The economic impact of high growth start-ups: understanding the challenge for policy in the UK

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Objectives The creation of more high-growth firms continues to be a key component of enterprise policy throughout the countries of the OECD. In the UK the developing enterprise policy framework highlights the importance of supporting businesses with growth potential. The difficulty, of course, is the ability of those delivering business support policies to accurately identify those businesses, especially at start-up, which will benefit from interventions and experiences an enhanced growth performance. This paper has a core objective of presenting new data on the number of high growth firms in the UK and providing an assessment of their economic significance.
Approach This paper uses a specially created longitudinal firm-level database based on the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) held by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) for all private sector businesses in the UK for the period 1997-2008 to investigate the share of high-growth firms (including a sub-set of start-up more commonly referred to as gazelles) in successive cohorts of start-ups. We apply OECD definitions of high growth and gazelles to this database and are able to quantify for the first time their number (disaggregated by sector, region, size) and importance (employment and sales).
Prior Work However, what is lacking at the core of this policy focus is any comprehensive statistical analysis of the scale and nature of high-growth firms in cohorts of new and established businesses. The evidence base in response to the question “Why do high-growth firms matter?” is surprisingly weak. Important work in this area has been initiated by Bartelsman et al., (2003),Hoffman and Jünge (2006) and Henreksen and Johansson (2009) but to date work in the UK has been limited (BERR, 2008b).
Results We report that there are ~11,500 high growth firms in the UK in both 2005 and 2008. The share of high growth start-ups in the UK in 2005 (6.3%) was, contrary to the widely held perception in policy circles, higher than in the United States (5.2%). Of particular interest in the analysis are the growth trajectories (pattern of growth) of these firms as well as the extent to which they are restricted to technology-based or knowledge-based sectors.
Implications and Value Using hitherto unused population data for the first time we have answered a fundamental research and policy question on the number and scale of high growth firms in the UK. We draw the conclusion that this ‘rare’ event does not readily lend itself to policy intervention on the grounds that the significant effort needed to identify such businesses ex ante would appear unjustified even if it was possible.

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Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Event32nd Annual Conference of the Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship Annual Conference - Liverpool, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Nov 20096 Nov 2009


Conference32nd Annual Conference of the Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship Annual Conference
Abbreviated title2009 ISBE
CountryUnited Kingdom

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