EVERY business has something to learn: if companies want to grow, then getting expert advice and help is critical to the process. When this kind of support is tailored to the needs of your own sector, it becomes even more valuable. And if it also comes at no cost to you, then that makes it a proposition any enterprise would be foolish to turn down.

Elevator has a strong and respected history in the provision of these so-called accelerator programmes. A social enterprise, it is the biggest private sector business support organisation in Scotland. The organisation employs some 100 people, assists in the region of 3500 entrepreneurs every year and generates millions of pounds for the economy. It has delivered more than 40 accelerators to businesses in the last seven years, making it the largest and most experienced deliverer of these initiatives in the country. One of the most appealing things about its programmes is that they are specifically designed for the cohort taking them.

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“People ask if we are developing the companies or the individuals within them, and the answer is that we do a bit of both”, says Andy Campbell, Elevator’s Commercial Director. Karen Clark, its Operations Manager Programmes and Events, says that assisting entrepreneurs to scale their businesses is important for the whole Scottish economy.

“It’s about encouraging them. By doing that, we help them to be the best they can be. “They can then start to employ people, making local economies more profitable and more sustainable. It’s about accelerating them, their learning, their networks and their ambitions.”

Andy Campbell says that the accelerators provide all the “tools and fuel” to allow the companies taking part to grow. “We get them to look at their business and at the products and services that they are seeking to create. Most importantly, we get them to really understand who their customers might be. They might come in with great ideas but have not really thought about that. We get them to consider if there’s a need – or, more importantly, a want – in the marketplace.

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“We provide them with that critical thinking and that challenge. That encourages them to think about their business in a much more granular way than perhaps they’ve been able to in the past. They can also take a step back and look at the key things they need to put in place to really go after opportunities.”

The outcome, he adds, is that the programme helps participant companies with both their momentum and direction of travel. He talks of the accelerators taking a concept to a “point of failure” – if it doesn’t work, then it is better that it happens on the programme rather than in the real world. The courses are tailored for participants and work in slightly different ways. The 12-week main Elevator Accelerator programme, for instance, is custom designed to help early-stage business owners and teams keen to fast track their businesses. It uses experienced mentors to help equip entrepreneurs with the skills, networks and knowledge needed to carry their idea from concept right through to market readiness.

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Another programme, the eightweek-long Academic Accelerator, runs through the summer months. It builds the entrepreneurial talent of the future by partnering with the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, and the West of Scotland. This programme acts as a launch pad for those who have their own ideas and vision but need support in making the business case to take them forward. The Famous Grouse Ideas Centre (FGIC) Accelerator is delivered in partnership with Perth and Kinross Council and specialises in support for ambitious design and creative businesses looking to flourish in one of Scotland’s fastest growing sectors. How are the programmes delivered?

“Before the pandemic, they were hosted in our centres for entrepreneurship in a workshop and coaching environment”, explains Karen Clark. “Then we moved online, as many businesses have had to do. “However, we still retain the coaching and a one-to-one approach, and we are still running the workshops.”

Andy explains that the main accelerator programme is broken down into three parts. “The first is discovery, the second is development and the third is delivery. In the discovery phase, companies go out and really understand what the market opportunities might be. They will carry out a lot of research about the pain points customers might have. The development phase involves taking their understanding and then applying it to the business – it’s about starting to look at how they can evolve and building their proposition.

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"The final stage of delivery means looking at how they take their products or services to market. Is it sales and marketing or investment they need? What do they need to do to develop their business further? Sector specific accelerator programmes include a 16-week low carbon and sustainable mobility initiative currently being run in Dundee. Another is a company creation programme of the same length based in Aberdeen and focused on energy. The autumn will see a company creation programme based on aerospace.

“That’s unique in Scotland”, says Andy Campbell. “And we provide limitless aftercare with our accelerators so we can ensure we support companies through all stages of their business. “The programmes are all free at the point of use and the value that people get from the curriculum is really quite staggering. They also have access to experts, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. All in all, the benefits really are quite considerable.”

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This article was brought to you in association with Elevator UK