Future Fifty: empowering future unicorns
About Future Fifty
Future Fifty is a prestigious programme for 50 leading late-stage UK tech companies, with approximately 25 new businesses selected to join each year. Run by TechNation and now entering its eighth year, it was launched in December 2013 by George Osbourne at the London Stock Exchange to make it as easy as possible for the world’s fastest growing companies to list in the UK and to showcase the UK’s leading late stage digital businesses.
We spoke to Parveen Dhanda, Head of Growth Programmes at Tech Nation, previously Programme Lead for Future Fifty. With a wealth of experience in supporting innovative ventures, Parveen shared some fascinating insights on how programmes like Future Fifty can help future unicorns.
You’ve built an incredible network of over 100 alumni, including Deliveroo and Skyscanner — does this track record make it easier to build awareness and attract companies to your programme?
Definitely. Having household names like JustEat, Funding Circle and Farfetch has really helped build the profile of our programme, because people are familiar with their growth trajectory and success. As a result, other people want to be part of that same network and to have the accolade of being recognised as a Future Fifty company.
And when a company applies, what does the application process look like?
We bring on 25 each year and the programme runs for approximately two years. The reason it’s 25 and not 50 companies in a cohort is that what we’ve found there aren’t enough companies out there that meet our criteria. This is due to the fact that our criteria is evolving over time — it has to because the quality of application has increased over the years too. It shows that the ecosystem and support for early stage companies is working.
What do you look for when judging which companies should join the programme?
At this stage, it is more about the company itself rather than the founder. We are looking for companies that have a minimum of £5 million in
revenues or have raised a minimum of Series B in funding and can prove 50% year-on-year growth. They need to demonstrate ambition and the extent to which they are are making a dent in their market via their growth trajectory. If a company can show that they are influencing their sector and stealing market share from the incumbents then we want to speak to them.
In terms of the founders themselves, above all else we look for passion. Can they demonstrate a passion for their company, for their sector and for the UK
ecosystem as a whole? Passion and ambition is so important to running a successful business, from motivating employees to convincing funders to invest. When people see that you’re truly passionate and believe in what you are doing, it becomes a lot easier for them to come on board with your vision.
How do you define success for your companies?
For us we break success for our companies down into three main areas: job creation, creating economic wealth (revenues), and IPOs and M&A.
You’re the only digital tech network in Europe, what kind of tailored support do you provide your attendees once they’re accepted into the programme?
Each of our attendees will have different challenges and needs, but also share in experience very fastpaced growth because they’re operating within digital tech. We assess the individual challenges that the companies have outlined in their applications and learn more about them during the onboarding process, so that we can effectively tailor support to their needs. There are four main support pillars to our programme:
Peer-to-peer networks: C-Suite roundtables
The C-suites roundtables allow C-suite execs to get together every quarter to bounce ideas around, raise challenges, and discuss potential partnerships. There is tremendous value in being able to talk openly to someone who has gone through or is going through a similar experience to yourself, so the feedback from these roundtables has been very positive. Participants really value the fact that they are with a group of companies in the same sector as they are all facing similar challenges to one another.
Masterclasses: workshops led by global experts
The masterclasses consist of workshops and events based around typical challenges that our companies are currently going through or that they may experience in the future. For example, one of the masterclasses was based around IPOs and featured the chairman of Funding Circle to share insights on how they found the process and any learnings that may be valuable for our participants to hear.
Access to government: exclusive ministerial roundtables
With Future Fifty being partially government backed, we also host round tables where entrepreneurs can raise key concerns with ministers and secretaries of state. It’s great for our companies to get this facetime with key policy influencers and start to build relationships because they may become very important down the line.
Tech Nation Visa: access to a dedicated Tech Nation Visa team
Finally we have the Tech Nation visa support team which is on hand to advise our companies when it comes to seeking visas for employees and expanding abroad. Again, like most of our other tailored support pillars, it’s very practical support because we know that a lot of our companies will have plans for international expansion, if they haven’t done so already.
Of all the different support mechanisms that you provide in your program, what have you heard back as being the most valuable of these?
We’ve always had excellent feedback from the peer to peer networking sessions for the reasons I mentioned — it’s not often you have the opportunity to speak to such a range of C suite execs who have faced similar challenges themselves and therefore learn from their mistakes and successes. More broadly, we’ve heard that the Future Fifty accolade in itself has massively helped our attendees with recruitment and investment.
Looking at the 5 unicorn companies that have attended your program – what did they have in common that set them up for such success?
It boils down to two main areas, skillset and mindset:
Skillset: raise smart
In terms of skills, the most successful companies have the ability to fundraise. And just as important, an ability to know where to spend the money once
they’ve completed the deal. Successful companies have a pretty clear idea of what they need to do in order to scale and they use their funding wisely in order to do this, whether that be for hiring an experienced C-suite team, or setting up infrastructure for international expansion.
Mindset: shared ambition
The most successful companies have a forward thinking, humble CEO who has a strong awareness of their own ability. They need to know when to trust
their own judgement and when to defer to someone who is more versed in that area — a leader who thinks they’re an expert in everything is very unlikely to succeed.
Of course the founder and CEO have a huge part to play in setting the tone for the rest of the company, but it’s equally, if not more critical to have an ambitious and focussed mindset across the organisation. Every team member needs to buy into the vision of the business and be prepared to work hard to manifest it.
Along with ambition, the most successful companies will also have focus, recognizing the most important metric to judge themselves on and putting all of their effort and energy into exceeding it. This is really what separates the winners from everyone else. It’s so easy to get distracted, especially when the company has had some early successes because suddenly there are so many doors open to them. But it’s the companies that can stick to their guns and maintain focus on their north star metric that will thrive.
Is reaching Unicorn status a specific goal for a lot of companies?
Reaching unicorn status isn’t a goal for everyone — it depends on the mission of the company. But it can be a very useful accolade from a media perspective, and, for companies that are fundraising heavily, it might help their pitch.
How do you see the role of accelerators developing in the future?
The ecosystem is more developed now and this allows for more specialisation. Accelerators will focus on specific sectors, which we have done at Tech Nation with fintech, AI and cyber. I think there will be more collaboration and partnerships with other accelerators across the globe, as this will make it easier for accelerator attendees to expand their operations overseas.
For the future of our own programme, we’ll be focussing on the international side, working closely with the Department for International Trade and developing our network globally. We’re also putting more emphasis on the well-being and mental health of leadership teams. The pressures of founding and/ or running a company can be immense, especially when the funding actually comes in, because now the company has investors to answer to. And we are seeing the number of first time founders increase significantly this past year so these people find themselves in uncharted territory and can easily become overwhelmed. That’s why we have set up the peer-to-peer support network, allowing C-suite execs to lean in and ask for support from peers who know exactly what they are going through.
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