MRU’s Growth Compass publishes findings on the role scale-up programs play in developing scale-up leaders

Sept. 15, 2021

Mount Royal University’s Growth Compass, with support from Alberta Innovates, has published findings from in-depth interviews with graduates of leading global scale-up programs.

Leading to Scale examines the motivations of leaders who choose to participate in scale-up programs, the knowledge they mobilize as a result of their attendance, and the transitions they accomplish in their leadership styles.

“While Alberta has one of the highest start-up rates in the world, scale-ups generate the majority of jobs. One of the most important predictors of organizational growth is ambition or willingness of the business leader to grow, followed by their capacity to champion strategic and innovative change,” said Simon Raby, Ph.D, Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship and Principal Investigator for the study.

Terry Rachwalski, Executive Director Accelerators at Alberta Innovates said “Alberta, like Canada, has a scale-up gap. Understanding ‘what works’ in the design and delivery of scale-up programs will lead to better innovation and growth outcomes for Alberta companies with ambitions for growth, and this all helps to grow the economy.”

The study reveals that scale-up programming supports leaders in the necessary transition from tactical specialists to strategic leaders. Scale-up curriculum was found to focus on leadership development, along with people and culture, systems and processes and customers and channels. The capabilities and skills required by leaders of high-growth firms was reported to be fundamentally different from those required at a start-up or low growth phase:

“I went for [the program] … because I have the skills and the knowledge to do small business. But going big quickly, it’s a different skill set … the difference between running a normal business and running a scaleup business is massive,” reported one research participant.

Scale-up programs are now available worldwide, including the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Scotland, and Ireland. Programs are supported by large companies (e.g., Goldman Sachs ‘10,000 Small Businesses’ program), by government agencies (e.g., Entrepreneurial Scotland's ‘Scale Up Scotland’ program; Business Development Bank of Canada’s ‘Growth Driver’ program) and philanthropic endeavours (e.g., Lazaridis’ ‘Scale-up Program’).

When asked about the impact of COVID on delivery, Raby said “a number of scale-up programs halted their operations in 2020 as COVID-19 hampered in-person delivery. Due to the importance of cohort relationship building, while online programming has proven a success in some cases, it is likely that future scale-up programming will need to adopt a blended delivery approach.”

The full report titled Leading to Scale: The Design, Delivery and Impact of SME Leadership Development Programs can be downloaded from

Growth Compass is a strategic initiative of Mount Royal University’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Peter Glenn, Senior Media Relations Officer