With a huge growth in new businesses registered on Companies House in 2021, and research from Tide finding that the UK is the cheapest place to start a business in Europe, the entrepreneurial and startup spirit is booming in the UK.
But, while many still consider central London to be the epicentre for business, some of the best cities to start a business in the UK are actually outside of the metropolis.
In 2021, almost £9 billion of all Venture Capital investment went into startups and scaleups outside of London and the South East, and nine out of 29 unicorns were formed in these regions. And, 35% of futurecorns are also based outside of the capital, meaning there is even more opportunity to set up a business in regional towns and cities.
Here’s a list of some of the locations that we think could be home to the next pioneering business – complete with all the information you’ll need if you’re considering starting your business in one of these locations.
Scotland’s most populous city has a long history of being an economic powerhouse. Generating an estimated £19.3 billion per year, it is one of the fastest-growing major city economies in the UK. Home to a vibrant culture, Glasgow centres itself around creativity and innovation.
With a mission to become the most productive major city in the UK, Glasgow’s on an upward trajectory. The city boasts plenty of exciting opportunities for businesses to thrive, being the home to Interactive Investor, one of the nine unicorns outside of London.
Image by Ian Dick
Glasgow Fact File
- Ranked as the UK’s top Cultural and Creative City in 2019 by the European Commission.
- Hosted several important events, such as the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the 2018 European Championships and COP26.
- Has one of the youngest populations in Scotland.
- Office rents 66% less than London’s West End.
- Over £17bn capital investment since 2011.
- Has a healthy air quality score of 4.9 according to the EG Sustainable Cities Index.
A city that cares deeply, Bristol has transformed from its maritime roots into a thriving cultural hub, with a particular focus on environmental and sustainable businesses. The city was recently awarded Gold Sustainable Food City status, recognising its positive work on the city’s food system. 47% of the city’s waste is recycled, according to the EG Sustainable cities index.
Bristol is seeing more than 80 people a week relocate from London to Bristol and Bath, making it a fast-growing city with new talent joining it all the time. And, with 45.5% of the population walking or cycling to work over five times a week, it’s a great place for health-conscious startups to find talent.
Bristol Fact File
- Number five on Levelling Up Power Tech League 2021.
- Home to two unicorn companies, Graphcore and OVO.
- Home to 46,000 registered businesses.
- 10,000 graduates per year from its two universities.
- Named the European Green Capital in 2015.
- Received $500 million in venture capital investment in 2019, and ranked above Helsinki, Dublin and Milan according to the Digital Economy Council’s report.
- The Bristol Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone is an area of the city focused on helping startups and businesses grow.
Brighton and Hove
Also known as Silicon Beach, Brighton and Hove has had an exciting few years, experiencing a thriving economy and steady rise in entrepreneurship. Its reputation for quirkiness attracts new residents far and wide, and it welcomes thousands of students each year across its two universities, the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex.
Brighton has a strong business community, and its entrepreneurs, leaders and founders are well looked after when it comes to accelerators and funding programmes. The BRITE innovation project, run by Plus X Brighton in partnership with the University of Brighton provides innovation programmes to suit businesses and entrepreneurs at any stage.
Brighton Fact File
- Brighton has the UK’s highest number of active businesses per capita and the second-highest new enterprise survival rate of all UK cities.
- Named as one of Nesta’s most entrepreneurial cities in the country.
- 90.5% of businesses in Brighton and Hove are micro.
- Brighton and Hove’s two universities support a student population of over 35,000.
- Brighton and Hove is home to 16,000 businesses and 140,000 jobs – with 2,700 of those businesses launched since 2012 and 14,300 jobs created since 2011.
- Half of the working-age residents have a degree qualification or equivalent, compared to the 38% national average.
- Home to Plus X Brighton!
Sheffield, or the ‘Steel City’, has a strong history in manufacturing. This is a city on the rise, with a dedicated innovation district, and receiving a multimillion investment as part of the Heart of the City development scheme. It’s also the headquarters of many large non-manufacturing companies, including HSBC, Royal Mail and Aviva.
Sheffield’s relatively affordable rents and mortgages make it a great location for professionals that may not wish to pay London prices. Now is a great time to start a business in Sheffield, as the future is looking bright.
Image by Tigerbww
Sheffield Fact File
- Rated as one of the leading cities in the UK for female entrepreneurship (2019).
- Business accelerators including Dotforge, LaunchPad, and TwinklHive.
- A student population of 60,000 across two universities, the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam.
- 10 Sheffield high streets have recently been awarded funding through the Economic Recovery Fund.
Like some other places on this list, business owners in Milton Keynes can benefit from the reduced costs of an out-of-London location, whilst being a mere 32 minutes away by train from the capital. It’s a city on the rise, and a great place to set up a business in the UK, with an impressively high level of startups.
It has also been at the forefront of trialling new technologies in recent years, including driverless pods. Milton Keynes is home to the Transport Systems Catapult, the UK’s technology and innovation centre for Intelligent Mobility.
Image by Mattbuck
Milton Keynes Fact File
- Per 10,000 people, there are on average 74 new business startups and 683 active businesses.
- 44% of workers in Milton Keynes are qualified with an NVQ4 or above
- Residents search for ‘how to start a business’ over 910 times a month.
- More than 154 ideas registered on Kickstarter with an average of £4,716 pledged.
- A 42.7% survival rate for new businesses.
The entrepreneurial spirit is riding high among Birmingham’s young and lively population, returning to its position as a leader in innovation. It’s also famously one of the most centrally located cities in the country, meaning that it’s a four-hour drive away for 90% of the population. Its easy connections and bustling activity make Birmingham a great place to set up a business.
Image by Bs0u10e0
Birmingham Fact File
- It’s the youngest city in Europe, with under-25s making up 40% of the population.
- Ranked 7th on the 2021 Levelling Up Power Tech League.
- Home to a whopping five universities, it has the highest active business population and the highest number of people with NVQ Level 4 qualifications.
- Its varied community comprises 190 nationalities, with more people speaking French, German, Polish, Urdye and Mandarin than any other regional core city.
- 18,590 new businesses were launched in 2018 alone.
- Birmingham is the largest regional tech cluster in the UK.
While many look to central London as the heart of big business, West London has established itself as a thriving epicentre for innovation and startup culture. Organisations including the West London Business create opportunities for networking and investment in this flourishing area.
In Hayes, you’ll find the Central Research Laboratory, which brings opportunities for entrepreneurship and provides makers facilities outside of central London. It is home to the CRL Accelerator, the UK’s leading programme for product makers and hardware pioneers.
West London Fact File
- Over 45% of the workforce in West London are educated to Level 3 or above, higher than the national average.
- More 16-year-olds continue in full-time education in West London than the national average.
- West London has a cohesive, culturally and ethnically diverse entrepreneurial community with 46% of residents being born outside of the UK.
- It has the second largest number of micro-businesses and startups in the capital.
- The Global Talent Survey crowned London as the world’s most desirable city to work in.
- Home to the Central Research Laboratory!
With its glorious sandy beaches and micro-climate, starting a business in Bournemouth isn’t exactly a hard sell… but its lesser-known reputation as a thriving sci-tech hub might be another reason to add to the list.
Bournemouth University’s academic research has helped it to become one of the top-ranking universities in Business and Management, creating a steady stream of budding business leaders among its alumni.
Image by Jack Pease
Bournemouth Fact File
- Has a population of an estimated 25,000 students.
- A 95.8% increase in startups between 2018 and 2019.
- The town has a 45.54% five-year survival rate for startups.
- 93.6% of Bournemouth University students are in work or further study six months after graduating.
- Bournemouth has an active and thriving chapter of Startup Grind, run by Marcus Wincott.
Plus X innovation hubs optimise opportunities for business, academics and communities to connect, collaborate and thrive.
Would your city or town benefit from the opening of a Plus X innovation hub? Let us know!