The private and public sector can play a crucial role in supporting the business environment as a whole as well as specific initiatives for fast-growing firms. Every scale-up we have talked to during interview sessions identified a series of growing pains they experienced when rapidly expanding their operations.
In this chapter we look at private and public initiatives supporting the fast-growing innovation sector. This list covers some of the tools helping entrepreneurs in finding the right employees, building leadership capability, accessing new markets and finance.
In the V4 Startup Survey we have dedicated a chapter to human resources. The situation on the Slovak labour market was already alarming to them. In 2016, Slovakia has reached the lowest un- employment rate in seven years and now has the highest number of job offers available. The labour market has changed in the previous months and it shows signs of overheating. On the one hand there are the highest number of offers, while on the other the unemployment rate is falling and there are a smaller number of available candidates. The ratio between job offers and available candidates is leaning towards more offers and this will be worsen in the future. This trend is favorable to candidates looking for a new position, since they can choose from more possibilities and it is much easier to negotiate an offer. For companies looking for new employees this situation gets more complicated. This means more competition among employers, which is most visible among highly-skilled professions. In the high value-added fields there is fierce competition for the best talent.
The Slovak scale-ups we have interviewed decided to hire less skilled employees and train them in-house to grow with the company. However, for some of the advanced tasks they required talent and expertise that was harder to find on the market. Many see the opportunity of opening the hiring policy to potential employees outside the European Union.
The lack of skills could be solved in the short-term with public and private initiatives matching and training potential employees to work for a scale- up. Examples from such initiatives from across the world:
In Slovakia there are also some interesting pro- grams on building entrepreneurial and digital skills. Google launched Digital Garage in 2016, which aims to train people with a range of digital skills for free online. This initiative trained over 16,000 Slovaks in the first 6 months. Among other Slovak initiatives are the online and offline course in programming, design, web and app development by Learn2Code. Rozbehni sa aims at developing entrepreneurial skills and testing out ideas in a out-of-the-box solution. The initiative Aj ty v IT aims at a female audience, attracting girls at high-school to a career in IT fields.
Looking at the long-term trends and ranking of Slovakia in the international OECD PISA ranking  the education sector and preparation of the younger generation for the jobs and opportunities of the 21st century would require evidence-based decisions on effective programs and a critical set of skills required for students, future employees and entrepreneurs. Evaluation of the long-term strategies is beyond the scope of this report, but the authors wanted to stress its importance for the long-term sustainability of the Slovak economy.
Leaders of fast-growing companies often need to cope with changing conditions and may need to use external insights, knowledge and expertise to take their company to the next level. A very important aspect of growth is a skilled and talented pool of employees who are willing to learn or already have professional experience in rapidly growing businesses.
There is also a strong case for the role model effect, highlighting entrepreneurs who “made it big” and are willing to share and exchange knowledge with others, provide vital mentoring and advice to ‘first-timers’, helping them move forward.
BrainTrust is an informal association of top Slovak tech CEOs meeting every 6–8 weeks facilitating the sharing of knowledge and insights in building a global innovative company in Slovakia.
The motivation behind starting this platform was the first presidential trip to the US, where many entrepreneurs who accompanied the Slovak president talked in an informal and friendly atmosphere, but they did not go into detail on their business experiences. The founder of BrainTrust Marián Gazdík says: “After talking to key players of the ecosystem, such as Rasťo Kulich and Ken Ryan, we have decided to change this and encourage sharing of ideas, knowledge and insights, which is common in other parts of the world.”
The goal of BrainTrust is simple – to implement a culture of sharing knowledge and help while building world-class companies.
Each session has three parts, starting with a presentation on a selected topic about scaling a business delivered by one of the members, then a debate with members and then selecting a major challenge within these topics and working on them in smaller workshops and then a presentation of the workshop outcomes.
Members go through a rigorous selection process. One of the main criteria is that they need to be founders or CEOs of significant companies that have a clear vision and path to become global players. Also very important is the strong personal integrity of the CEO.
Similar to the Slovak BrainTrust is the UK ELITE programme which is designed to help prepare UK private companies for their next stage of growth. The three part service offers education, business support in organizational and cultur al change, mentoring, building relations with corporate partners and access to private equity, institutional investors and international markets delivered in collaboration with Imperial College Business School.
One of the key aspects of programs like these is a creation of a mentor exchange tailored to the needs of high-growth companies.
UK’s GrowthAccelerator is a government-backed service that provides a comprehensive package of business support to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) with the potential for achieving high- growth in these SMEs. It is delivered by a consortium of private sector companies led by Grant Thornton, and provides expert business coaching which is tailored to addressing each business’s needs. The coaching offer is split into three main strands: access to finance, growth through innovation and business development. Assisted companies can also access up to £2,000 of matched funding for leadership and management training for each senior manager. 14,000 businesses in the UK have been supported by the service since it was launched in 2012. These businesses have added 36,000 jobs and £1.5 billion of gross value-added (GVA) growth. This is an average annual increase of 36 per cent in employment and 32 per cent in GVA. Businesses have also been successful in raising finance, with £103 million raised in total.
Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is an investment to help entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunity by providing greater access to education, capital and business support services. With 33 sites across the United States and Unit- ed Kingdom, 10,000 Small Businesses have served over 7,700 small business owners. The program
has reached businesses from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C, and has resulted in immediate and sustained business growth for the alumni of the program.
In Slovakia there are private initiatives delivering business education for e-commerce.
Masters Gate is a Czech and Slovak competition for a year-long acceleration program in three categories, from a small growing e-shop to a company ready to scale to new markets. The program offers educational events, mentoring sessions, strategic consulting and marketing tools that aim to encourage entrepreneurship and motivate founders to scale their businesses on national and international markets. The competition is now in its second year and one of its graduates (Dedoles) is featured in this report as a high rising star multi- plying its revenue 25 times since 2013.
Pricemania academy offers complex education for e-commerce entrepreneurs through interactive online and live workshops, mentoring services and consultations with business experts. Since its inception in 2013 they have organized over 100 workshops, 50 one-on-one mentoring sessions training over 800 people. Their satisfaction rate is 99,7%.
This article is brought to you in cooperation with SAPIE.