Tech start-ups
The Scale Up Institute hopes to propel start-ups to billion dollar companies Getty

Other than Mark Carney, it's difficult to think of a Canadian export that has a significant bearing on UK businesses, jobs and economy. The Bank of England nabbed the Canadian from the same post at his native land's central bank in 2013 to help steer the country clear of stagnation.

Now a new Canadian-inspired product is in town with the ambition of transforming the UK's start-ups into billion-dollar giants. Entrepreneurs in hubs like London's Tech City might look across the Atlantic to the United States and its Bay area breeding ground for inspiration, but new accelerator The Scale Up Institute believes they should also look to Commonwealth cousins in Canada.

Last year, Canadian venture capital investments hit a 10-year high with a total of 536 deals totalling $2.3bn. More than half of this – a cool $1.25bn – was poured into the Province of Ontario, which with more than 20,000 tech companies is the second-largest tech cluster in North America after California.

Last year, Canadian venture capital investments hit a 10-year high worth 2.3bn

The investment explosion was ignited by OMERS – the Canadian pension fund behemoth – who spotted the potential in billion dollar darlings Shopify and Hootsuite. It's the type of venture investment Scale Up Institute CEO Irene Graham hopes to unlock in the UK.

Irene Graham
Irene Graham, CEO of the Scale Up Institute CBI

Speaking at Canada House in central London, Graham said: "The Scale Up Institute was formed last year on the back of a report that looked at the factors that were holding back growth in companies in the UK.

"In the last five years we have done tremendously well in terms of the numbers of start ups created, we actually surpassed the US. But we are not as good at growing those start-ups naturally and helping them take that further step."

We have done tremendously well in terms of the numbers of start ups we have created - Scale Up Institute CEO Irene Graham

"One hundred per cent of the jobs created in Europe today, new jobs, are created by companies that didn't exist five years ago. So we really need to be looking at where those growth opportunities are. This is not just about tech. It covers every sector."

Growing start-ups, she says, has the potential to add a potential of £225bn to the economy and create 150,000 net jobs by 2034.

"The question you've got to ask yourself is have we large enough pool of VCs funds? There's a view that says we have a lot of small ones but if you're a fund of less than £200m that's a slight issue for us in terms of capital. When looking at it at the moment and where the potential areas of need are, it is the risk capital space – how do you unlock that?"

The question you've got to ask yourself is have we large enough pool of VCs funds?

One way she suggested was to loosen banking and investment regulation to encourage corporates and high net worth individuals to invest. Another is government action.

Bilal Khan
Bilal Khan, OneEleven

Government plays vital role

OneEleven is a Canadian accelerator that invests in late-stage growth companies. Since it launched in 2013 its alumni have raised more than $83m in later-stage financing and have created more than 120 jobs.

Managing director Bilal Khan said as companies grow so to does the role of government policy. "When going global, government plays an important part the moment companies start to scale to any significant size," Khan said.

Once you go global at some point you become dangerous, the government must protect you - Bilal Khan, managing director of OneEleven

"The reality is sometimes countries cripple their own companies by provisions that are negotiated through trade agreements by the inability to protect companies as they go global. The reality is – and this is the dirty tooth of the business – once you go global at some point you become dangerous.

"When you become dangerous that is when you become a threat to the existing institutions and power structures and they will attack through trade agreements or litigations. If governments are not going to protect their local companies then things get very complicated and companies that have become multi billion-dollar companies have got caught up in very ugly situations."