A scaleup by any other name would grow as fast… or would it?

Mark Mann
April 24, 2019

Across Canada’s tech and policy ecosystems, an emerging emphasis on the need to improve how we grow domestic scaleups has lately taken hold. In this issue, we’ve assembled a package of stories that address some of the key questions surrounding this economic priority: how to create scaleups (see Lindsay Borthwick’s story on Scale Up Atlantic Canada), how to finance scaleups (see Mark Lowey’s conversations with experts and stakeholders), and how to evaluate federal scaling supports (see my story on a novel research partnership at the Munk School).

But even as the discourse around scaleups intensifies, the way we use the term is growing more ambiguous. What do we really mean when we talk about scaleups? At the Drive Conference in February, I spoke about this question with Lazaridis Institute research director Nicole Coviello, who commented that many have been using the word too carelessly. Her point: “Growing is not scaling.”

The Lazaridis Institute defines scaling as sudden, explosive growth, such as jumping from 20 to 100 employees or quickly going international. The OECD defines a high-growth company as growing 20% per annum over three years. Charles Plant at the Impact Centre defines a scaleup as any company with over $10 million in capital. David Wolfe at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy says it's any company with revenue over $10 million.   

Clearly, we need to continue debating this question in order to resolve what researcher Steven Denney calls the “conceptual fuzziness” surrounding scaleups. Because when we over-extend the definition, we risk diluting the programs meant to support the fast-growing firms that will drive Canada’s new economy.


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