#17 Starting a business in Sheffield

With a stellar reputation for modern manufacturing and technology in the UK, is Sheffield your start-up city?

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Why should you start a business in Sheffield?

One of Yorkshire’s main metropolitan centres along with Leeds and Bradford, Sheffield has been keen to establish itself as a centre for enterprise and was rated the number one enterprise zone for modern manufacturing and technology in the UK by the Financial Times fDi magazine. The city also enjoys good transport links, situated close to the M1 and with Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster close by.

Population: 569,700

With a particular pedigree in manufacturing, tech and IT, Sheffield represents a good destination for digital businesses; its creative and digital quarter is home to a growing start-up scene, and office space is available at one of a number of Sheffield Technology Parks. If you are a biotech start-up, Sheffield could represent a particularly good option – its Sheffield Bioincubator initiative is a kind of ‘science park meets accelerator’, offering access to labs, shared workspace, and collaboration initiatives with the University of Sheffield.

In the last year, Sheffield has also upped the support it provides to local start-ups and small businesses. In May 2016, the council launched the Sheffield City Region (SCR) Growth Hub, a £4m programme backed by partners such as Prince’s Trust which intends to drive growth of “hundreds of new businesses” by 2019.

Access to talent in Sheffield

business talent132,500: Working age population with NVQ Level 4 and above (2015)
£505.30: Average full-time weekly earnings (2016)
2: Universities

Sheffield is home to two major universities; The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam. The University of Sheffield is consistently ranked in the top 100 UK universities and is heavily research-focused, claiming a status as one of the top 10 intensive research-focused universities in the country. In addition to the talent produced by both universities, the University of Sheffield runs a number of collaboration programmes and partnerships with local businesses to achieve common goals.

Number of new start-ups (2015):2,285  – see how this compares with other cities

As a proportion of the overall population, Sheffield’s skills force has caught up in comparison with similar cities since 2014. 36% of people (132,500)  living in the city have NVQ Level 4 qualifications or above, compared to Leeds’ 33%, Newcastle’s 36.9% and Greater Manchester’s 39.5%. The city’s £130m Skills Bank, which is set to provide training for 40,000 people in Sheffield City – including 5,000 to 7,000 apprentices –  and substantially increase access to skilled recruits for local businesses, is currently underway.

In terms of cost, you are likely to find recruitment costs slightly cheaper here than in comparable cities; median full-time weekly earnings in 2016 stood at £505.30 a week, less than Leeds (£528.70) and Newcastle Upon Tyne (£507.90), but more than Birmingham (£497.40) and Manchester (£467.50).

Access to business support in Sheffield

business support2: Accelerators
2: Science parks

Businesses in the tech and biotech sectors are likely to be spoilt for choice with the business support on offer. Dotforge is the city’s well-known accelerator programme; targeted at tech start-ups, the three-stage programme takes businesses from seed stage to raising their first round of investment through a combination of pre-seed capital, mentoring and collaborative office space. Alongside this, Sheffield University operates a Social Innovation Accelerator scheme, although the requirements are very specific; participants must be either students or graduates of the university and operate a social venture.

As mentioned above, biotech ventures can take particular advantage of the University of Sheffield’s bioincubator scheme, which provides office and lab space for spin-outs, start-ups and entrepreneurs wanting to co-locate on campus and take advantage of the facilities and research the University offers.

Sheffield’s City Enterprise Zone is a particular highlight; it is ranked the UK’s #1 enterprise zone for modern manufacturing and technology, with one of the greatest concentrations of manufacturing businesses in the UK.

Survival rates (2010-2015):41.8%

Businesses with other focuses should also find Sheffield offers a good range of options for locating there. Although – as with many other UK cities – Grade A space in the city centre is dwindling, the recent opening of the mixed-use St Paul’s Place development has added 83,891 sq. ft. of space into the city centre. Elsewhere, there is more than a million sq ft of space available at Sheffield Business Park, outside the city centre, with other business parks including Hawke St, and Hydra Park, just off the M1.

Start-ups in the Sheffield area can now also benefit from additional business support and advice with the launch of the city’s very own EU-backed Business & IP Centre.

In comparison to other cities, freelancers and start-ups looking for co-working space are somewhat limited, but Union Street offers co-working space for £35 a month.

Access to grants and funding in Sheffield

business funding

As part of the wider Regional Growth Fund-backed LEP programme, Sheffield offers a £32m ‘Unlocking Business Investment’ programme, which provides grants of between £25,000 and £2m to eligible businesses looking to unlock private investment and create new jobs with sustainable projects. The majority of the fund has now been allocated, but around £3m still remains.

Whilst the ‘Unlocking Business Investment’ programme is the only direct grant scheme operating in the city at the moment, businesses looking for other forms of finance have a number of options. The SME Loan Fund is intended to help Sheffield businesses which have found it difficult to raise traditional forms of finance; loans of between £5,000 and £25,000 are available for businesses with at least a one year trading record and which are paying their business rates to Sheffield City Council.

Number of business deaths (2015):1,750

Young entrepreneurs based in the region can also access the Start Up Loans for Young People scheme. Available to entrepreneurs based in the region and age 18-30, the scheme provides small loans of up to £5,000 to establish or grow start-ups. This opportunity appears to be currently closed.

Rounding off the funding availability is the Threshold Companies Initiative, which will provide a programme of intensive support to up to 25 companies based in Sheffield. This will comprise dedicated support from a Growth Advisor and access to events and networking opportunities, in addition to an investment of up to £15,000 to fund the delivery of an agreed growth opportunity.

In terms of angel networks, Sheffield is under the auspices of the Yorkshire-wide YABA (Yorkshire Association of Business Angels), the largest such consortium in the region. Through its Rising Stars service, the network helps early-stage companies develop their business plan and structure to become investment-ready, valuing the company in the process.

In terms of business survival, 41.8% of start-ups launched in 2010 survived through to 2015, marginally better than nearby Leeds (41.7%).

Quality of life in Sheffield

quality of life£154,481: Property price average (September 2016)
68.19: Crimes per 1,000 people (June 2015)
15.4mbps: Average broadband speed

The average house price in the Sheffield metropolitan area in September 2016 stood at £154,481; considerably lower than the 2015 average of £183,396, making the city somewhat cheaper than the neighbouring city of Leeds at £170,927, and comparable to similarly sized Manchester (£153,590).

For the year ending June 2015, there were 68.19 crimes committed per 1,000 people, making the city one of the safest in the UK for its size. Leeds, Leicester and Newcastle all have considerably higher crime levels, and the crime level is substantially lower than in larger cities such as Manchester and Birmingham.

Sheffield is well-known for its views and natural beauty, and is the only UK city which shares its boundaries with a national park – a whole third of the city lies within the boundaries of the visually spectacular Peak District, making the city an ideal destination for entrepreneurs fond of the great outdoors. Indeed, the city itself boasts 83 parks, and touts itself as the “greenest city in Europe”. It’s not just walks and green space, though; Sheffield has a long pedigree in arts, culture and live music, and was a particularly influential hub in the Yorkshire dance music revival of the early 1990s.

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