Finding staff and funding are top challenges for European scale-ups

International | Surveys

Recruiting and retaining talented staff and securing external finances are the two biggest headaches faced by European scale-ups, according to new research.

A report published jointly today by Vlerick Business School and also reveals that boards with external investors are much more professional and have a greater ability to grow.

The study was conducted by a trio of Vlerick experts – Professor of Entrepreneurship Veroniek Collewaert, Professor of Finance Sophie Manigart and researcher Dr Thomas Standaert – on behalf of

They studied 80,000 European scale-ups from eight European countries – Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK – all of which were established between 2007 and 2013, and had raised at least $1m from investors or seen annual of at least 20% per year for three years.

In addition, 124 of these scale-ups were also questioned about their management practices by the researchers to understand the main challenges for European scale-ups.

The researchers found only 40% of scale-ups recruit staff from abroad, and only 25% of scale-ups use recruitment agencies or headhunters to attract the right talent for their companies.

Also, only 36% of scale-ups have an onboarding process for new employees.

The researchers state that it is mainly scale-ups with external funding that are much further ahead in terms of HR and would also benefit greatly from the development of a professional HR policy.

The researchers also found that though scale-ups are perceived to be highly innovative and tech-savvy companies, this is not predominantly the case.

In fact, only one in four scale-ups indicated they had created a product or service that is new on a global scale, while around one in three even state they have created nothing new at all.

Respondents to the study also stated three other key challenges for scale-ups in their attempts to grow; access to the market, leadership and infrastructure.

Professor Veroniek Collewaert said: “Our research succeeded in both debunking and confirming a number of common views on scale-ups.

“They are not all innovative tech companies. Not all of them have raised external financing.

“Our study does confirm the intuitive view though that finding and keeping enough high-quality employees is the number one growing pain.

“Knowing this, however, it is painstaking to see how relatively little effort is being put in developing more professional HR practices related to recruitment and retention.”

The researchers also found that almost 40% of the scale-ups only use their own resources to finance their growth, meaning they are either not open to external financing or unable raise it.

Only 30% of the scale-ups in the study had already raised money from external equity investors, despite this method massively increasing the professionalism of scale-ups.

Jürgen Ingels, founder of said: “External financing is an important factor for increasing professionalism and growth, however this proves one of the biggest challenges for scale-ups.

“High-quality networking and matchmaking are therefore extremely important.

“This report shows the need for time squeezing and also the reason for our organisation’s existence.

“If you aim to grow, seek out relevant investors and go for smart money, let them pave the way to your success.”

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