The hunt is on to turn 50 ambitious companies in Greater Manchester into global heavyweights.

The Growth Company has launched the UK’s second Global Scale-up Programme in Greater Manchester to get businesses to think internationally.

The programme is sector agnostic but Richard Jeffery, director of business growth at The Growth Company, said he expected a significant number of the chosen 50 businesses to come from the digital industry.

He said ‘exciting things’ were already happening in Manchester but said the city was a ‘big beast’ that could be even bigger.

“It’s gone from being something that was promising to something that's really beginning to deliver,” he said. “You've got GCHQ, the Amazon investment and all those other big announcements.

"Looking at what The Hut Group and Boohoo have done, you're starting to get a really strong base here. It is a big beast but it’s one that could be bigger and even more significant.”

The Growth Company is an economic impact organisation working across Greater Manchester. It has about 1,100 employees and a turnover of around £100m. A key part of Greater Manchester’s strategy to be a top 20 global city is to get more companies to operate globally.

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The Global Scale-up Programme has space for 50 companies – interested firms can apply here – and they’ve already received 100 applications, which they hope will increase to 250 by May 6 when the closing date ends.

It has been developed in partnership with high profile international companies including Santander, DWF, KPMG and Manchester Airport with support from the Scale Up Institute.

“Greater Manchester has got some really big strengths around the digital tech community but we've also some great strengths in life sciences and advanced materials,” said Jeffery.

“Those and health have got really big tech elements to them and many of the companies that are growing rapidly in that space are tech-enabled businesses themselves.”

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Jeffery said the companies they’re targeting are already turning over £1m+ or have raised £1+ in funding but businesses with a ‘great idea’ are still eligible.

“I was approached recently by a brand new Manchester-based start-up,” he told BusinessCloud. “It's a team of five that have come together from some of the leading tech businesses around the world.

“They’ve got a really interesting idea and they will be able to go global with that product. From day one they're already thinking about where they can get in in China, India and the USA.

"They haven't had a sale yet but they're already thinking like that.”

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He said too many companies aren’t grasping the opportunity that international markets present. “When it comes to international, people sometimes overestimate the complexity, overestimate what's required and are not always aware of the huge opportunities,” he explained.

“And it's not just a market sales opportunity but it's opportunities as well to get new investment and new development partners. When you go global you often find you get a lot more innovation coming back into your business because you're accessing global talent, global innovation networks, you find yourself working with universities, research institutions and partners across those international markets.

“You learn so much about those markets that you can play that back into your product and often that has a great spin-off benefit back into your domestic market and other international markets, so you become a much better business as a result of going into those international markets.”

Jeffery said his ambition for the Global Scale-up Programme was simple. “We want all 50 businesses on this to be operating in multiple markets with really clear plans for all those markets that they're executing and that they've raised finance, that they've got a development partner, that they've found a new client there and that they are now international businesses as a direct result of being on this project.”

Jeffery said he was inspired by the recent Web Summit in Lisbon, which was attended by 70,000 people.

“It showed me what you need to do to be a really successful tech business that's starting up and scaling and how you've got to think global, because if you don't and you're not aware of what's going on out there and you're not linked into those global networks, there will be somebody else coming to take your space,” he said.

“You've got to be aware of what's going on and tap into those opportunities.”