#9 Starting a business in Birmingham

With the largest number of start-ups of any other city outside of London, could the West Midlands “entrepreneurial hotspot” be the location for you?

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TalentSupportFundingQuality of life


Why start a business in Birmingham?

Recorded as having the highest number of new start-ups for 2016 and the most active business population, Birmingham boasts good transport links and is home to one of the largest business conference venues in the country; the National Exhibition Centre (NEC). It is less than an hour and a half’s train journey from London Euston, is in close proximity to Birmingham Airport, and is adjacent to the M42 motorway junction.

The government-backed Start Up Loans Company also believes in Birmingham’s business credentials; in February 2017 it named Birmingham the “most entrepreneurial city” outside of the capital.

If the plans for the development of the new UK high speed rail network High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) go ahead, the train journey from Birmingham to London will reduce to 43 minutes each way.


Birmingham is also home to the Bullring, one of the UK’s top commercial centres, which launched in 2003 and has grown to accommodate over 500 brands with weekly footfall averaging 750,000. The centre currently has nine promotion sites and nine retail merchandising units available for businesses looking for retail and warehouse space. Birmingham is also home to “premium shopping centre” Grand Central. Launched in September 2015, the complex sits above the newly renovated New Street rail station concourse and is home to more than 100 shops, and is said to attract footfall of 55 million visitors each year.

Access to talent in Birmingham

business talent228,500: Working age population with NVQ Level 4 and above (2015)
£497.40: Average full-time weekly earnings (2016)
4: Universities

With four universities; the University of Birmingham, Birmingham City University, Aston University, and Newman University, Birmingham offers a good employment base with a skilled workforce. Research from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that, in 2015, over 228,500 of the city;s working age population held NVQ Level 4 qualifications and above. Yet, while this is the highest figure for talent of any of cities in our index, when compared to the size of its population, this only equates to 26.8% (28.1% in 2014). A low figure when you take into account the skill levels of comparable cites such as Coventry which has a 29.5% working age population with NVQ Level 4 and higher.

Number of new start-ups (2015):7,310  – see how this compares with other cities

However, Birmingham’s labour costs are below average with weekly full-time earnings approximately £497.40 in 2016, so talent is more affordable if not as available.

Access to business support in Birmingham

business support3: Accelerators
3: Science parks

Birmingham has begun to establish itself as a thriving technology start-up cluster; known as ‘Silicon Tech Canal’ or ‘TechBrum’ amongst the city’s technology entrepreneurs. Support for start-ups is available through the Birmingham City Centre Enterprise Zone, part of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, which is looking to create 40,000 new jobs and add £2bn a year to the economy over the next 25 years. Additional support is available to businesses locating to the Zone before 2015 with business rate relief of up to £275,000 across five years.

High street bank NatWest provides business support to the city with its accelerator programme at Birmingham’s St Philip’s Place. Launched in partnership with Entrepreneurial Spark, the hub has space for 80 entrepreneurs and culminates with an investor event with cash rewards of up to £50,00o on offer.

The Oxygen accelerator also operates in Birmingham, running two accelerators a year for three months at a time, while train operator London Midlands recently opened an accelerator in the city for travel start-ups. The inaugural London Midland Labs accelerator – based at the Serendip Smart City Incubator at Innovation Birmingham Campus – aims to work with companies across a 12 week period providing them with the expert mentoring and support they need to progress their businesses and achieve the joint goal of creating ‘simply better journeys’ for customers.

Survival rates (2010-2015):36%

Thanks to its breadth of universities, the city is home to three science parks; Aston Science Park, Birmingham Research Park, and University Science Park, Pebble Mill, which offer mentoring, office facilities and research and collaboration opportunities. Birmingham Research Park specialises in biomedical sciences and is located two miles from Birmingham city centre with incubator space BizzInn on site. Additional start-up incubator schemes include Entrepreneurs 4 Future (e4f) which is targeted at early-stage tech and clean tech businesses.

Other office premises include co-working facilities such as Moseley Exchange; focused at independent workers and home-based businesses, and Innovation Birmingham; hot desk offices for tech start-ups, as well as fixed office space at Urban Workspace, Longbridge Technology Park and Birmingham Business Park.

Birmingham also has its own Business & IP Centre – an EU-backed support service created in partnership with the British Library, Based at the Library of Birmingham, the centre offers a wide range of materials and resources, as well as access to free and low-cost business workshops, seminars and one-to-one advice services. Birmingham was the fourth city selected for a centre following Newcastle, Leeds and London.

Access to grants and funding in Birmingham

business funding

Birmingham City Council is one of the main sources of small business grants and funding for local entrepreneurs looking to grow. For regional debt and equity investments, it has finance ranging from £50,000 to £1m across a range of funds and initiatives for small and medium sized companies keen to develop. One of its more successful schemes is the Creative Fund which offers £50,000 to £500,000 growth capital to pre-revenue and early-stage creative businesses.

If you can prove that your start-up will generate employment opportunities in Birmingham, there are several funding initiatives on offer such as the Business Development programme which has start-up grants of between £10,000 to £15,000. The Enterprise Catalyst scheme also has small business grants of up to £50,000 for entrepreneurs starting up in the area.

Number of business deaths (2015):4,030

For clean tech and low carbon businesses, the EU-backed ERDF Green Bridge programme is a viable funding alternative and has a maximum grant value of £100,000 for small and medium-businesses looking to improve and develop land and property in Birmingham.

As an aside to grants, Birmingham has a growing angel investor community with two key angel networks; Advantage Business Angels and Angels Den. Advantage Business Angels boasts an investment portfolio of several Birmingham-based tech and low carbon businesses with its largest fundraising set at £1.2m to date.

The growth potential for businesses in the area isn’t as positive as its rate of new start-ups, with a 36% survival rate for those businesses launched in 2010 and still trading in 2015. This is one of the lowest survival rates of any of the cites featured in our index and lower than nearby Coventry (39%) and Leicester (40.1%).

Quality of life in Birmingham

quality of life£149,252: Property price average (September 2016)
68.35: Crime rate (June 2015)
28.8mbps: Average broadband speed (2014)

As of September 2016 the average house price for Birmingham was £149,252 according to the Land Registry Index. This is comparable to similar metropolitan districts such as Manchester (£153,590) and Sheffield (£154,481), house prices are lower or relatively similar.

Crime rates in Birmingham are much lower than city peers; there were an average of 68.35 crimes committed per 1,000 residents in the year to June 2015 which is much less than the average crime rate and considerably lower than the crime levels of similar cities such as Liverpool (90.6 crimes per 1,000) and Leicester (82.93 crimes per 1,000).

Birmingham has a lively entertainment and cultural scene with the O2 Academy, The Electric Cinema; the UK’s oldest working cinema, Birmingham Hippodrome; which stages some of the biggest shows outside of the West End, and a host of art galleries all based around the city centre.

Social discovery network citysocializer organises group social events for people who are new to the Birmingham area or moving to Birmingham.

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