#23 Starting a business in Canterbury

Dubbed the “next destination for growth” by Kent council – is Canterbury the right place to start and grow your business?

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Why start a business in Canterbury?

A popular tourist destination, Canterbury has long been home to tech businesses and university spin-outs but its status as a start-up location is also rising. Since the launch of the High Speed Rail (HS1) link in 2009, journeys from Canterbury to London now take less than an hour, and with over 30 business parks in Canterbury alone – the city is becoming an attractive location for early-stage entrepreneurs.

Expansion East Kent, the investment arm of Kent County Council, has been keen to drive the development of Canterbury and the wider East Kent region as a start-up cluster with its recent campaign ‘Grow For It’ looking to mark the area out as an impending rival to Tech City. Dubbed as the “next destination for growth” by Kent Council, Canterbury already boasts start-up success stories and a host of innovative pharmaceutical companies including Venomtech, the UK’s first and only venom laboratory.

Population: 160,000

Along with a range of industrial centres such as Wincheap Industrial Estate and City Business Park, Canterbury offers a number of co-working and serviced offices with Fruitworks and Kent Enterprise Hub, two of the most well known. Fruitworks, for example, offers hot desk space in its 2,000 sq ft warehouse in order to help support start-ups to develop and grow business ideas.

Canterbury also boasts good links to overseas commercial opportunities. You can get to France within 90 minutes using the Dover Ferry crossing or via Ashford International station, opening up the wider import and exports market in Europe.

Access to talent in Canterbury

business talent39,800: Working age population with NVQ Level 4 and above (2015)
£543.10: Average full-time weekly earnings (2016)
4: Universities

Graduate talent is one of Canterbury’s biggest strengths given its large student population as the home to four universities; the University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church University, the University for the Creative Arts, and the American University-Canterbury.

Number of new start-ups (2015):700  – see how this compares with other cities

Hiring costs within Canterbury are fairly high, with figures from the Office for National Statistics showing that average weekly full-time earnings for Canterbury in 2016 stood at £543.10 a week. Above average but still lower than comparable towns such as Oxford and Cambridge (both £589).

For new businesses looking to take on apprentices, Kent County Council offers an employment programme grant, combined with national grants, of up to £4,275 to help you hire an 18-24 year-old apprentice – enabling businesses to benefit from low-cost talent, and in turn helping to boost skills of local young people.

Access to business support in Canterbury

business support0: Accelerators
1 (Sittingbourne): Science parks

Part of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, business support in Canterbury is wide-reaching and is not only facilitated by the LEP but also by a range of other initiatives such as Expansion East Kent, Canterbury 4 Business, Startmybiz – Canterbury City Councils business initiative – and Canterbury City Partnership.

Back in July 2014, the South East LEP secured a major £442m deal to boost economic growth and local transport infrastructure, which includes over £358m for growth schemes. Through the growth deal, the local government intends to develop a network of ‘growth hubs’ to provide small business support services, and will also open up access to new sites for business development.

Canterbury also hosts leading business events with one in particular – Digibury – a favourite amongst start-ups and growing business. Usually held at the University of Kent on every second Wednesday of the month, Digibury is Kent’s leading monthly meet-up for digital and creative entrepreneurs and businesses and offers the opportunity to listen to talks, watch demos and learn more about ideas in tech, art, design, and science.

Survival rates (2010-2015):38%

For science and “research intensive” businesses, start-ups launching or relocating to the area are able to utilise Kent’s Discovery Park Enterprise Zone and Kent Science Park. Although neither sites are based in Canterbury (the Discovery Park is 14 miles east in Sandwich and Kent Science Park is 30 minutes away in Sittingbourne) both centres are easily accessible and provide offices and lab facilities for business development. A 220-acre site, the Discovery Park is home to a wealth of pharmaceutical companies.

Start-ups can also access advice and support with finding a property from Locate in Kent, a programme run by Canterbury City Council, which provides a free, relocation service to help businesses launch in Kent. It works with a range of leading commercial property developers and partners from the private sector, as well as local councils, and the Kent Developers Group to support companies to start up and expand in Canterbury and the region.

Access to grants and funding in Canterbury

business funding

A drawback for businesses considering starting up in Canterbury is that there is no direct grant funding currently available. Instead, entrepreneurs have access to government-backed loans and growth funds.

Number of business deaths (2015):545

Start-ups, small businesses and social enterprises can access 0% interest loans of between £2,000 to £5,000 from the Small Business Boost economic growth fund which covers Canterbury, Ashford, Dover, Shepway and the Thanet areas. Open to those looking to expand and create local employment opportunities, the loan scheme is ideal for early-stage companies with fewer than 50 employees.

Quality of Life in Canterbury

quality of life£276,654: Property price average (September 2016)
56.37: Crimes per 1,000 people (June 2015)
15.3mbps: Average broadband speed (2014)

House prices in Canterbury are higher than the UK average – figures from the Land Registry for September 2016 suggest that average house prices across all property types stood at £276,654. This is considerably lower than comparable cities such as Oxford (£427,140) and Cambridge (£446,796)

Crime in Canterbury is very low – there were 56.37 crimes per 1,000 people for the year ending June 2015 according to Police UK and Canterbury is amongst one of the lowest areas for criminal activities in its “group”. Canterbury’s crime rate is much lower than Cambridge (87.23 crimes per 1,000).

With attractions such as Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey and seaside town Herne Bay, Canterbury has gained a reputation as an idyllic, historical city yet it also boasts modern and lively entertainment, shopping centres and nightlife. The King’s Mile is home to several independent retailers as well as designer outlets, whilst for foodies, Canterbury district offers an array of restaurants including European themed Michael Caines Restaurant, meat eater’s heaven Pork & Co, and vegan dining the Veg Box Café. Independent cinema Gulbenkian Cinema and Gulbenkian Theatre are great for entertainment as are the local Playhouse Theatre and the Marlowe Theatre.

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