#20 Starting a business in Swansea

Swansea is developing a reputation as an alternative hub for digital businesses – will you station your start-up in this affordable coastal city?

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Why start a business in Swansea?

The second largest city in Wales after Cardiff, Swansea lies on the sandy coast of South West Wales and is home to Swansea Bay, a popular local tourist attraction. As well as being a major city in its own right, Swansea benefits from its proximity to the Welsh capital, with Cardiff less than an hour away by car and train and Cardiff Airport (the nearest international airport to the city) an hour’s drive along the M4.

Still a major port city, Swansea does a lot of maritime trade with North West Europe, Ireland and the Mediterranean nations. If you plan to do a lot of intra-European trading, it could be a good option to locate your business.

Population: 242,400

Whilst the city is not as well-established as some as a centre for enterprise, its peaceful location has seen it become somewhat of an alternative hub for digital businesses looking to escape the bustle and cost of London. Leading Old Street tech co-working space TechHub opened a location in Swansea, reflecting the increasing credibility of the rapidly growing tech scene there.

Indeed, local tech firms are keen for Swansea to become known as a hub for enterprise, and the Swansea Start initiative aims to remove barriers for entry for entrepreneurs looking to start or relocate in the region. The organisation offers a number of events and networking opportunities for digital firms looking for premises, staff and business partners.

Access to talent in Swansea

business talent54,900: Working age population with NVQ Level 4 and above (2015)
£470.80: Average full-time weekly earnings (2016)
2: Universities

For a city of its size, Swansea has a surprisingly large student community. There are two universities in the area – Swansea University and University of Wales Trinity Saint David (formerly Swansea Metropolitan University). In particular, Swansea University is largely engineering and computing-focused and works closely with local businesses to offer technical support, training opportunities, and skilled graduate recruits.

33.8% of the population (51,400 people) are of working age with NVQ Level 4 qualifications and above, putting it in the top 30 cities in the UK in terms of proportion of skilled recruits.

Number of new start-ups (2015):890  – see how this compares with other cities

It is also cheaper than Cardiff in terms of labour costs, with low salaries compared to the rest of south Wales generally. Average full-time weekly earnings in 2016 stood at £470.80, substantially less than Cardiff’s £531.40 per week – so while you will be drawing from a smaller population, it should be somewhat cheaper generally.

Access to business support in Swansea

business support2: Accelerators
2: Science parks

The tech scene is small but rapidly growing, and its close-knit nature in such a small city should help to forge strong business partnerships as a new start-up. In July this year, Innovation Point launched a new accelerator for start-ups in Wales, and specifically Swansea, to support tech and digital start-ups. Titled the ‘Dirty Dozen’, the accelerator takes 12 businesses on a six month “journey to secure investment.”

Elsewhere, the SA1 Swansea Waterfront initiative is a major new mixed-use development in the docks area of the city which, in addition to a range of more general office space for businesses, contains two ‘Technium’ innovation centres. The Technium centres offer flexible space for science and technology businesses, in addition to specialist business support services and networking opportunities across two separate sites.

Survival rates (2010-2015):38.3%

Businesses have a range of options when it comes to support through co-working spaces; in addition to the recently opened TechHub Swansea and IndyCube both offer collaborative spaces in the city centre. TechHub also runs a £10,000 accelerator programme in the city, launched last February.

Swansea is not known as a major office location, due to its small size and somewhat out-of-the-way location, although you have a range of options when it comes to business parks both within and outside the city centre, including Matrix, Swansea West (with 20 hectares of land), Riverside, and the industrial-focused Ashmount Business Park.

Access to grants and funding in Swansea

business funding

The city offers a number of small grant schemes, although larger amounts are somewhat thin on the ground. The Local Investment Fund, partially funded by the Convergence European Regional Development Fund, will provide almost 2,000 grants of up to £5,000 to help new and existing businesses grow and expand.

If you are a business based in the city centre, the council currently has two grants available through the Building Enhancement Programme (BEP) for companies wishing to improve the appearance of their premises or shopfronts. Some support is also available from the Swansea Centre for Business, which provides subsidised training, professional advice and consultancy for start-ups and growing businesses based in the city.

Number of business deaths (2015):740

The main business angel network in Swansea – and Wales generally – is xénos. It acts as an introduction service between businesses and local investors and has facilitated investments of around £200,000 in the past. Elsewhere, you can contact Angels Den which can connect you with regional advisers.

Quality of life in Swansea

quality of life £139,127: Property price average (September 2016)
68.19: Crimes per 1,000 people (June 2015)
19.7mbps: Average broadband speed

One of the major draws of Swansea is that the cost of living is very low. The average house price for the year ending September 2016 was just £139,127, considerably less than Cardiff (£191,582) and one of the lowest for the southern part of the UK overall. Crime levels are also on the lower end of the scale; at just 68.19 crimes per 1,000 people, it compares favourably to similar-sized cities in the UK and makes Swansea one of the safest places to live in metropolitan Wales.

More generally, Swansea is a peaceful and visually appealing city, with its location on the Gower Peninsula offering spectacular views and earning it the status of the UK’s first designated “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. With a somewhat quieter nightlife and cultural scene than the nearby city of Cardiff, there is still lots to do in Swansea, and the city offers a great point of access to the landscape and attractions of south Wales.

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