathclyde Business School projected average annualised employment growth of 26.6 per cent and sales growth of 28.5 per over the next three years.

The ten-month programme, which is part-funded by Santander and is the only one of its kind currently available across Scotland, is specifically aimed at existing businesses with a minimum £1 million turnover and ambitious growth plans.

“Scale-ups are existing businesses of a certain size with a minimum of ten people who are growing,” explained programme director and former chief executive of Scottish business network The Entrepreneurial Exchange, John Anderson. “They are not unicorns. It’s about real businesses that are going to the next level. The first cohort were guinea pigs because it was a pilot programme, so it was about having quite high hopes. But I was blown away by the results.”

The businesses taking part included Staffinders, one of the Scotland’s oldest recruitment agencies and John White & Son, the weighing equipment business founded in 1715.

During the course of the programme, the businesses saw their combined headcount grow 10 per cent to 434, while sales grew 13 per cent to £47.3m. In the next three years, the businesses expect employment to rise 103 per cent to 876 and sales to increase 113 per cent to £100.6m.

The Growth Advantage Programme is delivered by Strathclyde University’s Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and includes presentations from leading entrepreneurs and experts including Sir Tom Hunter and Bill Aulet, the Boston-based entrepreneur and educator.

“It provides a unique opportunity for the leaders of growth-oriented small and medium businesses in Scotland to take a step back from the daily demands of scaling their business to develop a robust strategy for growth – combined with a practical action plan to deliver that growth,” Mr Anderson said.

The deadline for applications to the next programme is noon on 31 May 2016.