Small and medium sized enterprises will drive sector success, says Scotland’s life sciences sector

IN A SURVEY focussing exclusively on small and medium-sized enterprises, Life Sciences Scotland, the sector’s industry leadership group, has revealed the extent of commercial ambition among smaller companies. It is believed the growth of smaller enterprises will play a key role in the sector’s ability to achieve its ambitious turnover target of £8bn by 2025.

The most common objective for SME life science companies was accelerating sales performance. More than half said sales growth from existing products or preparing for the commercial launch of a new product was their primary focus in 2019 and beyond. Scaling up their business through strategic partnerships or joint ventures was also highlighted.

Funding ambitions were also high across the sector with over a quarter of SME businesses surveyed aiming to secure investments totalling more than £1M.

These ambitions, however, raise a number of challenges for smaller life science enterprises with the survey highlighting a clear skills gap for individuals with the commercial growth capabilities to drive forward business expansion. The difficulty of increasing their presence in international markets also remains a key objective for many operating with a small team and a limited budget.

The survey uncovered the expected impact of Brexit on smaller life science businesses with more than a third expressing concerns about the impact on operations in their particular field, which is highly regulated by EU laws and trading bodies.

Half of all respondents currently rely on exporting to or importing from the EU with concerns including delays in their ability to ship and stock shortages with the impact this could have on smaller businesses with limited cash flow.

However, a fifth of companies identified new opportunities expected following Brexit with some highlighting that their main competitors are from the EU. Others reported that they export to or collaborate with organisations in the US, Asia and the Nordics, believing that Brexit will provide new opportunities to grow these relationships.

Nearly three-quarters of the companies surveyed said their business had benefited from the talent and world-leading research emerging from Scotland’s universities while two-thirds attributed their success to the guidance, expertise and funding received from support agencies and innovation centres in Scotland.

Dave Tudor from Life Sciences Scotland said: “It is important that the sector listens to the views of all sizes of enterprise as we work towards our ambitious sector target of £8bn turnover by 2025. The ambition and commercial drive of small and medium-sized life science businesses in Scotland is to be commended and will play a key role in helping the sector to achieve its goals.”

“Surveys of this type are also essential in highlighting sector concerns including the need to plug the commercial skills gap in Scotland which will be integral to the scalability and international ambitions of many organisations going forward.

“At our annual Life Sciences in Scotland Conference in November, we sought to collaborate, share best practice and better support the sector in its ambitions to grow globally.

“Scotland has a strong and proud life sciences heritage with multiple medical breakthroughs originating both within our universities and in the private sector. Our biohubs and incubators continue to increase in size and number across the country. These add great value to businesses looking to locate and grow in Scotland while our scientific talent pool is among the best in the world.”

The survey gathered insights from small and medium-sized enterprises based across Scotland from a range of subsectors including Pharma Services and drug discovery, MedTech, Industrial Biotechnology, Animal Health, Aquaculture and Agritech.