The growth dynamics of technology-based firms in Scotland

Brown, Ross and Hart, Mark and Mason, Colin and Richmond, Kenny (2012) The growth dynamics of technology-based firms in Scotland. Fraser of Allander Economic Commentary, 36 (1). pp. 56-65. ISSN 2046-5378

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In recent years high growth firms (HGFs) undertaking rapid, transformative growth, have been identified as important contributors to economic growth (Acs et al, 2008; Anyadike-Danes et al, 2009; OECD, 2010). For a wide variety of reasons, notably their contribution to employment growth, high export intensity, strong contribution to productivity growth and innovation, HGFs have been hailed as vital drivers of economic competitiveness (Henrekson and Johansson, 2010). As a consequence, these firms (often referred to as 'gazelles'), have been accorded a central role in many economic development strategies at both national and regional levels, especially during a time of economic austerity where employment growth has been an overriding policy goal for many governments (BERR, 2008; NESTA, 2011; OECD, 2010; Scottish Enterprise, 2011). Yet despite the strong policy focus on the promotion of HGFs in recent times, much remains unknown about these organisations and how best to support them (Henrekson and Johansson, 2010; Anyadike-Danes et al, 2012; Mason and Brown, forthcoming). Scottish Enterprise recently commissioned research on Scotland’s population of HGFs (Mason and Brown, 2010). This was the first comprehensive analysis of these firms ever conducted in Scotland and some of the findings were published in this journal (Brown and Mason, 2010). One of the most significant conclusions from this study was that they are extremely heterogeneous in terms of their age, size, ownership and industry sector. Few fit the stereotypical ‘gazelle’ definition which refers to young high growth firms that are less than five years old. The vast majority are over 10 years old, with some significantly older (Mason and Brown, 2010). Furthermore, only a relatively small proportion of these firms are in high-tech areas of the economy. According to some scholars, there is ‘no evidence that Gazelles are overrepresented in high- technology industries’ (Henrekson and Johansson, 2010, p.240). Despite their strong prioritisation by policy makers, the reality is that the representation of technology based firms (TBFs) in the population of HGFs is roughly on a par with their proportion in the economy (Mason and Brown, forthcoming). In view of these twin priorities of promoting high growth in general and high tech firms in particular, Scottish Enterprise commissioned further research to explore HGFs, especially in high tech areas of the economy. The objectives of this paper are twofold: to provide an update on the level of HGFs in Scotland and to assess the population of TBFs in Scotland. The paper proceeds as follows. First, the terms high growth and technology-based enterprises are defined. Second, the methodology is outlined. Third, the aggregate evidence on the levels of HGFs in Scotland is presented. Fourth, the population of TBFs in Scotland, including analysis of high growth TBFs is profiled. Fifth, some of the key characteristics of high growth TBFs in Scotland are examined. Sixth, some of features of these firms which were captured during the qualitative part of this research process are summarised. The paper finishes with some brief conclusions and issues for further research.